Plan to succeed with content marketing

While inspirational storytelling remains at the heart of fundraising, charities that don’t create and closely follow a content marketing strategy risk becoming irrelevant, one of Australia’s leading content marketers reveals to Melanie Ridout.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience and, ultimately, to drive action.”

Quantity is not quality

Although many charities are producing mountains of branded content, a Charity Marketing Institute (CMI) study, 2015 Nonprofit Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America, found only 23% of not-for-profits surveyed in the US had documented a content marketing strategy.

Bobbi Mahlab, Managing Director of the Sydney content marketing agency, Mahlab Media, suspects the figure is the same or lower in Australia – meaning charities may be missing valuable opportunities to build relationships with existing and potential donors. She says a content marketing strategy is a must-have for any organisation trying to plan, produce, promote and measure return on investment of its communications.

“What we’ve found is that so many organisations just produce content, but they don’t do it within a strategic framework,” she says. “Organisations that don’t take the time out to find out where their customers are, are going to become very quickly irrelevant.”

Mahlab, who has experience on many nonprofit boards, is well placed to advise how to cultivate a content marketing mindset. Her business formed in 1997 as a custom print publisher. She identified early the trend towards digital communication and successfully transitioned Mahlab Media into an award-winning content marketing agency. Now she advises clients – mainly member-based associations – on how to change from being internally focused publishers to content marketers in a digital age.

“The main thing charities need to be thinking about is: ‘What are the main questions our audience has,” she says. “What are the things they need to know about that will help them make good decisions and understand the sector and be engaged?”

While getting a content marketing strategy onto paper takes work, organisations that have done it report being more effective in their content marketing efforts, according to the CMI study.

Here are six tips from Mahlab to help your charity cultivate a content marketing mindset and document a powerful strategy:

1: Know your audience

Mahlab advises not to skip the important step of developing audience personas – archetypes of the real people who support or might support your charity. “This will help you develop a content program that speaks directly to each of those personas.”

2: Think content-first

Content marketing is channel-agnostic, she says. “Organisations need to understand what we call a ‘content-first’ approach – think about your audiences and the content that is going to serve them and then work out how to distribute that content.” 

3: Know what you want to achieve

Identify the three main things you really want to achieve out of content marketing. Examples include a lift in brand awareness, increased traffic to a site, development of an e-newsletter database, or increasing the profile of key people.

4: Understand digital, but don’t discount print

“It is hugely important that marketers understand that they need to be effective in digital channels, but print is still relevant,” says Mahlab. “In fact, print is a way to stand out from the crowd now, and if you look at disruptive brands like Airbnb and Uber, both have launched print magazines.”

5: Know your stuff

“Because there is so much content out there, it’s really important that what you do, you do well, and that it really does deliver something of value to your audience; otherwise you are in a sea of grey,” says Mahlab. That means understanding sectors and issues being written about, and matching writing style to the channel.

6: No plan? Start with a 1-pager

CMI has a one-page content marketing strategy to crystallise your thinking and keep content producers strategically aligned. It includes helpful tips for setting goals, developing metrics and establishing a publishing calendar. Visit



The digital gurus

charity: waterSeptember Clean Water - Charity Water microsite

This well-known US charity has truly mastered donor-centred content marketing. For its 10th birthday recently it rallied supporters by celebrating … them. “We targeted 18-35 year olds,” says Content Strategist Tyler Riewer. “We produced a video call-to-arms. We built a playful and interactive microsite (pictured right) that honors our community and encourages people to do crazier things than ever before. We created a hashtag that feels like a badge of honour and turned our fundraisers into heroes on social media. We curated intimate and educational how-to-be-a-better-fundraiser events. We told stories via e-mail. You name it!”



The audience experts


BeyondBlue Man TherapyContent development is treated as a communications priority with an allocated budget and resources at beyondblue, says Janine Scott, General Manager Marketing and Communications. A recent campaign, Man Therapy, used stories of high-profile footballers who have recovered from depression and anxiety and their advice to help men in the community. “Good market research is gold,” says Scott. “Know what changes the thinking and behaviour of your audience then work with good agencies to consistently communicate.”


The print innovators


OzHarvest Cook BookIn late 2014 OzHarvest launched its second cookbook, Urban Harvest, a collaboration with highly esteemed chefs, photographers, food stylists, and writers who all generously donated their time. “The project was a huge success in garnering support for our cause and further spreading awareness about our work in the community,” said Communications and Marketing Manager, Louise Tran.The Urban Harvest cookbook has already helped us deliver close to 200,000 meals to date!”

Melanie Ridout




Melanie Ridout ( or 0425 424 556) is a writer and marketing communications specialist focusing on content writing, direct marketing and print publications.