Over the last year, I’ve had the honor of working with several nonprofits in Nigeria to improve their content marketing.

Quality content matters because it’s the very fuel of effective fundraising. It tells donors what you’d do with a larger investment. It chronicles program wins and what’s really at stake if you lose. Best of all, content can motivate your community to act in new ways that meaningfully advance your mission.

But if you’re not investing time and resources in content, your brand will enter a state of brand silence.

One of the groups in Nigeria was mostly silent when I met them. They had life-changing stories to tell, but they didn’t have the team and processes in place to have a consistent conversation with their donors and supporters.

They might launch a report and have a week or two of communications. Then months of nothing.

From the perspective of their audiences, it was like having a great date with the person who could be “the one.” Then they never call back … or only get in touch when they need money.

Progress does not equal perfection

But over time, this group recruited a small, but talented team. I started seeing the core messages we developed appear regularly in social media posts.

They followed a content calendar and made their website home base for storytelling – not just an online brochure. Tools like social media and email now functioned together as a system, pointing people back to the website where they could delve deeper and take meaningful actions.

However, I think the most important thing this team did was shift its mindset. You see, the executive director and the team once sought perfection in their communications.

Now I like perfection just as well as any other Type A person. In fact, my devotion to the god of perfection probably made me one of the slowest writers CNN ever saw. I was always pushing deadline (and adding stress to other people's lives).

The great thing about TV is that the show must go on. When the top of the hour hit, the anchor started talking, whether or not my “perfect” script was ready.

That was a good lesson to learn: Timely, regular communication matters.

“Perfect” nonprofits risk paralysis

But in many small-to-medium nonprofits, content deadlines are much more fluid. This tempts some of us to let deadlines pass while we seek perfection.

We paralyze ourselves with endless rounds of editing. And we often hold writers accountable to content standards that are not written down anywhere.

Inside an organization, this can be tortuous as a piece of content ping-pongs from editor to executive to legal to writer. And repeat.

But to our audiences, it’s simply brand silence. Perhaps we’ve gone to Tahiti for vacation (as if!), suspended our programs or stopped valuing their donations.

We’ve created a communications vacuum, and they’re going to find a way to fill it. Probably with the inspiring stories of another organization that publishes more regularly.

Prioritize results over perfection … for now

The other day, I received an e-newsletter from that same Nigeria organization. They’d won an international award! They gave a vulnerable child a life-altering scholarship! And they introduced Braille ballots at the voting booth for the first time in Nigeria’s history!

But whoops … that last story had a few capitalization errors. I thought, maybe they should have held that story past deadline until it was perfect.

Then I caught myself. No. Just no.

You see, this team has a commitment to publishing a newsletter every quarter on the dot. Why? To catch and hold the attention of their donors and supporters. And to build deeper relationships over time that move the mission forward. That is what’s most important – content is just a means to that end.

The team’s goal isn’t to be perfect right now, it’s to create and distribute stories that get results.

And they’re succeeding. Over the last six months they:

  • Went from 0 to 7 blogs published

  • Distributed content in 2 quarterly email newsletters and 2 special editions

  • Exceeded the nonprofit benchmark for email click-through rates (People visited their website.)

  • Improved Facebook engagement by 10 times (People shared and commented on their content.)

These are small, but significant wins for a group that was silent just a few months ago.

Resolve to be imperfect, but impactful in 2019

I don’t think most of our donors and supporters expect us to be perfect. (The ones who do can fund an experienced copy editor position or pay for an editing service.)

But they do expect us to have an impact on our community and individual lives. If you’re making a difference, but not telling your story, I want you to put perfection aside in 2019.

I know, it’s hard. But if your communications team is small, or something you squeeze into your very different job, this is the only way you’re going to gain momentum. There’s plenty of time for perfection later.

Instead, prioritize regular, meaningful communications. Set a publishing schedule and stick to it.

Prioritize testing different content types. (Just because you like certain status updates doesn’t mean your audience does.)

Prioritize keeping track of your content metrics, so you know for sure what your audience likes.

And when the god of perfection demands tribute in the form of your precious time?

Repeat one of my favorite mantras: Don’t let great get in the way of good.

Laura Ingalls is CEO of Abeja Solutions and co-creator of Beezable, a tool that automates direct mail fundraising. She’s produced for CNN, served as a humanitarian spokesperson in Iraq and led award-winning nonprofit and corporate communications teams. Read more from Laura.

Comment