Content Strategy, Digital Marketing

The Power Of User-Generated Content As A Marketing Strategy For Non-Profits

I remember the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, an annual event for years. Throughout the hours and hours of fundraising, children and parents told their stories, and always the monetary goal was met. This is an example of the power of user-generated content.

This was a prime example of user-generated content for non-profits, and it is one of the most powerful marketing techniques on the planet. It’s always been around, of course, mostly in the form of testimonials, but it has taken a much larger spot in overall marketing strategies, for a number of reasons.

Why User-Generated Content Has Risen To The Top

Consumers have always loved stories (and, yes, non-profits must consider their audiences to be consumers) and they have traditionally wanted to feel that they are doing good in some way. They participate in charitable contributions through work; they give to make the holidays brighter for needy families; they tithe. And many have their favorite “causes” to which they donate on a regular basis (think St. Jude’s, the Shriners, the ASPCA, etc.), often with monthly automatic payments.

But consumers have changed, largely because the majority of them are now millennials (with Generation Z’ers soon to follow), and their demands, values, and desire to be socially responsible are both greater and somewhat different than earlier generations. This impacts their behavior as product consumers.

It also impacts their behaviors as givers of time and money to non-profits. Here’s what they want:

  • They want authenticity. Authenticity doesn’t come from the words of CEO’s and marketers. Authenticity comes from actual “users” – others they trust who have had an experience with a business or organization.
  • They want to see and hear from those users – one of the reasons why user-generated videos are so powerful as well.
  • For non-profits especially, they want to hear from the recipients of the organization’s stated mission. If it’s clean water, where are the wells, and who are the people benefiting from those wells? What do they have to say about how their lives have improved?
  • The power of social media has become just astounding. And the power of social media to get out an organization’s story through user-generated content is astounding as well. 90% of millennials use social media, and that percentage translates to 1.5 billion users. For non-profits, social media is the perfect place for user-generated content – especially Facebook and Twitter.

Kids playing shows how user generated content can be so important.

It is the perfect venue to post photos, videos of recipients, and the words of those who have benefitted from the organization’s mission. And such posts provide what has come to be known as “social proof” when readers and viewers are so impacted by a story that they share it with their communities.

User-Generated Content Can Be Combined With Organizational Content For Greater Impact

Toms Shoes is actually a for-profit enterprise that began with a social mission – providing shoes for needy children in all parts of the world. Over time, it has graduated into missions of prenatal care, clean water, eye care, and more. It spends a great deal of time on its website promoting its products, of course, but it also provides user-generated content, in the form of visuals. This is obviously a combination of making sales and promoting its social mission, but non-profits should take the lessons that for-profits have to teach – breaking up important “sales” information with the proof of the value of what they do.

Here is what appears on the Toms website, once a customer has decided to make a purchase. Customers get to choose the mission they wish to contribute to through their purchase.

What a user sees on Toms Shoes website when they decide what cause to donate to.

But then, on other pages of the site come the results of these missions – text that speaks to the results, along with user-generated content in the form of amazing photos:

The Text:

Impact to date: 93 million+ pairs of shoes.

Today, your purchases support our partnerships with organizations in 20 countries—including the US—that integrate need-specific TOMS shoes into larger education, health, and well-being initiatives.

That means the impact of your purchase goes beyond the shoes themselves—it can enable kids to attend school, play sports, and avoid health risks associated with inclement weather.

Our goals for shoe giving remain ambitious: by 2020, we aim to have given over 100 million pairs.

The User-Generated Content:

Kids dancing in a picture submitted by a user.

While photos and videos are certainly powerful, the words that accompany them are powerful too and be creative and impactful. For this reason, mid to large-scale non-profits employ professional writers. Small non-profits would do well to contract this writing out if there is not a skilled writer on board.

Understanding The New Age Of User-Generated Content

Consumers are discerning. And they are suspicious. They have been misled; they are inundated and subjected to marketing every time they access the Internet. They want to be amazed; they want to be inspired, and they want to support non-profits that can and do prove their authenticity and commitment. Just as with for-profits selling their products, you, too, have a product to sell. And discerning and suspicious audiences want to know you are who you say you are and what you do what you say you do. Genuine user-generated content, however it is presented, is the most powerful method of demonstrating the results of your mission. Matchbox Design Group is an expert at designing and developing websites for non-profits and ADA compliant websites.

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