Ask the executive director, development director or volunteer coordinator of any nonprofit why they took their job and you’ll likely hear words about the mission or a passion for the work. Very rarely will you hear anything about doing it for the money or the perks. (For most organizations, money and perks are nothing to brag about, but that’s another article for another day.)
When an employee has this much passion, it bleeds over into the content they create whether that’s a live video, a social post or an online article. Non-profit staff members who work closely with the constituents they serve know the real challenges their people face and how their organization, donors and volunteers can help.
This passion and compassion of your staff makes it hard for a non-profit to consider hiring an outside for-profit agency to write any kind of content. With content farms and SEO spam marketing companies becoming more persistent (and sometimes aggressive) with their prospecting, organizations often have a hard time separating the legitimate from illegitimate.
At the same time, creating and implementing strategies focused on social and website content can be more time consuming than many organizations to manage. For organizations who just need the expertise of a specialized agency who will devote specific time to their content, ask the agency with whom you are in discussions a few specific questions so you know what to expect.
Who will be handling our account?
One of the most common complaints we hear about outsourcing services is about the turn-over rate in who is handling their account. When your organization hires a staff person, you have some control over how they are treated so that they stay more than five minutes past their orientation. With an outsourced company, you have no real way to ensure the same person handles your account. Turn-over happens. It happens to you and it happens to us. High turn-over, however, can mean that your organization is in a constant state of re-training account managers who aren’t your employees, which leaves the work done in spurts and sputters. Talk to the person who’s selling you the services about who will manage your account. What’s the turn-over rate at the company you’re hiring? How long have they been in business?
If working with someone long term is a need for you, express that. If you get along great with the sales rep for the company but are concerned about how you’ll mix with the actual account manager, ask about the process for changing account managers if you aren’t able to work with the one assigned to you. Unlike your own employees you may not have much of a say in who actually handles your account. Know the details before you sign on the dotted line.
Who will be writing our content?
This one goes along with the first question. Every content marketing agency has a different method. You may be more comfortable with some than others. Just before one of our clients signed a contract with us they finished a website build with a brand name media company. While they really liked their sales rep who sold them the website package, they were less than impressed with the team of writers who put together the content and images. The company had a team of writers who picked up the next project on the list. This team of writers had no previous contact with the client and no real idea of what the client’s company did or who they targeted. It took quite a bit of time to get the content and images appropriate for the website launch.
Having a whole team of writers working on your project has its advantages. You may not have to wait until “your” writer is available to get a project finished, so your content may move a little faster. On the flip side, without one person consistently working on your content you may not achieve the voice or tone in your posts that you desire and the content may be a little less tailored to your company. Know which process you prefer and look for a content marketing agency that meets that need.
How will you decide what content to write?
A medical clinic went through several calls with us last year to discuss social media marketing. The big hang up came down to we are not physicians. They had a hard time hiring non-medical people to write about medical conditions. For the most part, we do not have to be experts in every field for which we write articles. We combine discussions with clients about content with our own research to create custom content pieces. That’s how our agency works. Other agencies will work differently. Ask how your agency will determine the content topics. Will you be responsible for providing the topics? Will they research and offer topics? Do they have a pre-approved list of topics from which to work? Make sure their process fits your needs and comfort level.
Can we see samples of work you’ve done for other organizations?
This one’s a no-brainer, but we wanted to include it. Never hire someone who doesn’t have work samples to show you. You want to see the quality of their work. You also want to ensure they don’t recycle material for every client. And you want to know they can vary their voice and strategy for a variety of organizations or companies.
Are you working with other organizations like ours?
Know whether you prefer a yes or no answer before you ask this question. Inbound marketing agencies who work with a number of companies or organizations in the same industry usually have a lot of expertise. They know the best SEO terms and have enough general knowledge of your industry to create well written content for you. On the other hand, you run the risk of having the same content on your site that is posted on another similar site. Even if you are in different areas of the country, it can affect your search engine ranking and it means your content isn’t specifically for you. Ask how the agency manages these conflicts. Will they work with your direct competitors?
Agencies who work with a variety of different businesses and nonprofits may lack the specific expertise of very targeted agencies. But what you lose in expertise you may gain in content written specifically for you. You will also lose the fear of your competitor finding out what you do through this agency. If you have concerns about their expertise in your field, talk to your sales rep or account manager about those concerns. Allow the agency an opportunity to address those concerns and prove to you they can write solid content specifically for you.
What’s your timeline for completing content?
If you’re hiring someone to implement inbound marketing strategies or social media content for you, know when to expect it to hit the airwaves. If you need specific content on a deadline, how much time do you need to give the agency to have it put together? Will they send content in blocks or a little at a time? Know what to expect and how quickly they can get started. Nothing ruins a good start more than unrealistic expectations for either party.
What do you know about our organization?
Now we’re getting into the meat of the matter. If you’re paying someone to write content for your organization, they should have at least spent a little time on your website. Inbound marketing agencies are busy, I get that, but they will never be more attentive to you than they are during the sales phase. If an agency rep hasn’t taken time to look through your website it may be a sign of a bad fit. You don’t want your constituents to just be a number to you and you don’t want to just be a number to someone else. If you’re looking for someone to be passionate about what you do, they should start by being passionate about winning your business.
What are your thoughts about what we do?
Unlike most for-profit businesses, non-profits tackle the most sensitive and sometimes most divisive topics in our culture. If an inbound marketing agency doesn’t support your mission, it’s not a good fit. Part of non-profit marketing is having a passion for the mission. You can’t fake that in content or on social media. Go even further than just asking about an agency or account rep’s thoughts on your mission, check out their personal social media pages. If they are supporting or promoting something that goes directly against your mission, it’s probably not going to be a good fit.
We love to work with non-profits. As we work through a list of prospects we always look hard at their mission. We ask ourselves if we can support that ideology. We want to provide the best content for our clients. If we don’t support your organization’s mission or methods, we’ll be miserable and you won’t get our best work.
Tell me about your insurance coverage.
Did you know they make media insurance? If an agency is going to have access to your social media accounts and your website, you want to insure you have some recourse if they accidently tweet from your account instead of theirs causing harm to your organization’s reputation. Insurance coverage means they are serious about taking care of their own business and by default yours.
Hiring a content marketing agency is a big step and often comes with a price tag. The benefits can be amazing when you gain new followers, increase your digital footprint and move closer to achieving your mission. The most critical step you’ll take is hiring the right agency. We’d love to be an option for you, but we know our style, process and mission isn’t in line with everyone. So whether you give us a chance or you’re in talks with another agency, make sure you’re hiring the right agency to help your nonprofit succeed.