If you’ve ever been responsible for creating content for a nonprofit website, you likely appreciate how much work it takes to do well. Even in the best of circumstances, writing great website content for something as big as a website redesign is a serious lift when there are dozens or hundreds of pages to write for. And if there isn’t a clear content strategy in place to inform writing or if content goals on different pages is unclear, then writing effective content for a nonprofit website is more than a lot of work. It’s a more like a high-stakes guessing game.
Between supporting your nonprofit’s communications strategy and creating ongoing, fresh content that strengthens technical SEO, creating great website content can bring a lot of pressure. Unfortunately, when pressure and deadlines mount, one thing that can fall by the wayside is creating content that your nonprofit’s audiences both want and need—and as a result, deepens their connection to your brand.
Fortunately, there’s a solution that can help you produce mission-aligned content that your audience wants and that search engines reward for meeting their needs. It starts with centering on why we’re writing all this content in the first place—and, even more importantly, who we’re writing for. This is where the notion of human-centered content comes in. Not surprisingly, it’s a practice that’s rooted in the principles of human-centered design. And by embracing these principles, the knowledge that we mobilize and the narratives we create are more meaningful and useful to our audiences—and, as a result, more true to our mission and values.
What is Human-Centered Content?
Not that it’s a new thing, but “human-centered” has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years. It’s at the center of Constructive’s design philosophy and deeply woven into our ethics and practices. Without going too deeply into the foundations of it (which you can read more about here), human-centered content is based on the principle that—just as with everything we create as designers—by placing the needs, motivations, and concerns of our audience at the center of content creation, we ensure that we focus on creating narratives and information that is meaningful and valuable to them. In doing so, we think of our content—both in the big picture strategy and individual content elements—as meeting the need of a “job to be done” that our audience has.
Getting Started with Human-Centered Content
Not surprisingly, centering our content process around people starts by understanding them well. It starts with asking ourselves some important questions before we begin to write. These questions may seem basic—and some of the answers may be obvious. But being clear on these important things before diving into writing is exactly how we make sure that our nonprofit’s content strategy is grounded in delivering value to audiences—and that this value is created in direct service of the social impact we seek to have. It also helps you avoid a serious headache later when you realize that your content feels like it’s written for thee wrong audience. Start by asking yourself these questions to determine whether you know your audience and your own goals well.
- What are your audience’s needs, goals, and values? Your nonprofit’s content should have deep meaning and value for your audience, so you need to be able to answer this question about them. It’s as much about what a person needs as it is about how they see themselves, the world, and how your organization fits into this. If you’ve developed a clear brand strategy for your nonprofit or detailed user archetypes as part of UX design, then your content strategy will be off to a great start.
- What are the issues that your audience is facing or should be aware of? Whether your audience has lived experience with the issue you’re looking to address in your written content, or you’re aiming to educate them about what the issues are and their impact on others, the issue and its relevance should be clear from the very start.
- What is the goal of your content? Once your audience’s goals are clear, you can determine the correct scope of your organizational goals for written content both holistically and for any specific piece of narrative. Good content aims to educate, inform, and engage your audience.
- What job is your content doing or what problem is it solving? We ask this question that is rooted in human-centered design because it reframes content into something that’s actionable. If you think of your content as a specific way to help your audience get a specific job done or solve a relevant issue, then your nonprofit’s content will be likely to generate tangible results. You can then take the value your content has created for your audience and make it even more actionable by deciding what job your nonprofit would like it to do for you (so, a conversion goal).
The Content Creation Process
With answers to the questions above you’re hopefully clear on how the content in your nonprofit’s website is going to be more meaningful and valuable. Assuming so, you’re now ready to start writing and gathering the images (remember, images are content too!) that your audience is looking for. As you do, there are several questions to keep in mind to help you write content that’s relevant and useful. Here are three questions (and a few tools) that guide our content creation process.
- Is our content useful, usable, and relevant? If there’s one thing I’ve seen countless times over the years, it’s nonprofit website content that speaks with what I call “an inside voice”—that is, with an overwhelmingly organizational point of view. Every brand experience is about creating value between your nonprofit and your audiences, and to do that, we need to make sure our content is meaningful to them. Continuously extend the thinking you put into aligning your content with your audience’s interests and then take a fine-tooth comb to it. Everything from the information your sharing to how it’s structured and the voice of the brand should be viewed through the eyes of your audience.
- Are you speaking in a clear and accessible manner? Accessibility for nonprofit websites is about more than just design. For a nonprofit’s website content to be effective, it, too, must be accessible. Because speaking in a language that your audiences understand makes a major difference in them understanding the issues you’re focused on and taking action. Reducing or eliminating jargon that is confusing to non-experts is a challenge for lots of nonprofits—especially ones who focus on research and policy. One of the best ways to get this right is if your nonprofit has a brand messaging platform or editorial guidelines on voice and tone that prioritize clear language.
- What design tools can support this process? Content development is often a collaborative process that can be supported by proven techniques from human-centered user experience design that help us gain deeper understanding into our audiences and our content. Here are just a few great ones we rely on that you can consider working into your own process.
Lastly, while we know we’re focused on what;s important to our audience so that the content we create is relevant to them and to our mission, it’s important to remember that content is only as effective as it is usable. To make sure that your content creates deep engagement with audiences, consider these five important questions.
- Is your content accessible to your audience? If you create content but no one can find it, does it have an impact? Usability and accessibility are critical to digital content, so always think about how the audience will find the content they’re looking for on your website. You have a lot of competition on the web and you have only seconds to grab your audience’s attention before they move onto another website that may help them find the information they need faster. So make sure everything is intuitive and easy to find.
- How well does your content support visual learners? Speaking of accessibility, visual design is a great tool to make information more accessible and digestible. People learn in different ways, and images and infographics to data visualization are ideal complements to long-form text to engage visual learners. And in addition to comprehension, visual content and storytelling can also evoke interest and emotion in your audience by inviting them in in a much more personal way.
- How is your content being curated for your audience? A lot of organizations tend to take a quantity over quality approach to publishing content, which can result in a large overabundance of information that actually makes it harder for their audience to find what it is they need! Take the time to curate exactly what you want to express. This is a way to encourage human-centered activities in your organization rather than product-centered activities.
- What makes the content worth remembering and retelling? In order to build connection, create engagement, and develop audience trust and loyalty, your content must be memorable and worth sharing. The more you incorporate your audience members into the creation process above, the more likely it is that the content you develop is worth retelling and sharing.
- How can the content motivate people to think, participate, act? At the end of the day, social impact organizations need to create rolling stones that gather moss (the moss in this metaphor being active excitement and participation from an audience of individuals to change an injustice in our society). So the content we develop needs to encourage people to take tangible action, whether that action be sharing a story, making a donation, or pledging to a cause. More importantly, our content should make it easy for them to do so.
Ultimately, brand storytelling, narrative, and messaging are just different ways for nonprofits to help audiences understand the work they do to advance their missions. Human-centered content creation makes social impact more likely by ensuring that organizations better serve their audiences by being helpful and by empowering them. It’s about creating social impact value by focusing on why your brand matters to the mission and to the audiences who are interested in it. And by taking a human-centered approach to creating nonprofit content, you’ll not only make it clear to your audience exactly how you can help them, you’ll also demonstrate it by delivering content that is more relevant, useful, relatable, and accessible.