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How to Create Human-Centered Content for Your Website to Amplify Social Impact

If you’ve ever been responsible for creating content for a nonprofit website, you likely know how much work it can be. Under even the best of circumstances, writing great website content for something as big as a website redesign is a heavy lift. And if there isn’t a clear content strategy in place to inform copywriting or the specific goals for content on different pages is fuzzy or unclear, then writing effective content for a nonprofit website is more than a lot of work. It’s a bit more like a never-ending guessing game. Between supporting your nonprofit’s communications strategy and creating ongoing, fresh content that strengthens Search Engine Optimization, there’s a lot of pressure to create website content. Unfortunately, one thing that can often fall by the wayside of website content is creating content that your nonprofit’s audiences both want and need. 

Fortunately, there’s a solution that can help your nonprofit 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 them, the information and narratives that we develop as nonprofit communicators become more meaningful and useful to our audiences—and, as a result, 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 work 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 and communicators, by placing the needs, motivations, and concerns of your audience at the center of the content creation process, we ensure that we are focusing on creating narratives and information that is both 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. Effective, human-centered content starts with asking ourselves some important questions before we even begin to write. These questions may seem basic—and perhaps some of the answers 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’ll also help you avoid a serious headache later when content feels like it’s written for someone other than the audiences you want to engage! 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. In order to do this, 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 you’ll 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? I like to ask this question because it does a great job reframing content development to be more human-centered. Think of your content as a way to help your audience get a job done or solve the relevant issue they’re facing (that we identified above)!

The Creation Process

With answers to the questions above you hopefully are more clear on how the content in your nonprofit’s website is going to be more meaningful and valuable. If so, you’re now ready to get started writing and gathering the images (remember, images are content too!) that your audience craves! And as you do, there are several questions to keep in mind to help you create written content that is more relevant and useful. And, if possible, incorporating co-creation into the process is, if not essential, invaluable. It’s just a matter of whether budget or access to the right people allows. 

  • How can co-creation add value to the content? Co-creation is central to a human-centered design practice. And in content development, it’s an amazing way to bring audience members into the conversation so that the content we create is both valuable and respectful. One great experience I had doing this was with The Austin Homelessness Advisory Committee, where I helped create website content around homelessness by collaborating with individuals from the committee with lived experience of homelessness. Content co-creation helped me be respectful of these individual’s experiences and tell their stories ethically, accurately, and in a more empowering and dignified way. It also was invaluable in making sure that the information, resources, and stories that we shared online were helpful, both to people experiencing homelessness and those seeking to better understand and solve it.
  • What design tools can support this process? Co-creation in the content development process can be supported by some tried-and-true techniques from human-centered user experience design. There are tools and methods which you can use and adapt to your process to get a deeper understanding of your audience and of your own content. Each of the tools below has proven useful as a means to interact with communities and bring them into the content creation process. 
  • Is the content useful, usable, and relevant to the audience? Bear this in mind as you create. The work you did to understand your audience prior to creating the content continues in this phase.  For example, a How To page or information on helping people find housing and jobs would be more relevant to a refugee support website than blog posts or press releases about the organization’s achievements. 
  • Are you speaking in a clear and accessible manner?It’s not just in design that accessibility matters. For a nonprofit’s website content to be effective, it, too, must be accessible. This is because speaking in a language that audiences understand makes all the difference in motivating people to take action. In my experience, a thing that many nonprofits struggle with is eliminating jargon and avoiding speaking in ways that are confusing to non-experts. Especially if you are a research-driven nonprofit or policy nonprofit, and it’s important to make sure that content isn’t overly abstract or academic if the goal is to take action. If your nonprofit has a brand messaging platform or guidelines on voice and tone, that’s a great way to strike the right balance and make sure that your message is consistent and cohesive.

Audience Interaction 

It’s important to remember that the content you share should not become a passive portfolio of information. Your content only has value if it is relevant and usable and actionable for your  audience. The questions below can support you in creating this type of meaningful content.

  • Is your content accessible to your audience? Its essential to think about how people will interact with content once it’s created. So, in addition to being mindful of writing with inclusive language, think about how the audience will find the information they need. Content should be easy to find. 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.
  • 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 “here’s how we can help you.” Human-centered content creation is a powerful way to make sure that your organization better serves its 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. By taking a human-centered approach to writing content for your nonprofit, you not only make it clear to your audience exactly how you can help them, you also demonstrate it by delivering content that is more relevant, useful, relatable, and accessible.

About the Author

Titania Veda

Titania Veda

Titania Veda is a service design and content strategy expert, educator, and speaker, bringing over a decade of experience to her work in social impact sector. As Constructive’s Senior Strategist, she develops social impact brands that are led by diversity and equity to be responsive to the needs of communities and people with lived experience. Prior to joining Constructive, Titania has worked as a Content Strategist, Experience Designer, and Strategy Director with organizations such as the Innovation Office of the City of Austin, Purpose, Endeavor, and the Inclusive Design Research Center (IDRC). She earned her Masters in Human Computer Interaction & Design from the University of Washington. Titania also coaches female social entrepreneurs and has been a visiting lecturer on inclusive design for various university programs, including University of Toronto and University of Texas, Austin.

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