Non-profit organizations thrive by making connections: connections to people who are willing to donate time and money, connections to other organizations that share a similar focus, connections to media outlets that can spread the word about their mission, connections to large funders and foundations. But these key connections cannot happen without the right conduit.

I’ve chosen three non-profits groups that use good content to connect to all of their constituencies. While the focus of each group is quite different, their content strategies are very similar. They all focus on three essential pieces to the non-profit narrative: purpose, people, and partnership. In the interest of a manageable word count, I’m going to illustrate each piece of this triumvirate with a particular organization. But I encourage you to visit each organization’s site to see how they incorporate all three components.

Purpose. Best Friends Animal Society, a no-kill animal shelter in Kanab, Utah, states its clear purpose with equal parts passion and compassion:

“It was the 1980s. Shelters across America routinely killed cats and dogs as the primary method of handling unwanted pets. Around 17 million animals perished every year. Older, sick and problem animals were the first to go. Then, a group of friends began taking some of those “unadoptables” to a safe haven to heal. With proper care and patience, the vast majority of these animals found loving forever families. The remaining animals spent the rest of their days romping in the new sanctuary.”

What is successful about this narrative? It’s unequivocal, confident, and accountable. This is an organization that invests unflinchingly in its solution to a very emotional problem. This narrative doesn’t guilt or cajole; rather it invites you to witness how things can truly change for the better.

People. To promote science education and to improve public understanding of science, astronomer Carl Sagan founded The Planetary Society. The organization consists of a variety of volunteers, from academics to amateurs, all united by a common cause:

“We are dads, moms, grandparents, teachers, kids, scientists, engineers, and space geeks. We are those who reach out into the Universe to seek answers to those deep questions: Where did we come from?, and Are we alone?

We are wowed and awed by the discovery of new things, the mysteries of science, the innovations of technology, the bravery of astronauts, and by the stunning images sent back to us from other worlds.”

What works well in this introduction? It’s people-focused: “we are moms, we are teachers, we are geeks.” It’s positive, approachable, and taps into one of the many ways people connect with other people: through curiosity and a shared sense of wonder.

Partnership. Leave No Trace (LNT) is an educational organization that teaches people how to be in the woods. The group advocates for conscientious and ethical treatment of the environment, wildlife, and fellow travelers. LNT relies on a dedicated group of volunteers to support their mission and actively reaches out to build those important relationships. The following blurbs are samples from the rotating marquee on the organization’s home page:

“You did it! It was a great year for Leave No Trace and the outdoors because of your involvement. Check out the recent accomplishments.

Protecting the outdoors by teaching people how to enjoy it responsibly. Get involved in your neck of the woods. 

Your support of the 2014 Next Generation Fund will put Leave No Trace into more American schools.

Your role is critical. The member-driven Center needs your contribution to support Leave No Trace work in communities across the country. Join today.”

How do these short descriptions support LNT’s mission? By making you an integral part of their story. Every piece includes how you can partner with them to make a difference in your own community. This makes LNT’s mission not just about the great outdoors, but also about your back yard.

Non-profits have unique challenges when it comes to Web-based communication and branding strategies. They have to build their identity, compete for volunteer time and funding, and educate the public about their mission and vision, all on a tight budget and with limited resources. Quality content can do a lot of the heavy lifting, especially if it’s designed to capture people’s interest and compel them to contribute. Tell your users a story – and make them a crucial part of the happy ending.

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