At Content Strategy Applied 2013, I anchored my keynote to the teaching of John Ruskin. Ruskin was a Victorian era writer, art critic, and sustainability advocate equally drawn to the arts and early issues of social reform and environmentalism. He died in 1900 but his teaching is no less relevant today.
“Life without industry is guilt, and industry without art is brutality,” he wrote. Ruskin saw the Industrial Revolution systematize work and blunt individual responsibility. In response, he challenged his contemporaries to take pride in their work and the act of creating it, rather than separate work from worker. He advocated for people to prize craft that was both practical and sustainable.
At CS Applied, I used Ruskin’s quote as a point of departure to talk about commitment and sustainability in content marketing. Through content marketing, brands engage in conversation on a foundation of content strategy. We implement processes to automate routine tasks, but that automation frees us to focus on the craft of writing good content, creating compelling video, and speaking with our customers in the most human manner. In many ways, good content marketing strikes the balance that Ruskin envisioned. We find efficiency in our tools to support sustainable, human engagement that is enduring without being robotic.
Today I received an email from charity: water. The nonprofit works to bring clean and safe drinking water to people around the world through initiatives to fund and build wells. To ensure their efforts have the greatest impact, charity: water prizes transparency and sustainability. They only fund projects and bring well-drilling equipment into communities where local partners can commit to the work and maintenance, and they offer numerous ways for donors to literally track their dollars across the globe with their Dollars to Projects feature. Donors can monitor GPS data to see the status of equipment and learn about the communities that benefit from their funds.
Several months ago, I celebrated my birthday by launching a charity: water fundraising campaign. I configured a landing page with details about the organization’s work, chose images and a video, and set my fundraising targets. Then I shared the campaign with friends on Facebook and Twitter. They learned a bit about charity: water and generously donated to support a cause far greater than just another birthday.
Many organizations struggle with what happens after an event like that. Most nonprofits are good about thanking donors after a campaign, but fewer remember to remind donors of the impact of their generosity, a key step to inspire future giving. It’s easy to see the challenge: in many nonprofit organizations, fundraisers are tasked to prioritize campaigns, events, and ongoing PR; they just don’t have the time to take on yet another type of communication. Followup content takes time, attention, and creativity—resources that are likely in demand by activities with more immediate ROI.
At charity: water, that kind of followup engagement is a little easier thanks to automated content strategy processes. Their communication goals of transparency and sustainability have a foothold in both technology and a trigger-based editorial calendar.
Updates in Dollars to Projects incorporate automated GPS tracking and site photography at set intervals from the time of the initial campaign. Today, about six months since the campaign closed, I received an email that let me know the money raised through my birthday campaign went to Tanzania. I learned 47% of the population there doesn’t have access to clean water.
But I also saw charity: water’s commitment to sustainable work—in the field, and in their content marketing—play out. The email provided a timeline that let me know other updates to expect:
It is far easier to manage and communicate about upcoming content with a donor in Boston than to manage and communicate the process of providing water to a community in Tanzania. But as that community has faith in the commitment and sustainable work of charity: water, so do I. Their content is a commitment and contract even Ruskin would support.