The content strategy of charity blogs: a study

A study of 50 different charity blogs. See the findings, common mistakes and tips for a better blog.
A Roy Lichtenstein-style painting of a laptop with a blog on the screen

10 to 15 years ago, the blog boomed. It was part of the furniture of a website. Almost every charity had one sitting in its nav bar, alongside the ‘Who we are’, ‘What we do’, and ‘Get involved’ sections.

That popularity came with good reason. It was an easy content type to implement. Bloggers were hyped the way YouTubers and TikTokers are today. To those operating with a media mindset, blog posts seemed ‘free’ in comparison to advertising. Blogging promised limitless traffic through organic search. It could solve a lot of pesky content problems too, like where to put the things that didn’t fit anywhere else. Plus blog posts were ideal fodder for all the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds people were setting up.

But things have changed. The way today’s users consume and engage with content is very different to how it was back then. The way that we as content professionals understand, use, and create content has changed too.

Given all this change, I was curious: what is the state of blogging in the charity sector right now? So I carried out a study of 50 different charities. In this post, I’ll share my findings, along with some common mistakes and tips to help you improve your blog (or maybe even decide to delete it).:



6 out of 10 charities have a blog

29 of the 50 charities in the study have a blog – that’s 6 out of 10.

For the purposes of the survey, I let charities self-define. If they call it a blog, I count it as a blog. If they call it something else, I do not count it.

What is a blog, really?

As a blogging purist, I believe that for something to be a blog, it must:

  • be regularly updated with new posts
  • have a date on posts
  • have a named author for posts
  • focus on editorial, opinion-based, or personal content

I also tested the blogs in the study against this definition. I found that only 10 out of the 50 have a ‘true’ blog (according to my definition at least).

In a way, this brings me to the heart of why I’m so interested in the question of what blogging’s for in 2023. Why are so many of us sticking with a blog, when what we’re doing isn’t really blogging and there are other content formats out there?



Charities that rely on donations are more likely to have a blog

I found a correlation between primary income source and whether or not the charity had a blog:

A bar chart showing whether or not organisations have a blog by biggest income source.

The data is as follows:

Biggest income sourceNumber of charities that do not have a blogNumber of charities that have a blog
Charitable activities1011
Donations and legacies916

 

Almost 7 in 10 charities whose biggest income source is donations and legacies have a blog. That’s compared to 5 in 10 charities whose biggest income source is charitable activities (income generated by selling goods or services). 

My theory is that traditional blog content – editorial, opinion-based, or personal content – might feel more aligned to the goals of a team that’s focused on generating donations and support. Meanwhile, content teams charged with delivering digital services or providing information and advice, might see a blog as a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential. 



There’s no correlation between income and likelihood of having a blog

My hunch was that larger charities with bigger budgets would be the ones without a blog. I thought that teams with more money to spend and bigger teams might have a more mature approach and access to other content formats, and therefore might be more likely to leave blogging behind.

I was wrong – there is no correlation:

A bar chart showing whether or not charities have a blog by type income bracket. 

The data is as follows:

Income bracketCharities that do not have a blogCharities that have a blog
Under £1 million22
£1m to £5m47
£5m to £10m31
£10m to £50m46
£50m to £100m25
£100m to £200m34
£200m+34


Social welfare charities are the most likely to blog, beneficiary group charities the least likely

Social welfare charities – organisations working in areas like poverty, abuse, and bereavement – were the most likely to have a blog. All six of the charities included in the survey had a blog.

Health charities – which include specific health conditions and mental health – were also likely to have a blog. 5 out of the 6 health charities surveyed had a blog.

Beneficiary group charities were the least likely to have a blog. Only 1 in 7 had a blog. Beneficiary group charities are charities that serve a particular group of people, like children, LGBTQ+, older people, etc. Four of these charities did have a ‘Stories’ section, however. (More on that later…)

(I used the UK Charity Classification taxonomy to assign each organisation a category. See the UK Charity Classification Taxonomy.)

A bar chart showing whether or not charities have a blog by type of charity. 

The data is as follows:

Type of charityCharities that do not have a blogCharities that have a blog
Social welfare06
Health15
Environment13
Housing12
Leisure12
Saving of lives23
Society23
All2129
Animals22
Economic and community development21
Crime and Justice31
Beneficiary group61

 



Findability and usability are problem areas

It was surprisingly tough to find the blog on many of the sites I included in the study. In many instances, I had to search Google to find the blog, then backtrack to try and work out if it was/where it was in the navigation.

A bar chart showing a count different ways you can navigate to the blogs in the study.

The data is as follows:

How do you navigate to the blog?Number of charities
Main menu, secondary level10
Not linked6
Ancillary navigation3
Footer3
Main menu, primary level3
Homepage link2
Main menu, tertiary level1

The most common place for the blog to be linked was at the secondary level in the main menu.

Six charities didn’t link to their blog in their navigation in any way that I could identify (and I promise I really tried).

When I found the blog homepages, the usability features for exploring the posts were often poor. Many didn’t give you the option to filter, search, or sort posts in a meaningful way.

Issue: Build it and they’ll come is a myth

Build it and they’ll come is a myth for any type of website content – you always need to think about the distribution and findability. But this is especially true for blog content.

It’s most likely that you’ll be driving traffic to individual blog posts from email and social media. And people are unlikely to browse your site looking for your blog. So you might be wondering why it matters where you link to it from and how people explore the posts.

And up to a point, I agree. You have to prioritise the top tasks in your IA, navigation, and homepage. But dumping the blog in the footer isn’t the answer. No one’s going to click the link down there, and all your hard work will go to waste.

Tip: think about how people will use the blog

Don’t hide your blog – think about the purpose and intention behind it, and try to fit it into the IA accordingly.

But this also brings me back to wider issues. If you’re struggling to find a location for your blog on the site, it might be because:

  • it’s not what your users need
  • your information architecture isn’t fit for purpose
  • your content types need to be rethought


Many charities lack an organising principle

17 out of the 29 blogs I looked at use categories to break up their content into different themes or streams.

Two of the charities I looked at have more than one blog. But when I looked more closely, these were really just different categories rather than totally different entities.

If you have or are tempted to have multiple blogs, check that you wouldn’t be better served by categories. I would only recommend having multiple blogs if they have totally different audiences and purposes.

Issue: too few or too many categories make navigation hard

12 charities have no categories at all – just one long flow of posts. This makes it hard for users to narrow down to the particular thing they might be interested in.

At the other end of the scale, there was one blog with 21 different categories. It looked like people had added new ones over time with no real strategy or thought behind them. And, unsurprisingly, lots of those categories hadn’t had a new post for months or even years. This is a frustrating experience for users, leading them down a dead end to content that’s out-of-date.

Only a few of the blogs I looked at had a clear organising principle for their blog categories. The most common approach was to divide the content by the different service areas in the organisation.

Tip: have a manageable number of categories with an organising principle

The average number of categories for the blogs I surveyed was six, which is a manageable number. (And in keeping with the old IA rule of thumb that you should have a maximum of seven categories – although I don’t think there’s actually any evidence for this.)

When you’re thinking about your categories, choose something that:

  • is evergreen
  • reflects your content strategy
  • makes sense to your users


 Some sites have content going back over 15 years

The average organisation has content going back to 2016. Five charities had content going back more than a decade, with one going back all the way back to 2008.

Issue: keeping content online has a carbon cost

That’s an awful lot of old posts that are incredibly unlikely to be getting any traffic. And keeping old blog posts online requires energy and will add to the carbon footprint of your site.

Tip: delete or archive content after two years

As a general rule, I suggest keeping content for a maximum of two years before deleting it (or archiving it offline if there’s a good reason for you to do so).

When I do content audits for clients, there’s almost always one or two old blog posts that still get lots of traffic because they show up in a common search query. And this often sparks a debate about whether or not to archive that content.

I think old content that’s still getting traffic is a good indication that it should never have been a blog post in the first place. Look at that content and think about how to convert it into an evergreen format, and think about what it can tell you about evergreen content formats to explore for the future.



The average organisation publishes 27 posts a year

A couple of the charities without dates on their posts were using their blog to share evergreen content – think tips and advice.

If you’re not putting a date on your posts because you know the content has a long lifespan, then a blog is probably not the right format for you.

Issue: posting infrequently means a blog might not be the right format

The least active blog shared just two posts in 2022. This organisation is an interesting case. All of its blog posts have a date on them, but they are evergreen in format – think historical stories and ideas for things to do on visits. And while it has a blog homepage where all these posts are collected, if you look at the URLs, they actually sit in the ‘Visit’ section of the site, and are linked from that part of the navigation too.

From an outside perspective, I’d say they should lose the blog and keep on publishing evergreen, undated content in the visit section of the site. That seems like it would be a much better strategic choice and more likely to generate results.

Tip: post regularly and post ephemeral content

If you’re going to have a blog, aim to post regularly – at least once a month – and focus on content with a shelf life.

If you don’t have time to post regularly, or you want to create content with a longer lifespan, you would probably be better off investing your time in evergreen content types.



Non-content staff and people who use services write the best blog posts

Most of the blogs in the survey were dominated by posts written by staff, and with a wide range of different roles and specialisms represented. As well as marketing and content people, there were subject matter experts, policy experts, frontline staff, and more. One organisation’s blog was solely written by the CEO.

Three charities had blogs that were written by the people that use their services and/or supporters. I think giving people a platform rather than speaking for them (or about them) is an interesting approach.

8 of the 29 blogs did not have named authors. Not naming your writers is a missed opportunity, and one of the key things that makes a blog a blog. We’re all interested in other people, so being able to put a face to a piece of writing can help with engagement.

This is subjective, but for me, the posts I found most interesting and engaging tended to be written by staff who weren’t content experts or by the people who used the charity’s services.

Issue: getting other people writing is hard

Leaving all the writing to content people/marketers is a missed opportunity. And that’s not because there’s something wrong with their writing – far from it. It’s that your subject matter experts have a wealth of expertise and the people who use your services have a wealth of lived experience. Their knowledge can be a compelling point of difference for your content.

Tip: showcase people, try pair writing

Try to showcase the people in your organisation and the people who use your services.

I know that it’s not always that easy, and that people are busy, or lack skills/confidence when it comes to their writing. But that’s where pair writing comes in. Grab your expert, ask them questions for 30 minutes or an hour to write a draft together, and then ghost write the final post for them.

The Wellcome Collection has a brilliant approach to this – read my interview with digital editor Dr Alice White to find out more



Opinions, updates and news were the most common type of blog post

I looked at the three most recent posts for each of the blogs, and categorised them by type of post:

The chart is a bar chart showing the number of different types of posts.

The data is as follows:

Post typeCount
Opinion14
Project/campaign update13
News12
Article/evergreen content10
Personal story9
Staff story8
Behind the scenes6
Research5
Analysis4
Event2
Case study1

I found that opinion was the most common type of post. There were also a lot of personal stories from staff, supporters, and people who use the charity’s services. This is really encouraging – opinion and personal stories are ideal content for a blog.

Project/campaign updates and news were the second and third most common type of blog post.

Issue: Blog ≠ news

1 in 10 of the charities in the study call their blog/the section where their blog posts sit something along the lines of ‘News and blog’. Some of these charities did not differentiate between what was a news story and what was a blog post.

I understand why this happens: lots of CMSs will have a standard content type that’s identical for news and blog. So when you’re building a site, it makes sense to join them together and put all your content that has a date on it in one place for ease. 

Tip: differentiate between news stories and blog posts

News stories and blog posts are not the same:

 

Blog post

News story

Purpose

Personal experiences, opinions, analysis, advice, and creative content

Timely and factual information about current events, developments, or issues

Intention

Personal and subjective

Accurate and unbiased

Writing style

Style depends on the writer and their voice and the topic.

Structure is flexible.

Formal and objective.

Inverted pyramid structure, where the most important information is presented at the beginning, followed by details in descending order of importance.

Sources

Blog posts may or may not rely on external sources, they can be based purely on personal opinions and experiences. 

Must be based on verifiable and trustworthy sources.

I’m not convinced that all charities need a blog and a news section. Look at the two kinds of content and be realistic about whether you’re really creating both.

If you need them both and want to host them in the same part of your site, be sure to label them clearly and differentiate your approach when you write them.

Issue: the blog isn’t a catch-all

I also found a reasonable amount of evergreen content and research hosted in blog posts. This brought me back to the crux of the issue with blogs. So many become a dumping ground for content that someone wanted to publish but didn’t have a good home for. I don’t think the blog is the right place for evergreen content with a long potential lifespan. Meanwhile blog posts have a date on them and are ephemeral. And from a user’s point of view, they’re much more likely to look for content by topic in your navigation than by content type.

Tip: choose the right content type for the job

What this all boils down to is choosing the right content type for the job. Data and testing will help you explore if blog posts are a good medium for evergreen content or research: how much traffic do those posts get, where does it come from, and what do people do next? Does having on old date on content undermine people’s confidence in the information? Think about duplication of effort too: do you really need a blog post announcing a new research paper, or could you just use the research page itself? 



What do charities that don’t have a blog do instead?

I looked at what charities that don’t have a blog have instead. All of them had some kind of content that overlapped with the things that the other charities were putting on their blog. The most common alternatives were ‘News’ and ‘Stories’.

News

15 charities have a ‘News’ section. I think news is a better option than a blog if you have a lot of announcements or updates to share. But I say this with a big caveat to check if this content is getting the kind of response you want. I see people putting huge effort into news sections for very little return. Email and social media can be better ways to share this type of information for some charities.

Stories

Eight charities had something along the lines of ‘Stories’ or ‘Voices’, with ‘Stories’ being the most common way of naming this content.

The content in these sections varied, but a lot of it was concerned with sharing stories about or by the people that use the charity’s services. Lots of the best blogs share this kind of content too, but I think there are two key differences to call out.

The first is that the name ‘Stories’ gives users more of a hint about what to expect than ‘Blog’, and it promises a bit more interest too (everyone loves a story). Most of the charities with a ‘Stories’ section were beneficiary group charities. Perhaps this approach ties in with a desire to keep the people who use their services at the forefront.

Email newsletters

While I didn’t look into this as part of the study, I wanted to mention email newsletters (and podcasts) as an interesting format to consider when thinking about blogging. Content-based email newsletters have boomed over the last few years, and can be a great way to build a very engaged audience around high-quality, unique content.

Look at your evergreen content

The most important thing to take away from this is to think about your evergreen content and whether you have the right formats to support your content strategy. If you’re just using the blog as digital storage for content that doesn’t have a home elsewhere and that has long-term relevance, you need new content types.



Almost 4 in 10 charities have a presence on Medium

19 of the charities in the study have a presence on Medium – that’s almost 4 in 10.

Seven had a presence on Medium but no blog on their website. 10 had a presence on Medium and a blog. And two used Medium as the blog solution on their website, integrated as a sub-domain.

Interestingly, beneficiary groups charities were the most likely to be using Medium, followed by health and social welfare. Perhaps this is part of the reason why these charities are less likely to have a blog o on their websites.

On the whole, the charities in the study tended to be using Medium for what I think of as ‘behind the scenes’ or ‘inner workings’ content about their organisation – and digital/service design in particular. 

Medium has some real benefits for this kind of content. It’s traditionally been where digital design people publish and read, so there’s a ready-made audience there and in-built functionality to help people find your content. This can be an asset if you want to raise the profile of your team, get more recognition for your work, build your employer brand, or be part of a community of people facing similar challenges. It also has a nice look and feel, and for some teams, it probably offers more freedom than publishing on your main site. I love reading this kind of content, whether it’s on Medium or elsewhere, and would love to see more of it.

I do have one small warning though. 8 out of the 19 Medium publications I found – almost half – had not been updated in the last 12 months. While it’s quick and easy to get started with Medium, you need to think about the risk and lifecycle in the same way as any other content. 

Don’t leave it under the control of one member of staff – people leave. And if you’re not going to update your publication anymore, put a note on the publication and posts explaining this, so that people won’t follow or subscribe expecting new updates. 

A few extra tips

  • Have a clear objective: Make sure your blog has specific goals that align with your charity’s mission and objectives. Are you looking to increase donations, engage supporters, share personal stories, or something else? Only write if you’re sure what the objective is.
  • Be guided by your users and their needs: Understand your target audience’s preferences, interests, and pain points. Tailor your content to address their needs and provide value. A user-centred approach will improve engagement and relevance.
  • Focus on quality over quantity: Focus on creating high-quality, meaningful content rather than churning out loads of posts. Well-researched, insightful, and well-written pieces resonate more with readers and establish your charity as a credible source.
  • Include clear CTAs: Include clear and strategic calls-to-action in your blog posts. Whether it’s directing readers to donate, sign up for newsletters, take part in events, or get in touch for support, you should always provide a next step.
  • Measure and iterate: Regularly analyse the performance of your blog posts. Adapt your approach based on what you learn.
  • Optimise for organic search: Incorporate relevant keywords, meta descriptions, and relevant internal and external links to improve your blog’s search engine ranking.

Notable charity blogs

To wrap up, here are some of the charity blogs that I think are worth taking a look at for inspiration.

  • Compassion in Dying: Compassion in Dying is a former client, so perhaps I’m biased, but I think it’s taken a great approach to its blog. The content is a mix of updates and opinions on the different services it provides and ‘working in the open’ posts that explain the work it’s doing.
  • Mind: Mind’s ‘Your stories’ section – which it does refer to as being made up of blog posts at points – is all written by people affected by mental health problems. The content is incredibly diverse, and shares unique experiences and view points.
  • Content at Scope: The Scope content team’s Medium publication is a gem. Every post is full of practical insight into the work the team is doing.


About the study and my methodology

I created a list of  50 different charities, classified them into sub-groups, and looked up their income and income source/

Then I looked at their websites and recorded the following data:

  • Whether or not they had a blog (if they called something a blog, I marked it as a blog)
  • If they didn’t have a blog, I looked at what other comparable content formats they had
  • Where it sat in their navigation and/or IA
  • How many categories it had
  • The number of posts published in 2022
  • Who wrote the posts
  • Topics/formats of the most recent three posts

I’ve chosen not to share the names of any of the organisations in the survey, apart from those who I think are doing the best job. I don’t want anyone to feel named and shamed – it’s not the point of this exercise. 

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