User research is an important aspect of content strategy. For my master thesis I did qualitative interviews with 23 people interested in nature and NGO. In this article, I will share with you some insights and develop four recommendations.

Every content strategy is based on user research. For my master thesis «Developing a Content Strategy for a NGO», I conduct interviews with 23 people. I established the contact to the big majority through a Facebook post on the facebook wall of a very active nature community called I wrote that I was looking for people who are interested in doing an interview about nature and NGO on the phone. In this article, I will share with you some insights and develop four recommendations.

Passion for nature is rooted in childhood

One of the most amazing findings due to its frequency: The big majority of people assume that they already grow up with a nature friendly environment. They told me about family vacations in nature, hiking tours etc. Some remembered also a passioned teacher at school, taking them during biology course out into nature. Only one person said, that she just developed interest in nature and nature protection during her studies, because her family was not nature-oriented before.

Trust is essential before supporting an NGO

Another striking fact: It is hard for people themselves to tell, why do they support this particular NGO. When I asked them, what they do check before supporting an NGO, they often say that the most important thing is trust, reputation and relevance. But as soon as you ask further which methods they use to evaluate this, they state that it is really difficult to see what organisations do, once you support them with your money. So in the end, it seems to be all about the name and the reputation of an organisation. An interesting aspect also risen by various articles in the «Handbuch NGO-Kommunikation».

Handbuch NGO-Kommunikation

Painpoint 1: Tell me why should I support exactly your organisation?

Another concern a lot of people raised is the difficulty to decide, which organisation is the best to support. Usually people tend to support different NGO – or they do support no organisation at all. Just supporting one organisation was very rare in my interviews. If a person support different NGO, they usually find it hard to decide which NGO really needs their financial support. They cannot really tell that NGO A is better than NGO B and often find themselves in the situation that they see their limit financial situation – and the lot of good projects NGO have in their portfolio.

In this difficult context, they often report to look after projects, to which they are emotionally connected – either in a sense, that they have a great confidence into the sustainability and professionality of an organisations work, or because they to feel a deep emotional connection somehow, e.g. because they visited a presentation about the project, know some people who work there, some friends supported this work already etc. Some people reported also to create kind of a pattern themselves, e.g. selecting one nature protection NGO, an animal protection NGO etc.

Painpoint 2: The flood of information isn’t just online, but offline too

Digital age and mass publication is often associated with online flood of information. But as far as I learned from this user research, the printed flood of information is even a bigger issue for my interviewee. Several reported to stop their support because of ongoing letters begging for money, unwanted gifts such as present cards or becoming magazines they don’t have the time to read anyway. When having in mind that people support several NGO, this makes absolutely sense. If every NGO contacts its supports once per month and this person supports to 6 NGO… well, you can easily understand.

Four recommendations for an NGO

Out of these four key insights, I would like to give four recommendations:

  • Invest into offers for families: I learned that people associated their relation to nature in childhood.  If you can reach parents and their kids and build up a fascination for nature, this offers a great opportunity for them being future members. Develop events for that particular user group – this can be your backbone for the future.
  • Invest into authentic content portraying the work of your NGO: Trust is essential, and your content should always reflect this concern for trust. Being successful is part of the game for sure. But it is also important to communicate with supporters about things which didn’t work?  All too often, NGO do invest in highly polished marketing campaigns. But isn’t the daily work with backstrokes worth a report too, with small insight into lessons learned about some things, which might didn’t work as planned? This authenticity will increase the trustworthiness of your organisation too. Trust comes with visibility and reputation – be sure to be where your users are, to publish work on the social network they use, and to create little stories about your brand. Trust is build over time, and every small action of your content universe can contribute to it.
  • Give users a reason, why to choose your organisation: Thing about your message priority of your different landing pages. Do you tell users what makes your effort sustainable and how their contribution can be part of it? How do you guarantee transparency? Why is it important to support a professional NGO with great experience – and what is their strength as being a long known player in the field? And last but not least: Tell people why you need more supporters and how they can be part of the team. In our case, we can only be a strong advocate for the nature and a strong association if we can find members who support us regularly over longer time. Thank your supporters for their loyalty and let others become part of the team with a well-designed content strategy focussing on dialogue.
  • Reduce flood of information for users: Take your users suffering serious, be it on- or offline. Don’t put everything on your website just because you think it needs to be published on your website in order to exist. Invest into user research and analytics, provide relevant content. Invest into well designed services and process – don’t send everything printed just because you can afford to do so. Think about digital alternatives for long established processes instead. Marketing automation isn’t just great to generate leads. Automatic workflows and a great CRM can also support you in A / B Testing to find ways of best communications with your user! And last but not least: Establish dialogue. One-to-many information is over since long ago. Meet people where they are – and start a conversation at eye level.