A nonprofit content calendar can help you plan, organize, and implement a content strategy that promotes your organization’s programs and services on multiple platforms including the web, social media, email, and print.
The content calendar we recommend to all nonprofits is the same one we use at Salsa Labs for planning our own communications, and in this article, we’ll show you exactly how to use it. You can grab a copy of the templates here and follow along with the tutorial to customize it for your own use.
What is a Nonprofit Editorial Calendar?
An editorial calendar (also called a content calendar) is a tool nonprofits use to plan and implement their content strategy. This includes any written or graphic material you plan to put on your website, in an email, on social media channels, or in print.
Items of content are planned in advance and placed on the content calendar for publishing at some time in the future. All the assets needed for that post, like graphics, quotes, links, etc. are also planned in advance and included on the calendar so your entire team knows what is being posted and when it will appear in your marketing channels.
Without forward planning, placing content on a website or in social channels can seem haphazard or disconnected from the theme or mission of your organization. Using a content calendar helps us plan themes in advance and be consistent with messaging and our overall nonprofit marketing strategy. The further in advance you plan, the more organized and efficient your team will be.
Like the calendar you put on the wall or the fridge at home, a content calendar also helps you remember those days of special significance to your audience. We call those "Hashtag Holidays" because they typically get posted online with hashtags to memorialize the day like #GivingTuesday, #BlackHistoryMonth, or #TakeYourKidtoWorkDay. Most social networks include ways to search and view by hashtags, making this a great way to get your content noticed on those special days.
What Types of Nonprofits Should Use a Content Calendar?
Some people think content calendars are just for large nonprofits, but that notion couldn’t be further from the truth. Content calendars can be used by organizations of any size, from mom and pop shops to nonprofits with thousands of employees.
There’s never a bad time to get organized and there’s no size requirement to become more efficient as an organization. If you’ve never used a content calendar or nonprofit editorial calendar system, now’s a great time to start.
10 Things You Should Track With Your Nonprofit Editorial Calendar
There’s virtually no limit to what you can plan and track with your content calendar. At Salsa, we track every piece of marketing material we post on every public channel we post on. We also use our content calendar to track large projects with dozens of discreet tasks that make up those projects. We track internal development tasks, relationships with external partners, and much more.
Again, it’s best to start simple and you can grow as your needs grow. Here are a few types of content you can start planning in your nonprofit editorial calendar.
1. Website Pages
If you’re planning a website redesign or you just need to add a new fundraising page to your site, tracking all the necessary content with your content calendar is a snap. Most website pages are a combination of text and images. Special pages, like volunteer or fundraising pages, will require forms and possibly integrations with external software like a nonprofit CRM or credit card processor. These can be entered into your content calendar as discreet tasks that roll up into that one big page, each with its own unique deadline.
2. Blog Articles
A blog post is a great piece of content to track with your calendar. You’ll track things like the article author, any images or graphics that are needed, and the text that goes along with it. Since blog posts are dynamic in nature and you’re likely to add a few of them on a regular basis, sharing links to your newly published blog posts makes great social media posts.
3. Social Media Posts
Sharing a quick reply or answering a comment on social media doesn’t have to be planned on a calendar. Those can be entered directly into the network as needed or through your social media management application. However, it is a good idea to plan your social media content in advance, just like you would your web pages and blog posts. At Salsa, when we publish a blog post, we also publish a social media update about that blog post on the same day. We also queue up a similar, but different, social post scheduled for a few days later. Then another one on the same topic a week later, and then two weeks later. All different text and sometimes different graphics, but all pointing back to the same blog post or resource. Remember, not every member of your audience is online a the same time, and very few people go far back into their feeds to read the things they might have missed. Posting with the cadence we describe helps you get maximum exposure for your content and will drive more traffic to your nonprofit website.
Keeping track of your nonprofit email marketing is easy to do with an editorial calendar, especially if you have an email marketing automation system like Salsa Engage that allows you to save drafts and schedule content weeks in advance of when it needs to send. At one point or another, everyone has been rushed to get an email out the door. Maybe it was for an upcoming event, a fundraiser, or just a reminder. You forgot to proofread it and it went out to thousands of supporters with a few misspelled words, or maybe a broken link. Planning ahead with an editorial calendar gives you the ability to take your time composing the email, checking the links, and making sure the graphics look just right.
A simple gif is easy enough to find quickly and add to your website or an email. Other images, like infographics, charts, and presentations are more involved and require much more time to generate. Using an editorial calendar to plan and share these more complicated graphics can help your team give notes more efficiently and get the project done quicker.
6. Flyers, Brochures, and Other Print Material
Content calendars aren’t just for digital content. Salsa uses our content calendar to plan promotional material for events, flyers, brochures, and handouts and banners we use at conferences. Oftentimes, print material needs to be handed off between different departments, or go to an external company for printing and mailing. A content calendar is a great way to plan your overall nonprofit marketing strategy and to track the development of all the moving pieces from ideas all the way to receipt by the end-user.
Salsa tracks webinars and other online events in our content calendar. We create each event as a unique project and roll up all the tasks underneath it. For a webinar, we usually create a presentation, fill it with text and graphics, do a few practice run-throughs, and then present. On our calendar, one person will be responsible for putting together the template. Another will be responsible for starting the slides and any research or citations that might be needed. Someone else is responsible for adding contextually relevant graphics, and then yet another person is responsible for creating the registration pages for our webinar software. There are several email reminders that go out for each webinar, and then after the webinar is over there is a video recording that gets placed on the web and sent to webinar attendees for review. There are a lot of moving parts to that one type of event. Tracking an in-person event can have even more steps to the process. All of these things are great to plan out in your content calendar.
Podcast episodes are easily managed with a content calendar. If your podcast features guests, you can track potential and confirmed guests in the calendar along with practice and actual recording dates and times. Since the final product will result in audio/video or other media being produced, these are also great pieces of content to share on social media.
9. Planned Giving Campaigns
In Salsa’s Giving Tuesday E-Guide we recommend a 6-week lead time for promoting your Giving Tuesday campaign each year. In that guide, we provide you with a roadmap for success that includes templates for email and social media, and a sample schedule you can implement with your own content calendar. You can use that same type of roadmap for virtually any planned giving campaign. The further out your plan, the more organized you will be. Being organized will allow you to more effectively deal with emergencies as they pop up (and something always pops up at the last minute).
10. Large Projects and Individual Tasks
Sometimes your nonprofit might work on an internal development project that doesn’t need to be published publicly. You can track these on your calendar too, planning milestones and delivery time for individual tasks needed to complete the overall project. Assignments can be given to team members or external partners, and progress can be tracked inside the calendar. Links to documents are kept in one place and easily accessible. In fact, Salsa uses its content calendar in this way too, and each member of our team has their own task view within the calendar to see just what they’re working on so they can focus on what’s important that week.
Nonprofit Software to Power Your Content Calendar
There is no shortage of nonprofit marketing software you can use to power your content calendar. In general, we recommend you keep it simple and use whatever tool is most familiar to you and most convenient. If installing yet another app is just going to stress you out, go with something you already use and modify it for your needs.
Using Spreadsheets as a Nonprofit Content Calendar
Spreadsheets are the simplest tools to use for content calendars and most people are familiar with them. Spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets are widely available and relatively inexpensive. Chances are your organization is already using them.
Each piece of content is a new row, and you can add tabs or new sheets to track things like projects, keywords, content categories, hashtag holidays, and content partners. We’ll cover this more later when we discuss how to use the nonprofit content calendar templates.
The example below shows the Salsa Nonprofit Content Calendar template in Google Sheets. There is a sheet for people (your content creators) and a sheet for tasks (your pieces of content). On the tasks tab, you enter the content being developed and enter information about that piece in the columns that follow.
If your organization already uses the nonprofit version of Office 365 you probably have Excel. If you are using Gsuite or Google Workplace you have access to Google Sheets. These spreadsheets typically cost a few dollars per month per user. There’s also OpenOffice, a free nonprofit suite of productivity tools, which includes a spreadsheet that works very well and can open Excel files.
Using a Nonprofit Database as a Content Calendar
A step up in technology from the spreadsheet would be something like Airtable, Microsoft Access, Filemaker, or some other relational database. Databases add another layer of complexity to spreadsheets, but they also make displaying related information really easy.
Using the spreadsheet example above, you can track who is writing a specific piece of content, but if you update the name of an item in a linked table it will not update across all tabs of your spreadsheet. Also, the spreadsheet does not easily give you the ability to drill down into items that might relate to one another.
Databases, however, can do those things quickly.
Here’s the same content in Airtable, a relational online database, where simply clicking on the author’s name brings up a window showing all the content the author is currently working on, which you can then click on and go directly to that content.
Databases allow you to create views, kind of like tabs in a spreadsheet, but each view is a database of its own and can filter relational data on any record, row, or column. Another advantage of databases is that you can create unique filter views that affect only your view, and not everyone else’s view of the same document. That allows you to filter and view the data you want while still allowing other members of your team to view the data in the way they need.
Airtable is what we use at Salsa. They have a free and paid versions. They also offer nonprofit pricing discounts. Everything we show you here and in the toolkit can be done with the free version. The paid version does offer some additional functionality and integrated applications that really give it power. It typically starts at around $10 per user per month and increases in cost based on added functionality. It is a powerful and capable tool with features not available in most simple spreadsheets.
Nonprofit Editorial Calendar Software
There are a few commercial tools built for creating editorial calendars. These tools blend spreadsheet capabilities with relational databases. They often come with graphical calendar views so you can visualize the days when your content will be published. Some of them even sync with your social networks and blog pages allowing you to post directly from the calendar. Others allow you to create libraries of graphics for reusing and sharing content, and some even sync with programs like Canva for quick access to millions of stock images.
These tools can be extremely convenient, but they do tend to get pricey, and monthly license fees can quickly climb into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month depending on the number of users in the system. They include apps like:
Most of these apps also include project management and task tracking capabilities which go beyond the scope of content calendars, which is why they are much more costly than using a simpler content calendar. Apps like ClickUp and Asana feature invoicing, time tracking, employee management, and so much more.
If you do plan to use a more robust application for your content calendar make sure it has all the features you need to start and can track all the items you need at a reasonable cost. Don’t get stuck paying for all the extra bells and whistles if you don’t need them.
How to Use Salsa’s Nonprofit Content Calendar
The Salsa Nonprofit Content Calendar features all the information you need to track for your marketing efforts whether you post once a week or twenty times every day. It is also extensible, so it allows you to build on as your organizational needs grow.
Creating a System for Your Content Requirements
Every nonprofit has its own unique content requirements. As you customize the calendar to fit your needs, try to think of the most common characteristics shared by as much of your content as possible.
Again, the process is the same whether your organization is large or small. Here’s the system we use at Salsa for every piece of content we create:
- Validate the idea
- Identify the parts
- Plan the timing
- Start the research
- Start the draft
- Assemble Assets
- Publish and Promote
You start with an idea and follow it all the way through to publishing and promotion. Along the process, you’ll add details to your content like images, graphics, and other media, along with social media promotions and more.
The content calendar shows you how to work with team members who might need to review content you create, and how to work with external teams that also need to review your material before it is published. We’ve worked in SEO keyword fields that can help you keep SEO in mind when creating your web content.
We’ve also created a few helpful instructional videos that walks you through each of the 10 steps in the process and how we denote that on a content calendar. Everything you see here was done with the free version of Airtable.
You can view the two videos below. They are also included in the Nonprofit Editorial Calendar Toolkit along with the other calendar resources, including a copy of the exact calendar we use at Salsa in several different formats.
Nonprofit Editorial Calendar Introduction Video
The first video walks you through the calendar setup, all the tables, and views, and what they mean.
Nonprofit Editorial Calendar Detail Video
The second video shows you exactly how to enter information in the content calendar, how to edit it, move content between views, work with team members, and publish content.
Watch the Nonprofit Content Management Webinar Replay
Dive into nonprofit editorial calendars with us by watching our content management webinar replay — an hour-long video filled with best practices to help you plan your communication strategy for the entire year.
Download the Nonprofit Content Calendar Templates
We’ve created a set of templates and instructions you can use to copy and modify your own nonprofit content calendar. We’ve made the content available in Excel, Google Sheets, and Airtable. The instructions are in Google Docs or PDF format.
The instructions are a written version of the videos above and go into more detail about what each record type means and how to use it. You can make a copy of these documents and templates and edit them for your own organization.
All the documents can be found in the Nonprofit Editorial Toolkit which you can download here:
If you do decide to use Airtable, you can use the free or paid version. Again, all the instructions and videos show you what can be accomplished by using the simple free version of the powerful Airtable program. Instructions for duplicating our base Airtable template into your own Airtable account are included in the toolkit instruction guide and the video and will give you a great head start with a base that matches our own process.
You can also copy the google sheet and get started with that template. If you prefer Excel, the template is also ready to go for you.
Good luck creating your own nonprofit content calendar. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.
If you have any questions, visit us on Facebook and drop us a note or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to help.