• Paula Alionyte

Six ways to energise your blog

Blogging is a great way to take your supporters behind the scenes, tell inspiring stories, and share what you’re learning as you go. A good blog will also provide useful material to feed your social media channels and — with original and good quality content — improve your search rankings too.

It takes time to craft a good post, though, and writing regularly can be really challenging for small organisations.

But consistency is crucial: if you don’t post regularly (at least once a week), readers assume there’s nothing new and may not return. And if you only post bland workshop summaries or endless variations of the same case studies, few will feel inspired to share them.

So how do you keep your blog fresh? Here are some tips for when you’re running out of ideas.

One: Amplify voices from the field

Frontline staff, volunteers, partners and beneficiaries can inject personality and real-world insight into an otherwise dry organisational blog. Encourage a local staff member to write about a challenge they’re facing. Ask a volunteer to describe something they’ve learned. Share the story of one of your beneficiaries — if it’s difficult for them to write in English (or at all), record 3-5 questions with them, and write it up as a Q&A. Or film the interview (just be sure the audio is decent, and keep it concise) and upload your video. Storytelling agency Mile 91 has some interviewing tips here.

Be aware that this option won’t necessarily be less time-consuming than writing yourself (it may well take longer). And think carefully about what’s genuinely interesting. As Oxfam’s long-experienced blogger Duncan Green writes, “if [blogs from the field] are really crude ‘thank you Oxfam for giving me a new goat’ type blogs, they probably won’t reach many people”.

Two: Use more photographs

You should try to include a photo with every post, but they can also be the main feature. In-country staff or volunteers could submit pictures, from which you select and post a “photo of the fortnight” (with a prize for the top three of the year?). Make sure to get captions (names, location, and description if needed), as well as permissions of people in the shot.

Encourage staff on field visits to take behind-the-scenes shots, too. Surprising viewpoints or unexpected detail can bring a new angle to an oft-told story.

Working with a professional or a skilled amateur photographer, you could also create a photo story — aim for 5-8 pictures, with a mix of wide angle shots, portraits and close-ups to give a flavour of your theme or a particular programme. For more suggestions, see these tips from NGO Storytelling.

Three: Share what’s not working

It’s tempting to talk only about successes — but for a reader, that gets boring; as humans, we’re naturally drawn towards others’ vulnerabilities. Could you share yours? What’s giving you a headache this month? What’s been the biggest challenge in getting your new project off the ground? Avoid simply complaining or blaming your donor’s complex procedures, though — and perhaps give it a positive twist by explaining how you’re working to overcome obstacles.

Finally, come back to the issue in a few months’ time or a year later. How have things progressed since? What have you learned?

Four: Tell us about the bigger picture

Remind your readers why you exist by talking about the bigger issues sometimes (without even mentioning your organisation). After all, your supporters follow you because they care about sanitation/equality/education, etc. — not because they care about your organisation as such. Help them understand that issue better by highlighting what’s improved worldwide or in your countries of operation. Explain how a new government or a policy change will affect that issue. Or sum up the latest research, and offer your unique take on it.

Five: Use lists

Used in moderation, list-style articles are effective: easy to read online and good for sharing. They’re relatively simple to put together, and can work both for light-hearted topics and more serious content, such as highlighting the key findings from a research report.

Some ideas:

Five things we learned this year

  • Three highlights from our annual report

  • Three reasons World Water Day matters

  • What we’re reading this month

  • Five ways we’re working to improve transparency

  • Six priorities for 2017

  • Five ways we’ve aligned our work to the SDGs

Six: Answer questions

If you’re still stuck for what to write about, go back to your audience (in fact, you should probably do this anyway). What do readers often misunderstand about your work that you could clarify in a blog post? What questions or topics keep coming up in your social media pages? What have readers commented about on previous blog posts? What are the hot topics in your sector? Using these as starting points will ensure your blog is genuinely useful — and that means readers will come back for more.

This blog was written by a member of the Fair Development Collective, Anna Patton.

Anna is an experienced writer/editor and communications project manager, and has been working with international development organisations since 2007. Currently based in London, she has helped dozens of large and small NGOs — including in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and China — to communicate more effectively and share their stories.

Anna is a regular features writer for Devex and has been published by The Guardian. She also has experience in video production/editing and photography, as well as in designing and delivering communications training.

To find out how Anna can help your small NGO, get in touch!