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The Magazine: Content Marketing for Nonprofits


For most nonprofits, daily activities involve a multitude of people. Their team, clients, members, donors and sponsors are teeming with stories to tell and stories to be told about. It’s a rich landscape for content cultivation!  It’s this richness that makes magazine formats an effective promotional tool for nonprofit organizations.  Magazines produced for nonprofits can move far beyond the mundane nature of the typical newsletter to provide a truly inviting, entertaining and meaningful experience for its readers.

How can producing a magazine promote and advance a nonprofits cause?

Demonstrates insight -  An expertly produced magazine demonstrates that you have a keen understanding of your cause and all the important relationships that enable you to promote and serve it.

Generates community awareness -  Celebrating all your relationships in print will help increase interest in your organization, expanding the community around your cause.

Attracts new members, donors and sponsors -  The value added nature of a magazine attaches substance to membership.  The inclusion of human interests stories promotes a sense of belonging and shared purpose that affirms involvement by existing members and encourages engagement by potential new members.

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I started producing Counterbalance for the National Association of Women Judges in 2019. The organization was producing a biannual newsletter.  It was typically text heavy with limited visual content. They contacted me with the objective of upgrading the newsletter to a value-added magazine that members and potential new members would view as a meaningful benefit to their membership.

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The magazine content would be focused on promoting the judicial role of protecting individual’s rights and equal access under the law through strong, committed, diverse judicial leadership. Specific content would be directed at social justice and bias against women in the legal system. Bringing in depth insight into these issues and promoting their programs designed to help mitigate the problems, including mentoring women in the advancement of equal justice and encouraging young women to pursue legal and judicial careers.

In the months prior to the magazine project, I had embarked on an effort to expand my portfolio to include editorial illustration, primarily oriented to contemporary social, economic and political issues. Counterbalance provided me the opportunity to apply these newly honed skills to complex and thought provoking issues that would further expand my capabilities as visual story teller.

In a recent comment, Karen Donohue, past president of NAWJ, affirmed the success of our efforts. "We are so thankful for your talent, Jim! You helped elevate the publication to new levels. Appreciate your collaboration!"  Both myself and NAWJ have benefited from the effort. The success of the publication demonstrates that a well conceived and creatively presented magazine can amplify an organization's ability to  promote its cause, expand its membership and attract new sponsors.

Informs your readers - A magazine exposes the complex inner workings of your organization and its activities. It's the perfect vehicle for in-depth views of your cause that can only be shared from a firsthand perspective.

A call to action - The magazine verbally and visually documents your actions. Demonstrating those efforts in your marketing communication will inevitably generate more action.


Increases donations - Together, all the above assets work to attract donors and sponsors. The comprehensive presentation of your organization in action creates a contagious energy that will attract new donors.

What are some of the considerations for a nonprofits looking to produce a magazine?

Content generation - Magazines are perceived as being larger and more complex than most marketing materials produced by nonprofits, so there are often concerns about collecting enough meaningful content.  First, there are no set rules for the number of pages in a magazine, so make it the size it needs to be for the amount of content you have.  Also, don't be concerned if each issue is a different size.  There are also no rules for the frequency of distribution. Again, make the frequency rate work for you.

Here are some additional ideas for content collection:

  • Tell stories about all your people with a focus on their lives outside their work with the organization. This adds personality to a name and a face.

  • Highlight parallel organizations and people that are positively impacting the broader community.

  • Reprint or re-post local, regional and national articles that will be of interest to your members, donors and subscribers.

  • Depending on your organization's focus, there are open source article databases that might provide specialized content.

  • Explore advertisement submissions by vendors and business sponsors.


One final note, photographic content needs to be as high quality as possible. If you're using a phone camera, set your camera's preferences to be shooting high resolution images. Poor quality photos are a consistent problem when you're dependent on member and volunteer submissions. If possible, assign the responsibility of taking photographs to a single team member. Every organization probably has someone on there staff with interest and talent in photography. This will give you consistent photographic content. If they need a quality camera, make the investment. It will pay for itself many times over.

Design & Layout - Magazines are visually rich and inviting, incorporating creative uses of color, typography, infographics, illustration, spot art and!  Your magazine’s design style should reflect your organization’s brand identity including your color palette, font styles, existing graphic elements, and any brand-identifiable photographs. Beyond incorporating those base elements, the design style should present the essence of the organization — your personality. Is your personality how you present yourself, or is that how you are actually perceived by the people you interact with on a regular basis?  Simply, the best way to get a sense of that perception is to ask!  In the end, there is far more brand magic in presenting yourself authentically and those around you can help you better understand your "authentic self."

If budget allows, hire a graphic designer to create the initial design style and provide your team with templates. Continue to periodically enlist their assistance to help keep the publication visually impactful. If you have the budget and your only producing 2-3 issues a year, you might consider having the designer layout each issue. Your team can collect all the content and have everything prepared for the designer to do their magic.

Regarding layout, beyond the basics, cover first and the Table of Contents included in the first couple of pages, there are no rules. However, there are some considerations.

  • Organize articles with denser text to be separated by lighter, more visual-based content.

  • Develop regular feature sections, branding them visually with distinct graphics and typography. This reinforces the content with visual memory. Readers searching for those sections of personal interest, will recognize the identifiers.  

  • Limit pages ending with  “Continued on page___.” Don’t require readers to move through the magazine to read the full story. Keep story pages in consecutive order as much as possible.  

  • Dedicate the fun stuff to the front of the magazine, moving content heavy, operational information and data to the back.

Print Magazines, eMagazines & Zines

Printed magazines - Although most people commonly read online content on phones and tablets, the tangible sensation of holding something in your hands and physically turning pages at your own leisure is appealing to many readers, even some younger digital natives. However, the cost of printing and distributing printed publications is significantly higher than posted online versions, so it can be cost prohibitive for most organizations.

Along with production cost, designing and preparing magazine files for printing is significantly more involved than preparing to upload online. Higher resolutions requirements necessitate that photos and graphics be significantly higher quality to achieve a final professional appearance. Color specification and mode requirements also need to be considered. Making final preparations of print-ready files can be involved and might require the need of a professional.

eMagazines - Beyond the tactile benefits of printed magazines, online-only magazines provide a number of advantages to their printed counterpart.

  • Less involved file preparation saves time and money.

  • Lower resolution images and graphics can be used and still maintain a quality appearance.

  • Interactive content. Easily add video, links to contributors and advertisers, and receive quick reader interaction.

  • Potential global online readership without additional cost.

  • Environmentally friendly.

Publishing online can be as simple as producing your magazine in interactive PDF format, uploading it to your website, and providing a link to view or download. It can be in a single or double spread format with hyperlinks to additional multimedia content. However, it doesn't allow for the page turning feature that makes online mags feel like physical magazines. For the page turning feature and more seamless multimedia transitions, you can utilize one of the many service providers that lets you use online applications to design, export, publish, and distribute your magazine using the advances of HTML5 technology. 

Zines - Although full scale printed magazines can be cost prohibitive to many nonprofits, zines provide a cost effective option, particularly for small local organizations. Zines have been produced for decades. Basically a zine is a small, locally circulated publication. Typically self-published using a copy machine or through a local quick-printer. Zines are usually laid out quickly with a loose and informal style using organizational content. This spontaneous approach can create a publication with unique visual charm that can be used for in-person marketing and promotion, and distributed by other local businesses to their customers and clientele.


Whether it's a printed pub, an online e-mag or a spontaneous zine, the magazine format provides nonprofit organizations a versatile way to express their personalty, to demonstrate the appreciation they have for all their supporters, and to attract new members, sponsors and donors. 

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