It happened to me. Maybe it’s happened to you too.

This afternoon I found myself staring at a blank screen with no idea what I wanted to write.

I’d committed (with the best of intentions) to providing our Personify communications team with a post for the blog but didn’t specify what I would be writing about. Now the proverbial chickens had come home to roost. What did I have to work with? A deadline and surprisingly little in the way of ideas.

That’s a problem.

The dark corner of the bright spot

As the saying goes, content is king. Members and constituents of all stripes value the information provided by their organization across a growing number of channels. As a key strategy in supporting acquisition, driving engagement and keeping satisfaction (and retention) numbers high, a continuous flow of content that is both valuable and new has never been more important. While not a new idea, the momentum behind content marketing shows no signs of slowing down, with marketers turning to blogging, podcasting, vlogging, live video, and even Snapchat to share their organization’s message in a way that’s valuable, relevant and informative.

Sounds great, right? Constituents enjoy unparalleled access to information and opportunities for learning while organizations have endless chances to reinforce their value.

Good content comes from somewhere, a person gathering their thoughts, researching a topic and putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) in order to share what they’ve discovered with a broader audience. That process is sparked by an idea, a question or perhaps a moment of inspiration.

What happens when that spark never happens? What happens when you need to feed a hungry content machine but you’re fresh out of snacks to share?

Some writers argue that “writer’s block” exists only as an excuse, designed to give permission to the inevitable human tendencies towards procrastination but as someone in the trenches I’m here to tell you the struggle is real. Perhaps you’re facing the pressure of deadlines, are afraid of introducing ideas that may be controversial or don’t want to publish anything less than perfect, so you don’t even bother starting.

When it comes to surmounting writer’s block, there’s no shortage of advice out there:

  • Exercise to get the blood flowing
  • Create a routine to help your mind find focus when it’s time to write
  • Eliminate distractions and create a comfortable writing space
  • Listen to music you love or try listening to music completely outside your comfort zone
  • Read a book or inspirational quotes
  • Spend time talking to a friend or loved one

The challenge is that writing is an art, not a science. There’s no magic formula that works for every person, every time. I’ve been confronted with writer’s blocks a handful of times over the course of my career and every victory looked different. More often than not, I’ve looked to author Charles Bukowski’s advice, “Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”

Breaking through

Being proactive in taking the first step is important but so too is the realization that as a nonprofit, you benefit from having a wealth of subjects at your disposal. Here are three I’d recommend to anyone looking for a place to start:

Crowdsource inspiration from your staff…and your members

Ask a question. Lurk in one of the forums in your online community. Talk to your staff and see what’s top of mind. By tapping into the perspective of others you can reinvigorate your content with ideas you may not have previously considered. As an added bonus, you know the content you’re pulling together already has appeal to your constituents and is aligned with their interests.


(Note: This is not the movie from the ‘90’s. That was “New Jack City.”)

Something newsworthy dominating talk around the water-cooler in your office? Try turning it into content. See how it impacts your organization, ask members via your social media channels for quick thoughts or spin up a poll to gauge their reaction on a timely topic.

See what the experts say

Do you have favorite blogs? Publications? They may relate to your organization’s mission or be more general, but the chances are good they may publish the latest in industry news and offer both opinionated and unique commentary on each subject. Does your organization’s point of view align? Differ? How can your constituents incorporate this information into their role, both as a member but with regards to their profession? What does this mean to them?

Whether you’re a content creation team of one or 100, you’re bound to hit a wall at some point and that’s OK but movement is critical. Put one foot in front of the other. Ask for help, from constituents, look for commonalities with what’s in the headlines, draw inspiration from other industry experts. Once you start heading in a direction – any direction – you’ll find it’s easy to pick up speed. Before you know it, you’ll be writing. You may have even found that you’ve written an entire blog post.