Nonprofit Advertising: Your Best Investment for Consistent Growth

Nonprofit advertising: one of the most worthwhile yet ignored ventures in which mission-driven organizations could choose to invest. Why is nonprofit advertising often put to the wayside? Many nonprofits prioritize spending money on other initiatives, or are hesitant to pay for advertising because they are fearful of what their existing and prospective donors will think…

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Nonprofit Advertising: Your Best Investment for Consistent Growth

nonprofit advertising

Nonprofit advertising: one of the most worthwhile yet ignored ventures in which mission-driven organizations could choose to invest. Why is nonprofit advertising often put to the wayside? Many nonprofits prioritize spending money on other initiatives, or are hesitant to pay for advertising because they are fearful of what their existing and prospective donors will think of them doing so. Some nonprofits simply don’t have the time or staff to dedicate to advertising.

The simple truth is that investing in nonprofit advertising is absolutely worth it. On average, nonprofits that invest in digital advertising only spend about $0.07 for every dollar raised online. That’s 7%. $0.07 to raise $1, $70 to raise $700, or $7,000 to raise $70,000. And in this day and age, there is a myriad of creative ways to advertise whether digitally, physically, or in-person.

Read on to learn about nonprofit advertising and tips and strategies for engaging in advertising at your organization.

Table of Contents

What is Nonprofit Advertising?

nonprofit advertising

Nonprofit advertising includes the activities and strategies that spread the message of a nonprofit organization, with the goal of raising more money or getting the attention of prospective donors and volunteers. While billions of dollars are spent every year incorporate advertising on things like stand-out billboards and elaborate TV commercials, advertising in the nonprofit world is much different.

This is because advertising in the nonprofit world means advertising a cause, and a ‘cause’ is not a direct, tangible product that a prospective buyer (or in this case, donor) will receive in exchange for his or her investment. Moreover, nonprofits are often heavily strained for resources, which often means that the budget line for nonprofit advertising gets slashed or diminished in some way.

While thinking about nonprofit advertising, it’s important to note the unique differences between nonprofit marketing and nonprofit advertising. Marketing includes all of the activities and services that your nonprofit engages in to promote its brand, while advertising is a very specific step of marketing. So, while marketing may include collecting target market data and research, advertising uses this data to actually communicate your brand in a variety of ways.

Including Advertising in the Nonprofit Budget

Advertising is a critical aspect of nonprofit fundraising, especially in today’s growing digital age – but it is often neglected. This is because so many nonprofits aren’t aware of the high return on investment possible with a decision to really invest in advertising!

nonprofit advertising

Let’s take a quick look at how much nonprofits really have been spending on advertising, and their success (dollars raised) in doing so. On average, it’s been found that large nonprofits spend around 35% of their revenue on display ads, and 54% of their revenue on social media ads. Small nonprofits focus 96% of their budget on social media ads. On average, these investments result in nonprofits spending about $0.07 for every dollar raised online.

That’s 7%. Imagine just $0.07 to raise $1 or like we said before, $7,000 to raise $70,000. No matter which way you look at the numbers, nonprofit advertising makes a strong case for itself as a worthwhile investment.

The Challenges of Nonprofit Advertising

Nonprofit ads

There are many benefits of nonprofit advertising, but these benefits do not come free of challenges. Here are a few issues to be aware of and some quick solutions for fixing them:

  1. Some donors have a negative attitude toward nonprofit advertisements. This goes hand-in-hand with the timeless “overhead” argument. That is, many donors prefer to see a huge percentage of money going towards a nonprofit’s mission directly, as opposed to the work that needs to be put in to achieve this mission.
  2. Many nonprofits find it hard to connect with donors via advertising. Though storytelling is a key piece of advertising that should inspire action, sometimes, it just doesn’t. This may be for a variety of reasons, but a common reason is that many nonprofits release the same stories over and over again.

So, what’s a quick fix for these challenges? Choosing affordable advertising channels and strategies that won’t break the bank – and won’t deter donors from wanting to give – is a great solution. Additionally, keeping your content fresh – that is, always searching for new stories and grabbing stories from a multitude of angles and storytellers – will inspire your donors to give on a recurring basis!

There are so many affordable advertising options to employ – let’s take a quick look.

7 Worthwhile Types of Nonprofit Advertisements

Type 1: Social media ads

Many nonprofits release good content on their social media channels. But the truth is, this content isn’t really effective without a large number of followers who are constantly sharing or engaging with this content.

Putting some money aside for social media ads – whether via Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook – can boost awareness of your cause and make your content matter more. In particular, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are great for nonprofit advertising, as they provide a number of very user-friendly features to support a wide variety of ad campaigns. For only a few dollars, you can set up an ad for your nonprofit and reach thousands of potential donors.

Nonprofit ads

Type 2: Search and display ads on Google

One phenomenal benefit of being a nonprofit as related to advertising? The fact that Google’s Ad Grant empowers nonprofits with $10,000 per month to advertise via Google. This said, there are a variety of important steps one must take to apply for this grant – it’s not as easy as you might think.

  1. Ensure your nonprofit is eligible. Only non-governmental organizations with a 501(c)3 status are permitted to apply for this grant. Additionally, there are certain website standards your nonprofit must fill to be eligible for grant funding.
  2. Register for TechSoup. TechSoup is the third-party vendor that verifies your nonprofit’s 501(c)3 status, which is what you’ll need to be eligible for to receive the Google ad grant.
  3. Fill out the grant application. This application is detailed and will ask your nonprofit about its programs, beneficiaries, fundraising department, and beyond. After submitted, this form will be reviewed in 3 days and any further instructions will be emailed.
  4. Start advertising. Once the above steps are completed, your account will receive credits and you can begin advertising. One helpful idea for when advertising with google ads is to mention the fact that the ad was paid for with a grant. This will curb the effects of any negative feelings prospective donors may develop towards your organization.

$10k/month can do a lot for your nonprofit advertising if used with efficiency and the right strategies. Here’s a Donorbox webinar for you to learn about maximizing the value of the Google ad grant with your nonprofit!

Type 3: Engage in digital fundraising campaigns

In a world where most nonprofits are shifting to a digital presence and strategy to stay relevant, engaging in effective digital fundraising strategies is an excellent way to raise money affordably. As the word gets spread through your donors, fundraisers, and volunteers, in a way, this works as free advertising. Here are a few awesome ideas for doing so:

  1. Set up a Facebook fundraiser. Facebook supports nonprofit fundraising efforts by allowing individuals to choose a cause to ask others to donate to on any occasion (typically, their birthdays). Additionally, certain nonprofits are allowed to include a “Donate Now” call-to-action button on their Facebook pages, as well as for their posts. The guidelines for Facebook fundraisers are constantly changing, so be sure to double-check them before engaging in this particular strategy. Facebook fundraisers are essentially free advertising for your nonprofit – if individuals choose to support your cause, it illustrates to their personal networks that your nonprofit is trustworthy, credible, and worthy of investment.
  2. Engage in crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising. Crowdfunding is the practice of raising small amounts of money from a large number of donors, and peer-to-peer fundraising is a multi-tiered approach to crowdfunding. Peer-to-peer fundraising is especially cost-effective, as it empowers your supporters to raise money themselves, from their own personal networks, on your organization’s behalf. This increases visibility for your nonprofit and again, provides credibility and trustworthiness for your nonprofit’s cause. Check out Donorbox! It’s a great platform that provides crowdfunding support for your nonprofit.

Type 4: Engage in email marketing

Investing in the right email marketing software can help nonprofit marketers and advertisers send messages to a group of donors (existing or prospective) and volunteers and track their effectiveness as a whole. Some email marketing platforms are free, but those that cost are typically worth the additional investment. Emails are a great outlet for advertising since they provide a place for your nonprofit to share stories and capture hearts and donations through powerful imagery, strong headlines, and language, and clear calls to action (e.g. “Donate Now” buttons).

Pro tip: Tools like Mailchimp lets you easily use your donor data to set up email marketing campaigns and send personalized emails to all your donors. Just ensure that the donor management software you’re using integrates well with this tool or anything else you’re planning to use.

Type 5: Community radio

Most nonprofits don’t realize that they can qualify for free public service announcements on many radio stations. Who would’ve thought? This is because the Federal Communications Commission requires that a certain allotment of radio time must be devoted to nonprofit organizations.

The caveat of advertising via local radio stations is that technically, what you’re sharing about your nonprofit should not be an ‘advertisement’, but instead, an announcement. So, no direct solicitations – but there are myriad ways to get your message across despite this. Share stories, share impact statistics, or direct listeners to your website and social media channels where they can learn more (and inevitably, click the “Donate Now” button).

Nonprofit ads

Type 6: Partner with local businesses

A local coffee shop, restaurant, consulting firm, dentist office, or grocery, local businesses are a great option for partnerships since they receive benefits to promote your brand.

How great will it look to the public eye when a profitable consulting firm graciously supports your nonprofit? Or, let’s say you convince a new, local restaurant to host a fundraising night for your organization; 25% (or more or less) of the night’s proceeds will go directly to supporting your mission. This is great for you, as well as the restaurant – which will receive increased visibility and a positive public spotlight in electing to support your organization.

Pro tip: Leaving posters, flyers, brochures, and business cards at local businesses is a great and affordable way to increase your nonprofit’s visibility. You can use this to get your name out there in any way, shape, and form possible.

Type 7: Influencer advertising

Influencers are popular advertisers for clothing, makeup, and product-based brands, but how should your nonprofit approach influencer advertising?

By definition, an influencer is a prominent online future who’s usually gained popularity through social media or a blog. Typically, they’ve already acquired a highly engaged audience, and they’ve built trust and loyalty with their followers.

Nonprofit ads

Similar to how an influencer can drive momentum for for-profit brands, excitement from an influencer’s fan base can work well for social causes, too.

For example, if you’re a food security nonprofit that cares about providing healthy options to your beneficiaries, a healthy eating influencer with a large following could lead to more visibility and prospective donors for you. Influencers can also:

  1. Establish legitimacy for your nonprofit’s brand. By supporting your brand, influencers show their audiences and yours that your cause is important. Influencers can also be really helpful for new organizations that don’t have direct support from an audience just yet.
  2. Drive press for your nonprofit. If your nonprofit is new or really cares about driving press and public attention, choosing a well-known influencer with press connections is an excellent route to go.
  3. Convert and activate your supporters. By simply asking their own audience to support your organization through donations, follows, and shares, or in leveraging support by example (e.g. volunteering), many influencers are able to drive quick and steady activation towards support for your nonprofit’s cause.

Pro tip: Do you know that nonprofit influencers exist? Yes. And they can be extremely helpful in making you reach a wider audience. Get in touch with such people on social media. Do some research to know who has expertise and interest in your cause. Work with them for a better reach.

We have a blog on top nonprofit influencers who are doing great work on their social media handles to help spread the word and make a difference. Check it out here.

4 Simple Steps to Creating a Nonprofit Ad

By now, you should have understood how creating an ad for your nonprofit can be highly beneficial. Also, how there could be some challenges on the way and they can be fixed. Now it’s time for you to get started. Read on to know the major steps in creating a nonprofit ad.

Nonprofit ads

1. Do your research.

Who is your target audience? There are millions of people who could see your ads; the key is to spend money on and choose the people who should.

Start by analyzing the demographics of your current donor database. Ask these questions to start with –

  • Who’s giving and engaging the most?
  • Does your nonprofit typically attract the support of young people or older folks?
  • Are males or females engaging with and donating the most to your cause?
  • From which area have most people donated to your organization?

Demographic surveys are a great way to gather and keep track of this information on your donors. Once you gain as much information as possible on your best donors, you’ll be able to market your ads to people who are like your best donors; but who haven’t engaged with your nonprofit just yet.

2. Write a script for your ad.

Your ad’s script or message is the most critical part. The language you choose to represent your nonprofit is what will ultimately sell your message to prospective donors.

Nonprofit ads

The fact is that only scripts with the right voice will leave a powerful impact on prospective donors. Most donors are inspired by emotions and stories – not numbers. Therefore, making sure that your message is emotionally jogging is best for converting donors as compared to simply presenting numbers.

Pro tip: The best, also easiest way to learn and excel at writing an ad copy is to follow other nonprofits running the same kinds of ad campaigns. Check their copies on social media platforms and on Google. Analyze which ones are getting a lot of engagement and attention. Learn from their approach.

3. Include a dynamic call to action.

Your Call to Action or “CTA” is the message that you really want your prospective donors to act upon. Once you’ve targeted the right people through your ads and hooked them with an emotionally jogging message, it’s time to actually get them to support you.

What your call to action should be is dependent on what you want your supporters to do. Should your supporter visit your website, follow your social media pages, or donate to your cause? Giving your supporters direction will incentivize them to take action.

4. Release your ad at the right time.

Did you know that ⅓ of annual giving occurs during the month of December? Because of this, early fall is the best time to begin sending out ads and attempting to reach the highest number of people possible.

Timing also depends on who your donors are. For example, if you know that your donors are older folks, sending ads during the afternoon is probably your best bet. These donors are likely to be home at that time.

You should also do some research on which days and what times are the best for your social media ads. For example, sproutsocial says that the best days to post on Facebook are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. They get you the highest engagement rate. Similarly, you may want to check out the best times to post on these particular days.

Before running your ads, make a note of the above aspects and create a strategy that should work for you. But remember only time makes things perfect. As you keep writing copies and targeting audiences for your ads, you’d slowly figure out the best approach.

3 Excellent Advertising Examples

Example 1: Make a Wish Foundation, “#ArmWrestleChallenge”

In their #ArmWrestleChallenge campaign, the Make-A-Wish Foundation encouraged participants to film an arm-wrestling competition and tag Make-a-Wish on social media. The idea was that the winner of the competition would donate to Make-a-Wish. But that the loser would have to double the winner’s donation.

This is a great example of using the power of social media advertising to leverage support for your nonprofit’s cause. Supporters love to get involved in fun and creative ways. Hosting an arm-wrestling competition is a great form of that.

You might also recall the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which was an extreme success in 2014. This is another great example of how leveraging the power of social media can empower your brand to go viral. It lets you spread your message to followers you would’ve otherwise never been in contact with.

Nonprofit advertising examples

Example 2: World Wildlife Foundation for Nature, “Earth Hour”

This is one of our favorite examples of advertising that truly engages supporters. Each and every year, the World Wildlife Foundation hosts “Earth Hour” – where companies and individuals around the world participate in conserving energy by simply turning off their lights.

Additionally, participating in Earth Hour allows individuals and companies the opportunity to share the fact that they’re doing so. It is also to encourage others to do the same on social media.

Nonprofit advertising examples

Example 3: Crossroads Community, Street Art

Crossroads Community, a soup kitchen located in NYC, created The “Street Fare Project”. The Street Fare Project depicted paintings of faces with wide-open mouths filled with garbage, with the goal being to highlight the difficulties of the homeless community in NYC.

Not only this but the paintings were brilliantly done directly on the ground. That’s exactly where streetwalkers are typically looking. What a way to identify a target audience and deliver the exact, inspirational messaging that would resonate with them.

Nonprofit advertising examples


So, next time you devise your nonprofit’s annual budget, reconsider before you slash or dilute the advertising budget line. Think about advertising holistically; it may seem like a ‘risky’ investment now. But can you imagine the benefits of investing in it long-term?

Your mission is worth the expenditure it takes to get your mission out there. Those you serve are worth that investment, too. Don’t be afraid to jump into advertising! You’ll be truly thankful you did.

Check out Donorbox’s fundraising solution for nonprofits. It also integrates seamlessly with communication tools that should help you with marketing and advertising to your donor base.

Donorbox is free to start with and there’s no contract fee. Sign up now!

For additional nonprofit management tips and resources, you can visit our blog.

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Kristine Ensor is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working with local and international nonprofits. As a nonprofit professional she has specialized in fundraising, marketing, event planning, volunteer management, and board development.

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