Nonprofit Advertising: The Essential Guide (With Examples!)
Nonprofits fundraise, launch campaigns, engage with donors, and host events to drive their missions forward. But without a strategic nonprofit advertising plan, charitable organizations can’t sustain that momentum and make meaningful change.
Nonprofit advertising is critical if you want to spread the word about your organization, solicit donations, and reach target audiences. While for-profit businesses can afford traditional advertising channels like billboards and commercials, nonprofits with tight budgets might struggle to inspire support for their causes. Thankfully, nonprofits have little-to-no-cost advertising options at their disposal.
The experts here at Getting Attention understand the importance of a well-developed nonprofit advertising plan. Our marketing team is here to champion your nonprofit digital campaigns, keeping costs low and success high.
To share some tips and tricks, we’ll walk you through the following topics:
- Nonprofit Advertising Basics
- The Benefits of Effective Nonprofit Advertising
- The Challenges of Advertising for Nonprofits
- Types of Nonprofit Advertising
- Steps for Creating An Eye-Catching Nonprofit Ad
- 3 Standout Nonprofit Advertising Examples
Effective nonprofit advertising can help your organization increase awareness and accomplish more for your mission. Ready to jump in? Let’s start with a simple overview.
Nonprofit Advertising Basics
If you’re new to the nonprofit advertising landscape, there’s a lot to learn! Before you can craft a stellar ad for your nonprofit, you need to understand the fundamentals. Let’s take a look at the basic information you need to know!
What is Nonprofit Advertising?
Nonprofit advertising is the activities and channels an organization uses to spread awareness for its mission and projects. The ultimate goal is to raise more donations, grow a following, and bring attention to the cause.
Each year, corporations spend billions of dollars to promote products and services using advertising channels like billboards and tv commercials. However, advertising for nonprofits looks a little different.
The idea behind nonprofit advertising is that you’re advertising a mission, which isn’t a tangible product that buyers (or donors, in this case) can buy. What’s more, nonprofits are more limited in resources, so they have to be much more careful in how they allocate their money. That often means that their advertising budgets are limited, which makes the need for low-cost or free options vital.
The Difference Between Nonprofit Advertising and Nonprofit Marketing
At first glance, the terms “marketing” and “advertising” may seem synonymous. However, there are some notable differences.
Mission-driven marketing includes all of the strategies and channels an organization uses to amplify its mission, solicit donations, and attract supporters. Meanwhile, nonprofit advertising is a very specific type of marketing. It refers to the paid channels and strategies an organization uses.
As part of your nonprofit marketing plan, you’ll need to document how your team will promote its cause, balancing paid and free channels appropriately. This will enable your team to create promotional materials, stay consistent with branding and goals, and reach your target audience without breaking the budget.
While making this plan, your team should decide between outbound and inbound marketing tactics:
- Outbound marketing involves reaching out to the public using paid channels (i.e., advertising) to get them interested in your organization. Examples include print advertising, social media ads, pay-per-click advertising, radio ads, and telemarketing.
- Inbound marketing focuses on creating and distributing unpaid content to draw people into your mission. Inbound tactics can include search engine optimization, earned social media, blogging, and content production.
According to research from HubSpot, 75% of companies that focus on inbound marketing find their strategies effective, while 62% of companies that focus on outbound marketing have effective strategies. We can assume most nonprofits follow suit.
In other words, you need to think carefully about your approach. To strike a balance, we recommend using inbound tactics like optimizing your website for SEO or nurturing leads with email marketing. Then, you can advertise your mission using your optimized content.
Including Advertising in Your Nonprofit’s Budget
One of the limiting factors of advertising is budgetary constraints. While traditionally expensive, advertising platforms recognize the budgetary challenges nonprofits face, so they’ll often provide discounted and occasionally free nonprofit advertising.
For instance, Google provides eligible nonprofits with $10,000 in free advertising credits to spend on Google Ads each month. Thanks to affordable options like the Google Ad Grant, the nonprofit industry has seen a massive shift toward online fundraising and advertising over the past few years.
According to Nonprofits Source, spending on digital ads increased by 19% in 2021, with nonprofits only spending $0.06 for every $1 raised online.
Advertising has an astoundingly high ROI for nonprofits, making it easy to get everyone at your organization on board. In any case, it’s important to establish a detailed budget before each fiscal year to make sure you’re not overspending before you start to see a positive ROI.
Try to allocate between 5-15% of your budget to marketing. As you build this budget, consider applying for grants (like the Google Grant) to alleviate expenses.
The Benefits of Effective Nonprofit Advertising
By crafting a smart nonprofit advertising plan, you’ll experience a ton of great benefits, helping you to generate more results for your cause. When used correctly, here’s what nonprofit advertising can do for you:
- Raise brand awareness. Nonprofit advertising channels allow your team to reach a broader audience than word-of-mouth alone. Through compelling ads, you can connect with potential supporters and stay front-of-mind for existing donors.
- Generate high-quality conversions. If your ad is powerful enough, you can convert an ordinary viewer into a valuable supporter. You might shoot for conversions like donations, volunteer sign-ups, contact form completions, event registrations, or shares to social media sites.
- Grow and maintain thought leadership. Advertising can position your nonprofit as a thought leader in its field. If your nonprofit consistently releases relevant news and industry updates, you’ll become a trusted resource.
- Major returns on low-cost efforts. As we mentioned, nonprofits tend to see a high return on their outreach efforts, thanks to affordable and free nonprofit advertising options. In fact, our Google Ad Grant Impact Report explains that search ads have an average ROI of $4.78.
Advertising is too good to pass up. Even if you don’t have the time you’d like to dedicate to creating your ads, an expert can step in to help out. For example, the experts at Getting Attention understand everything there is to know about advertising on Google. With low prices, they can help you manage your Ad Grant account and craft winning ads that drive more revenue for your cause.
You won’t be able to accomplish the above without strategic advertisements and a well-crafted plan, though. We’ll explore some steps for crafting winning ads a little later.
The Challenges of Advertising for Nonprofits
Even with these great benefits, there are a few challenges you should familiarize yourself with. Knowing what to expect will help you combat these challenges before they arise:
- Potentially negative donor reactions. A lot of people already have a bad taste in their mouths thanks to for-profit advertising. Plus, many donors want to see their contributions go directly to your nonprofit’s mission, as opposed to the marketing needed to achieve that mission.
- Authenticity and establishing connections. Storytelling is a key component of nonprofit marketing that can be lost in advertising if you’re not careful. Make sure you’re producing authentic content that communicates your nonprofit’s story and why it’s vital that viewers get involved.
So, how can you get ahead of these challenges? Start by choosing affordable and free nonprofit advertising channels and strategies that won’t blow your budget out of the water. From here, make sure your ads feature inspirational content in an authentic tone, rather than being too salesy.
Types of Nonprofit Advertising
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to nonprofit advertising. What works for one organization might not work for another. For instance, maybe an environmental organization wants to focus on digital advertising to exemplify its mission. Or, maybe a nonprofit catering to senior citizens would find more success in print and radio advertising.
The good news is that there are plenty of options out there! Let’s explore seven nonprofit advertising channels you can use.
Google Search and Display Ads
Google Ads allows you to advertise your mission when users search for relevant keywords. Paid search advertisements appear on the search engine results pages corresponding to your chosen keywords on Google. Meanwhile, display advertisements promote your organization to users watching YouTube videos, checking Gmail, or browsing sites within Google’s display network.
The average small business that uses Google Ads spends between $5,000 and $12,000 per month on paid search campaigns. That’s $60,000 to $150,000 of marketing expenses every year.
To make this opportunity more accessible, Google provides eligible nonprofits with a $10,000 monthly stipend to spend on paid search ads. This program is called Google Ad Grants and can be a real game-changer for your nonprofit advertising efforts.
While regular Google Ad accounts must pay per ad-click, Google Ad Grant participants can publish ads for free through the program. These ads enable your nonprofit to appear on Google and get in front of qualified prospects searching for topics related to your mission.
The ideal Google Ad Grant candidate has a high-quality website that effectively serves its audience and promotes its mission. By leveraging Google Ad Grants for nonprofits, your organization can accomplish the following:
- Drive more traffic to your website
- Increase online conversions, like donations and volunteer sign-ups
- Connect with new supporters and retain existing ones
- Leverage conversion-optimization tools like responsive search ads
- Analyze and track your campaign performance
As long as your organization stays compliant with the eligibility requirements, your grant will automatically renew each month. For tailored help, feel free to contact our team at Getting Attention. We work with nonprofits to create winning ads that champion their cause and garner meaningful attention.
Social Media Advertising
According to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good Report, 87% of nonprofits regularly use social media in their digital marketing and fundraising strategies, while 53% of those spend money on social media ads.
There’s a good reason for this! Social media has an incredible reach and is estimated to reach 5.8 billion users worldwide by 2027. Because of this, social media has become a popular platform for connecting with donors and soliciting meaningful support.
Tap into this audience by implementing social media ads in your marketing efforts. The most popular social media channels that offer nonprofit advertising tools include:
- Instagram: Instagram ads appear throughout the app in users’ feeds, stories, and explore pages. They look similar to normal posts but contain a “sponsored” label. They also have more features than a normal post like links, CTA buttons, and product catalogs. Track Instagram ad performance with insights so you can adjust your strategy to improve over time.
- Facebook: Facebook offers a range of advertising solutions. You can create and run campaigns, select a target audience, and track performance with easy-to-read reports. Facebook is great for showcasing impact and engaging in conversation with supporters.
- Twitter: Twitter allows you to choose your target audience and amplify your message. Promoted ads reach a wider group of users. They are the perfect way to share updates and increase visibility.
When using social media to advertise, keep an eye on what’s trending and focus your messaging. Remember that compelling storytelling motivates people to give. Use real stories and photos from the communities that you’ve helped and the impact you’ve had on individuals to drive the point home.
Your nonprofit might qualify for free public service announcements on community radio stations. This is thanks to the Federal Communications Commission. They require radio stations to allot a certain amount of radio time to nonprofit organizations.
This type of nonprofit advertising comes with one caveat, though. Your messages should be formatted as announcements rather than ads. In other words, you can’t make direct solicitations.
However, you can inspire action by sharing impact statistics or directing users to your site or social media where they can learn more. If your social media posts or website are optimized, visitors may inevitably click the ‘Donate’ or ‘Volunteer’ button.
Direct Mail and Print Ads
Although the world has transitioned into a digital-dominant space, print isn’t dead. Direct mail describes the hard copy requests for funds mailed to your existing supporters and prospects. These solicitations arrive in your supporters’ mailboxes and provide a tangible connection to your organization.
There are plenty of benefits to direct mail and print campaigns, including:
- Cost-Effectiveness: Print campaigns are highly flexible, meaning they’re budget-friendly, too. Most nonprofits can’t afford TV or radio ads. A fractional-page advertisement in the local newspaper is much cheaper.
- Increased Action: Print is an effective way to spark meaningful action. Most print readers take some form of action after viewing a newspaper ad.
- Targeted Audiences: Digital marketing appeals to a broad audience that can be inattentive. However, print marketing is targeted to an audience already interested in your mission. Generally, you should only mail newsletters, magazines, or event registrations to subscribed supporters.
An awful lot of people prefer receiving mail from the nonprofits they support. It comes across as more meaningful, even though you’re still advertising your mission.
It’s happened to all of us. You’ve shopped online, added a pair of shoes to your cart, and exited the site before placing your order. Within minutes, you received an email or started seeing ads for that same pair of shoes. This is known as retargeted advertising.
Also called remarketing, retargeting is a form of online advertising that enables you to target users with ads based on their interactions with your nonprofit’s website. These ads can work with pretty much any online marketing channel, like social media or email.
While it’s most often used by for-profit companies, nonprofits can leverage the power of retargeted advertising in some impactful ways, such as:
- Abandoned donations. Retarget those who left your donation page before actually giving. This strategy works well, because you’re targeting people who were already considering donating. Think about why someone might not have followed through before creating your ad. For example, maybe they didn’t know enough about your cause. In that case, your ad might feature a captivating success story.
- Event reminders. Want to drive higher attendance for your upcoming event? Set up a retargeting ad campaign for anyone who doesn’t complete their registration. If someone exits the page to check their schedule before registering, this can be a great reminder to come back.
Using retargeted advertising allows you to achieve a high level of precision when reaching out to prospects. In turn, you can convert more users who were on the fence about supporting your work.
Sponsored retargeting is when another business or organization that sponsors your nonprofit purchases ads from you. Often, these ads are co-branded, featuring elements of both the sponsor and nonprofit’s brands.
A company might purchase sponsored retargeting for a couple of reasons:
- They want to strengthen their reputation by being associated with your nonprofit.
- Their audience aligns with yours, and they want to promote their services directly to your supporters.
As with any corporate philanthropy initiative, the benefits go both ways! By purchasing ads and financially supporting your nonprofit, the sponsor receives the opportunity to connect with your audience and strengthen its reputation. They might share the ads on their platforms, too. This can bring exposure to your nonprofit and its sponsors.
With social media growing in popularity, influencers are becoming more prominent. Influencers typically partner with companies to promote products. Now, those who have an affinity for charitable missions will partner with their favorite nonprofits to promote the causes near to their hearts.
Larger nonprofits might have room in the budget to pay a celebrity or another large-scale influencer. Smaller organizations might do this on a smaller scale by turning to an influencer within their circle, like a board member, politician, or local celebrity.
The reason this type of nonprofit advertising works so well is that influencers have loyal audiences. They’ve built credibility, and their followers trust what they have to say.
To tap into influencer advertising, partner with those who have positive reputations and values that align with your cause. Then, you’ll create co-branded marketing collateral, making it easier for the influencer to share it with their followers.
Steps for Creating An Eye-Catching Nonprofit Ad
Your marketing efforts should be ongoing to maintain supporter engagement, bring in consistent donations, and ensure your work is relevant. Here are 6 steps that your team can take to create an effective advertising plan:
1. Determine goals for your nonprofit ads.
A mission statement summarizes why an organization exists, the audience it serves, and how it serves them in a couple of sentences. Your mission statement should guide your team through determining goals and objectives for advertising campaigns.
First, consider what your organization hopes to accomplish. When creating goals, it’s helpful to use the SMART method:
- Specific: Your goal should be as narrowly-focused as possible. For instance, a specific goal could be, “We will increase subscriptions to our e-newsletter.”
- Measurable: Goals are useful when you can quantify their success and progress with a metric. If you notice rates dropping, simply adjust your strategies. “We will increase e-newsletter subscriptions by 50%.”
- Attainable: Don’t set lofty, unrealistic goals. Look at your past fundraising results and aim for a realistic objective. “We will increase e-newsletter subscriptions by 30%.”
- Relevant: Your goals should be stepping stones to your ultimate mission. Make sure that every goal you set is tied to a broader marketing goal. “We will increase e-newsletter subscriptions by 30% to retain more donors.”
- Time-based: Objectives should have a deadline and be monitored regularly. “We will increase e-newsletter subscriptions by 30% by the end of the third quarter to retain more donors.”
By using this method, your goals will drive meaningful conversions and support your nonprofit’s mission. Use our SMART Goals Template to start planning your advertising goals today.
2. Define your target audience.
Your target audience consists of the people you hope to reach through your marketing efforts. For each campaign or event you plan, you should have a specific audience in mind. This audience can include new donors, existing donors, lapsed donors, major donors, and more. Start by collecting the following data to determine your target market:
- Age: By dividing your ad strategy into specific age groups, you can ensure that you’re getting through to the right audience. A study by the USPS found that ads designed to elicit an emotional response were more effective with younger consumers, while those that describe a product’s function, especially in print format, were relatively more effective with older adults.
- Location: Implement geo-targeting to provide the most relevant ads to people in your area. Geo-targeting is the practice of targeting visitors online with localized or location-appropriate content based on a visitor’s geographic location.
- Employment Status and Employer: An individual’s business affiliations can give you an idea of their net worth, potential connections, and ability to donate. Plus, if they work for a company with a matching gift program, you can reach out to begin the gift match process.
- Communication Preferences: Keep communication preferences in mind when choosing between print, digital, and telemarketing. For instance, young professionals 18 to 34 have one of the best response rates to direct mail campaigns.
These insights can answer the who, what, why, and where of potential supporters. Once you know your audience and their preferences, you can tailor your marketing efforts to reach them and prompt them to take action.
3. Research and choose nonprofit advertising outlets.
Once you determine your goals and define your target audience, it’s time to choose an advertising outlet. There are countless channels to choose from, but these are some of the most popular:
- Email: Email is an intimate platform that allows you to connect with supporters on a personal level. Send along a newsletter informing subscribers about new fundraisers, upcoming events, or volunteer opportunities.
- Website: Your website is likely the first place people go to learn about your mission and where long-term supporters go to give support. Provide engagement opportunities like online giving and subscription sign-ups.
- Blog: Websites with a dedicated blog drive more traffic and provide resources about your organization. Include calls to action in each blog post to convert visitors into supporters.
- Social Media: Social media is crucial to a nonprofit’s digital marketing strategy. It allows organization to reach a variety of customers on a consistent basis. Post quick updates and calls to action.
- Google Ads: Google Ads ensure that your campaigns reach the top of the search engine results page (SERP). The Google Ad Grants program provides $10,000 each month in free Google ad space.
We recommend using a multi-channel approach to marketing. This allows you to use a variety of strategies that work together towards a common goal.
4. Develop key performance indicators.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are metrics that organizations use to measure the progress of their defined goals. KPIs can help your team gauge progress, make informed decisions, and turn metrics into actionable insights.
KPIs measure how an ad campaign performs, so it’s important to set them up before your campaign launches. However, finding the right KPIs to track can be difficult. That’s why we’ve outlined a few top advertising KPIs to follow, using the example of digital advertising:
- Impressions: Impressions refer to how many times your ad unit was displayed to a user. This metric is related to the top of the marketing funnel and speaks directly to brand awareness.
- Click-through-rate (CTR): This measures how relevant your ad is to your target audience. If the CTR is low, this means the ads aren’t meeting the searcher’s intent for the target keyword.
- Bounce Rates: A bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who enter the site and leave (“bounce”) rather than viewing other pages. This can help you understand the quality of your website and if it’s valuable to visitors.
- Conversion Rate: This is the number of web visitors who complete a desired goal, like making a donation or signing up for a newsletter. If your conversion rate is high, your marketing strategies are working.
These are only a few of the trackable KPIs for digital ad campaigns. It’s important to know your platforms and the types of data that each offers.
5. Create your ad copy.
One of the last steps is content creation. It’s important to make your ad copy stand out from the rest. When creating advertising content, keep the following best practices in mind:
- Improve relevance. Posting regularly increases engagement and keeps your ads relevant. Another way to stay relevant is to use your supporter’s most popular search query keywords in your ad titles and text.
- Showcase impact. Make your ads engaging and insightful by showing your organization’s impact. This will keep donors, volunteers, and supporters invested in your mission and encourage them to heed your calls to action.
- Include calls to action. Call-to-action (CTA) buttons prompt readers to show their support and take initiative to further your mission. Keep phrases short and compelling, as in the following example: “Do you want to help children in need? Donate now.”
- Add compelling visuals. Images, graphics, and videos can spark an emotional reaction in readers and help them to understand complex topics. Ensure that colors and fonts are consistently formatted and visuals are high quality.
- Make the most of the ad space and characters allotted. Maximize your ad space by using the full allotment of headlines and descriptions. This will make your ads appear larger, increasing the click-through rate and number of visitors arriving on your website.
These quick, simple tricks will help your campaigns reach the right audiences and drive meaningful action. Now you’re ready to launch campaigns!
6. Launch your nonprofit advertising campaign and track progress.
After you’ve completed the steps above, it’s time to launch your ad campaigns and track progress against concrete, measurable benchmarks. Monitoring your performance is critical. It reveals what works, what doesn’t, and how to improve the effectiveness of future campaigns.
Start by accessing your campaign data and downloading reports. Focus on the KPIs that relate to your campaign goals. Then, compare multiple metrics to find where leads drop off. For example, if the conversion rate for an ad campaign is low, you may need to make the CTAs more attention-grabbing.
Through tracking results, you will gain a sense of what strategies work best to achieve your goals. This process is an effective way to manage your marketing strategies and grow your nonprofit responsibly.
3 Standout Nonprofit Advertising Examples
You can research nonprofit advertising ideas all day, but nothing compares to seeing examples from real organizations! Let’s take a quick look at three advertising campaigns that will hopefully spark inspiration for your team.
Breast Cancer Research Foundation
Type of Nonprofit Advertising: Google Ad
Search engines like Google allow you to promote your content on search engines, tapping into millions of users searching for causes like yours.
In the example above, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) created a Google Ad campaign that targets terms related to “breast cancer research.” Using an inspirational and urgent tone, they establish a sense of trust with users and direct readers to the most important pages on their site.
As we mentioned, any eligible organization can tap into this nonprofit advertising channel by applying for the Google Ad Grant. Every month, the grant automatically renews, giving you $120,000 each year to spend on Google Ads. That way, you can invest in this type of nonprofit advertising without affecting your budget too much.
Notice how BCRF also built out their ad with additional links and their phone number, giving users more ways to engage. This is a more technical strategy that you might turn to an expert Google Ad Grant agency to use.
Type of Nonprofit Advertising: Facebook Ad
In partnership with Procter & Gamble, CARE created a video ad campaign ahead of International Women’s Day. Facebook’s case study explains they tapped into Facebook advertising tools like custom audiences and contextual marketing to narrow down their audience.
They were the 2nd top-performing audience in terms of video completion rate (VCR) and engagement across the entire platform. They also pushed the same ad campaign on Instagram, resulting in some incredible statistics across both platforms:
- 2.9 million impressions (total post views)
- 1.7 post engagements (video views, comments, reactions, shares, and clicks)
- 10.4K clicks to care.org/everywoman
- A VCR of 2.08%
This is a great nonprofit advertising example to model your campaign after, because it asked users to complete the low-effort task of watching a video. Short video ad campaigns can be a convenient way to hook users and inspire them to take action.
God’s Love We Deliver
Type of Nonprofit Advertising: Instagram Influencer Advertising
This nonprofit advertising example shows just how easy it is to tap into influencer marketing. God’s Love We Deliver strives to alleviate hunger and malnutrition among people living with serious illnesses. To spread the word about this mission, their marketing director cleverly asked the organization’s supporters to decorate a plate of cookies to be sent to those in need and promote that on their social media pages.
This yearly campaign brings attention from well-known influencers, especially because they make it so easy to get involved. They send sugar cookies and decorating kits to influencers for their annual holiday campaign. They also send cakes and decorating kits for their clients’ birthday fundraiser campaigns.
With a thoughtful strategy like this, your nonprofit can tap into influencer marketing, too. We recommend tying it back to your mission in a whimsical way like God’s Love We Deliver does.
Effective advertising can fuel your nonprofit’s impact. Best of all, you can leverage free nonprofit advertising, making it easy to get everyone on board. It’s no secret that our favorite option is the Google Ad Grant.
When you manage a Google Ad Grant with a Google Ad Grant professional like Getting Attention, we’ll make sure you have a strong digital marketing strategy. Our team of experts offers free consultations and resources to help your organization expand its reach.
Getting Attention will guide your organization through the Google Ad Grant process, including application, hygiene, reactivation, keyword research, and management. We’re here to champion your nonprofit’s digital campaigns.
If you want to learn more about nonprofit advertising and marketing, explore these additional resources:
- Nonprofit Marketing Plan in 8 Steps (+ Free Templates!). A nonprofit marketing plan is the best way to communicate your mission and reach supporters where they are. Learn more here and download our free template!
- How to Apply for Google Grants: 5 Easy Steps for Nonprofits. Google Ads is an effective and free nonprofit advertising method. Learn how to apply for Google Grants and secure your $10,000 in free funding each month.
- 40+ Marketing Ideas for Nonprofits to Spread Your Mission. Looking to expand your marketing strategies? Check out this expansive list of ideas from Double the Donation!