Nonprofits are always looking for ways to get more volunteers and donations for their organization. If you feel like you’ve exhausted your email list, mailing list, and asking friends and family, you might want to consider online advertising to bring new people into your network.

You don’t need a big budget to take advantage of online advertising – an investment of as little as $25 can get you started. With most platforms, you’ll be able to see right away whether you’re getting results. And ads aren’t just for end-of-year giving campaigns – you can use them to add people to your list and develop a relationship before you ask for a donation.

There are a lot of options out there, and each platform has its own quirks and learning curve. To get you started, I’ve pulled together this overview of a few of the most popular online ad networks, along with some advice I’d like to pass on from my own experience running online ad campaigns.

Want to jump to my review of a specific platform? Here you go:

Google AdWords
YouTube
Facebook
Instagram
Twitter
Pinterest
Snapchat

Otherwise, let’s dive in:

Online advertising for nonprofits: options, considerations and tips

Online advertising for nonprofits: a guide to getting started Click To Tweet

Google AdWords

When you have a question, where do you turn? If you’re close to a computer or your phone, chances are you pop your question into Google. If you can answer questions people might have, Google could be a great platform for you.
Here are a few examples of possible searches in Google that could lead to your organization:

For an animal shelter:

  • Adopting vs buying a pet
  • Cost to adopt a cat
  • Where to volunteer with animals

For an organization that runs computer programming camps for girls:

  • My daughter doesn’t fit in
  • All girls summer sleepaway camps
  • Girl empowerment camps

For an organization that provides services to LGBT youth and their families:

  • My son is gay how do I support him
  • How to come out to your religious parents
  • I’m being bullied what do I do

Things to consider:

You need to have the technical knowledge to navigate AdWords, as well as some time to devote to setting up and monitoring the ads on an ongoing basis. Expect to spend at least one hour per week maintaining your account once you have everything set up.

Using AdWords should be part of a long-term marketing strategy. You won’t get much out of this platform if you only use it for a couple weeks at a time – it takes a while to figure out which settings, keywords, and ads work best.

My advice to anyone starting out on this platform:

Start with a small budget and the minimum number of ads required so you can see what works before you increase your budget (even if you’re nowhere close to the $10,000/month limit with the Ad Grant). Their new requirements can make it tricky to max out your ad spend, but it’s not impossible!

Also, don’t expect people coming to your website from Google Ads to become a donor right away. It’s rare that people will search for something like, “I have extra money. Where should I donate?” Instead, use the ads to give people more information about your services with the goal of getting them to sign up for your email list or contact you for more information. Then you can develop that relationship to invite them to become a volunteer or donor.

Some resources to help you with Google AdWords:


YouTube

This is the third most visited site on the internet, and many consider this platform to be the second largest search engine next to Google. Now that it’s owned by Google, YouTube’s ad platform is run through Google AdWords. So if you are already familiar with Google AdWords, or you’re willing to learn, YouTube is a great way to diversify your ad strategy.

Unfortunately, you can’t advertise on YouTube through the Google Ad Grant. But the good news is, you don’t need a big ad budget to get some traction with YouTube ads. Your budget could be as low as a couple dollars a day.

You’ll be most successful if you advertise videos and webinars that provide useful information. For example, an after school tutoring program might advertise videos about study hacks or help with math problems. Or a local nature center might advertise a free webinar that gives an introduction to landscaping with native plants.

Things to consider:

Just like Google Ads, advertising on YouTube should be part of a long-term strategy. And, of course, you’ll need some video content in order to advertise with YouTube.

My advice to anyone starting out on this platform:

You don’t necessarily need a highly-produced video to get results. If you’re just starting out or have limited resources, you could create a slideshow with some text. You could also prepare a PowerPoint presentation and record yourself narrating a few slides.

If you’re looking for something more polished, check out Animoto. It’s a tool that can help you easily create videos, and they have special rates for nonprofits. You can also check out these tips for creating engaging nonprofit videos.

Considering online advertising to bring new people into your nonprofit's network? Options, considerations and tips Click To Tweet

Facebook

Facebook is a great platform to advertise something that people may not necessarily be searching for. For example, if you want people to sign up for a new, innovative program you’ve created or if you need volunteers with a very specific skill set, Facebook might be a better platform than Google.

Facebook is also great for advertising events, especially if you’ve set up an event page where people can learn more and RSVP directly on Facebook. If you have fundraising dinners, walks, or even educational seminars you want more people to attend, a little bit of advertising on Facebook can go a long way.

You can get started with as little as $10 or $20 to boost one post or event. If you decide to incorporate Facebook into a year-round advertising strategy, you should expect to spend at least $10 per day.

Things to consider:

When you’re advertising on Facebook, you’ll need to be specific about the demographics and interests of the people you want to reach. There are a lot of options in the Facebook ads manager, so take your time and make sure you understand all the settings before you dive in.

Facebook makes it easy to get started advertising with them by clicking a button to boost a post. If you’re only looking to advertise an event or boost a post once in a while, you will probably be able to get some results by navigating Facebook’s settings on your own. If you spend more than $50 per month on Facebook, you should invest in some extra training or work with someone who can help you map out a strategy.

My advice to anyone starting out on this platform:

One of the first metrics Facebook will show you is how many impressions your post received, which essentially translates to how many people saw your ad. Initially it can be exciting to see that several hundred, or even several thousand, people saw your post. But this is what is often referred to as a “vanity” metric – it looks impressive, but it might not mean you’re getting the results you hoped for. Just because someone saw your post doesn’t mean they took an action. So make sure you’re tracking the results that really matter for your organization.


Instagram

Many nonprofits are starting to get some traction with Instagram profiles, and it can also be a good place to do some advertising. Since it’s owned by Facebook, it uses Facebook’s ad platform. You can use Instagram to advertise one-off events, or integrate it into a long-term advertising strategy. To see if this platform will work for you, get started with as little as a few dollars a day.

Things to consider:

Instagram is all about the visuals, so you’ll need some eye-catching graphics to see success with this ad platform. If you don’t have the budget to hire a graphic designer, there are many apps like Ripl and TextSwag that can help you create beautiful graphics with your phone. You can also use an online tool like Canva, which is also great for other graphic design needs you may have. Sign up for their nonprofit program to get free access to a pro account.

My advice to anyone starting out on this platform:

Before starting an ad campaign, make sure you spend some time creating your profile, building a following, and interacting with others to understand how this social media channel works.

If you’re running campaigns on both Facebook and Instagram, set up separate campaigns for each platform so you can track which one gives you the best results.

Considering Facebook, Twitter or YouTube ads? Tips to get you started with online advertising #nonprofit #marketing #NPMC Click To Tweet

Twitter

Twitter is still a very popular social media channel, but it’s not always the first that comes to mind for online advertising.

In general, Twitter is best used for advertising time-sensitive information, especially during live events. It’s not the best platform to run a long-term campaign. The most successful campaigns on this platform target a specific hashtag or event – that’s the time when people are most active and engaged on Twitter. And if you regularly host Twitter chats, advertising them on this platform can help bring more people to the conversation.

Things to consider:

It’s easy to create a tweet on your profile, but creating an ad is a whole different level. It’s not difficult to navigate, but do set aside time to review all the options and make sure you understand all the ins and outs of your ad.

My advice to anyone starting out on this platform:

Start with a budget of $5 or $10 per day for your first campaign so you can see how everything works. When setting up your ad, uncheck the option that says “Expand your reach on the Twitter Audience Platform.” If you leave this box checked, your ads will not only be shown on Twitter, but other websites as well, which will dramatically increase your ad spend.


Pinterest

If you use Pinterest and want to gain some more traction on this social media channel, promoted pins are a relatively low-cost way to give a boost to your profile. Posts on Pinterest have a very long half-life compared to other social media networks, so whatever content you post will stick around for a while.

This ad platform works best for promoting how-to guides or downloadable resources that will be relevant year-round. It’s unlikely you’ll have success promoting articles, one-time events, or time-sensitive information on Pinterest.

Things to consider:

A well-designed graphic is essential for a successful ad on Pinterest, so spend time putting together your graphics before you start promoting them. Remember, vertical graphics work best!

My advice to anyone starting out on this platform:

Do some research on what kinds of topics get the most traction on Pinterest before you start advertising here – this social media network isn’t for everyone. Topics related to education, gardening, crafts, DIY projects, and design are all very popular, but there are many other themes that you may be able to tap into.


Snapchat

While Snapchat is popular with a younger crowd, it’s not necessarily the first network that comes to mind for ads. Big brands have gotten mixed results from advertising on Snapchat because it lacks the user data and ad metrics that other platforms provide. Nearly 70% of Snapchat users skip ads “always” or “often.”

While Snapchat might not be a go-to ad platform for nonprofits, I do recommend setting up a Snapchat filter and/or lens if you’re running an event with a lot of people under 30. This is a fun way to get some visibility on social media during your event, and it is relatively affordable.

Things to consider:

The cost for a filter or lens depends on the square footage and duration of the event. For example, a filter that covers an area of about 270,000 square feet (roughly the size of a college stadium) for 24 hours is about $40. So when you’re setting up your filter or lens, make sure you only use it in the area where the event is held, and only have it run for the duration of the event.

You can upload your own graphic if you’d like, or you can use one of their templates. No design skills necessary!

My advice to anyone starting out on this platform:

I would only recommend using a Snapchat filter or lens if you’re going to attract a younger crowd at your event. Don’t forget to tell people to share their experience using your filter or lens!

Final thoughts

Hopefully, this guide has given you a good an idea of where you could start advertising online. Setting up a successful ad campaign does require an investment of both time and money to get started, but I think it’s well worth it. As long as you connect your ads to a specific outcome, you should start to see results. More than likely, you already spend money on print materials, an email provider, website design, and running events to attract donors – why not put a small fraction of that budget toward online ads?

Let us know in the comments where you’re planning on running some advertising campaigns, and don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly if you have any questions!

A guide to getting started with online advertising for nonprofits #NPMC Click To Tweet
Rebecca Reynandez

Rebecca Reynandez

Digital Marketing Consultant and Principal at Spring Media Strategies, LLC
Rebecca Reyes is a Digital Marketing Consultant and Principal of Spring Media Strategies, LLC with more than ten years of experience in the field. She provides digital media analysis, online strategy plans, marketing campaigns, and customized trainings for nonprofits. She's passionate about using technology and tools to connect people, build relationships, and make everyone’s life easier.