How to Leverage Paid Ads for Nonprofit Success: Insights from the Field

Paid advertising is a broad term you may hear marketing professionals eagerly throw around like confetti at a summer wedding. But we do so because we know how incredibly valuable paid advertising can be for nonprofits. Paid advertising places your nonprofit right in front of your target audience with the click of a button, increasing your impact on a massive scale. Whether you’re looking to garner more donations, make your mission known to the masses, or encourage more volunteers for your cause, you can harness the power of paid advertising to reach your audience and, therefore, reach your organization’s goals.

We know this to be true because we’ve seen the amazing results of paid advertising for nonprofits in action. At Big Storm, our paid advertising specialists have witnessed the driving power of paid advertising in helping nonprofits make a real-life difference through the virtual world. For example, we partnered with the Ohio Children’s Alliance to help them reach their goal of increasing awareness of the need for more foster caregivers for children in Ohio foster care. By creating a paid advertising campaign aligned with this goal and their mission, we generated 34.9M ad impressions, raising awareness about the need for foster caregivers on an astronomical scale. With this ad campaign and a multifaceted nonprofit marketing plan, we helped increase foster caregiver applications by 66%.

Like confetti, strategically sprinkling paid ads on platforms like search engines and social media can lead to the best celebration: your nonprofit’s being heard across the digital sphere. In this blog, we’ll explore how nonprofits can benefit from paid advertising and key takeaways on how nonprofits can use the power of paid advertising to reach their goals.

What Is Paid Advertising?

Paid advertising is a marketing strategy that involves purchasing ad space to promote a product, service, or cause to a targeted audience. Just remember—paid advertising relies on a different strategy than organic advertising. Organic advertising uses non-paid strategies to attract an audience, like SEO or email marketing. These methods do not always ensure visibility. However, paid ads can guarantee visibility and reach a precisely defined demographic quickly and effectively. That’s due to their targeting abilities.

Platforms for paid advertising vary widely but can include search engines, social media, websites, and even outdoor digital displays. Each offers different ad formats, such as text, image, or video ads. Each platform provides tools for advertisers to specify who sees their ads based on factors such as interests, location, and browsing behavior. This enables organizations, like nonprofits, to tailor their message directly to those most likely to be interested in their cause.

How Can Paid Advertising Benefit Nonprofits?

In the dynamic marketing landscape, paid advertising can be a game-changer for nonprofits who want to elevate their impact. But what exactly can paid advertising do for nonprofits? The answer lies in its ability to overcome two major challenges: increasing reach and inspiring action.

Increasing Reach

One of the biggest pain points nonprofits face is reach, or the number of people who have seen your brand’s content, such as ad campaigns. How are you supposed to generate more donations, volunteers, and visibility if you cannot reach your target audience? That’s where paid advertising can provide a much-needed platform for increased reach.

Paid advertising gives nonprofits a powerful way to spread their message and reach more people who care about their cause. While organic advertising methods, like organic social media, has its value, it can be tricky to get the same level of reach that you can get with paid ads. Organic content has become extremely competitive, and platforms now prioritize and push for paid advertising if you want your brand to be seen and heard. By using paid ads, you can pinpoint who sees your campaigns, whether it’s by age, location, interests, or even behaviors. That way, you can make sure your nonprofit is talking directly to the people most likely to support you. Paid advertising is known for its efficiency because it reduces wasted effort and ensures that every dollar spent is more likely to result in donations, volunteers, or awareness. Plus, paid ads can get the word out quickly, which can be crucial for time-sensitive fundraising campaigns or donor events. In short, with paid advertising, nonprofits can achieve a level of reach, visibility, and impact that might be difficult to reach through solely traditional, non-paid methods.

Inspiring Action

Another major pain point we’ve seen nonprofits face is inspiring people to take action. For nonprofits, it can be tricky to encourage people to donate, lend a hand, or respond to your mission because people’s natural tendency is to not make decisions based on altruism. Most people’s first instinct when interacting with advertising is to think, “How can this offering benefit me?” Because nonprofits are typically not selling a specific product or commodity, it can take multiple or even a dozen interactions with your nonprofit before an individual feels inspired enough to respond to your call to action (CTA).

Paid advertising can help by allowing you to nurture people along your nonprofit’s incredibly unique supporter journey. Nonprofit supporter journeys differ from nonprofit to nonprofit, as your target audience’s pain points and needs may differ greatly from those of another organization. With paid advertising, you can create ads that meet your audience’s needs along a cycle of decisions, from learning more about your cause to donating to filling out an inquiry form for more information. Remember: every touchpoint an individual has with your nonprofit feeds into their larger decision of taking action, so you can create ads that build trust with every touchpoint.
At their core, paid ads help more people understand the problem your nonprofit is trying to solve, how they can help solve that problem, and why they should care enough to take action.

To Succeed: Know Your Goals & Target Audience

It’s really as simple as that: knowing your goals and target audience helps shape your nonprofit paid advertising strategy. It helps your team and strategy partners decide what messaging and visuals to use, what keywords to include, what advertising platforms to use, and who you want to target with your ads. Let’s dive a little deeper into the importance of knowing your goals, your audience, and where they are on their journey.

Know Your Goals

To truly nail a paid advertising campaign, nonprofits must start with a clear idea of what they’re trying to achieve. What is the purpose of your ads? Who do you want to reach? What action do you want people to take? You and your team need to ask these questions to outline what you want to accomplish with your paid ads. For example, if one of your nonprofit’s goals is getting the word out about your cause, then your goal should be to increase reach and visibility. This means picking places where many people spend time online, like Facebook or Instagram, and using ads that catch the eye and get people talking.

But if you want your target audience to take a specific action, like donating money or signing up to volunteer, you’ll need to be more strategic. This is where it pays to know who’s most likely to support your cause and target your ads directly at them. Google Ads can be great for finding people who are already looking to help, while LinkedIn can connect you with professionals who might donate. These kinds of ads are not just about how many people see them but also about getting the right people to click and take action. Your ads should make it clear why someone should help and how they can do it, making every click count towards your goal.

Know Your Target Audience & Their Journey

Crafting an effective nonprofit paid advertising strategy hinges on precisely identifying and understanding your target audience. It’s not just about who your audience is demographically, such as where they live or how old they are. It’s also important to where they stand in their nonprofit supporter journey or what steps they need to take to support your cause. This journey, often visualized as a “sales” funnel, is unique for each individual. It encompasses various stages, from initial awareness to donating or volunteering. Recognizing and tailoring your advertising efforts to meet them at each stage of this journey is essential to have your efforts produce results. For example, different messages and platforms will resonate with someone just learning about your cause compared to another who is already considering a donation. This nuanced approach ensures that your message is always relevant and engaging, thereby increasing the likelihood of conversion.

Keep in mind that your paid ads strategy shouldn’t stop at just reaching an existing audience. It’s equally important to continually seek out new supporters. This is where the power of experimentation comes into play. Leveraging the data from those who have already engaged with your cause allows you to refine your understanding of your audience. By adding certain interests and behaviors to your targeting criteria, you can extend your reach. While e-commerce businesses might target consumers based on their immediate market interests, nonprofits face the challenge of appealing to a broader set of motivations and values. Placing yourself in the potential supporter’s shoes is crucial to bridge this gap. Try asking yourself questions like “What would I be searching for? What issues am I passionate about?” These questions help in crafting a more effective targeting strategy. Harnessing the power of this empathetic approach enables your nonprofit to connect with your audience more deeply and widen your supporter base.

6 Paid Advertising Insights for Nonprofits

Over the years, we’ve picked up a tactic or two (or a hundred) for getting amazing paid advertising results for nonprofits. Remember: Any marketing effort takes patience and practice to reach your goals, and paid advertising is no different. With that piece of advice in mind, let’s dive into the top insights we’ve gathered on using paid ads for nonprofits.

1. Understand Your Budget & Utilize Available Resources

Navigating the financial landscape of paid advertising can be challenging for nonprofits, often operating under tight budget constraints. However, once you know your goals and your audience, you will be able to better understand what you can accomplish with your budget. For instance, if your nonprofit aims to maximize donations, focusing your spending on platforms and ad formats known for high conversion rates is a strategic, budget-conscious choice. This approach ensures that every dollar spent is an investment towards achieving your nonprofit’s mission.

Also, the paid ads landscape is not without financial opportunities for those who know where to look. Google’s nonprofit program is an excellent example, as they offer $10,000 in monthly ad credits to organizations that qualify. This generous provision underscores the importance of being resourceful and taking full advantage of such programs to extend the reach of your campaigns without stretching your budget.

2. Experiment with Messaging and Visuals

Creating successful ad campaigns requires careful consideration of messaging and visuals. Ads for nonprofits often lean towards emotional engagement, which necessitates a balance between being compelling and not appearing manipulative. Every brand has its own opinion on what looks and sounds good, so it’s up to you and your nonprofit’s team to decide what messaging and visuals align with your brand, mission, and goals.

Remember that when creating visuals and messaging for your campaigns, there will always be a learning phase for which images and words resonate with your target audience. Finding a CTA that inspires your audience to act and images that engage them takes time, so don’t be afraid to craft, test, and repeat this process as often as necessary.

Curious about how visuals and messaging impact your website too? Visit our resource “5 Tips for Your Next Nonprofit Website Redesign.”

3. Pick Platforms that Fit Your Audience & Goals

The choice of advertising platforms should align with your nonprofit’s campaign objectives. Each platform attracts specific audiences and can help you target audiences at specific points in the nonprofit supporter journey. For example, Facebook ads are great for reaching a lot of people at once. In contrast, Google Search Ads are effective in driving conversions, like donations or form fills, as people searching on Google are typically in a “ready to convert” stage.

Knowing the benefits of what each advertising platform offers can help you better decide which platform best fits your audience and goals. Our paid advertising experts can help you in this decision process by conducting an analysis of your goals and target audience, then matching these factors to specific platforms. Set up a consultation with our team today to get started.

4. Be Willing to Adapt, Experiment, & Collaborate to Find Goal-Focused Solutions

Paid advertising is a marketing tactic that requires adapting to your results and experimenting to improve those results or expand your impact. As mentioned before, targeting the right audience can take time. Sometimes, you cast your net too wide and fail to drive meaningful conversions, or you reach too niche of an audience to sustain your future goals. However, the long-term benefits of trying new messaging and targeting new audience groups can help you maximize your impact and better narrow down the audience most likely to convert. Working with a paid ads specialist can help you better understand and refine your advertising tactics to reach your target audience more effectively and efficiently.

Additionally, nonprofit organizations often face strict guidelines for imagery, verbiage, and more, navigating through a maze of red tape before implementing their marketing tactics. From our experience, establishing clear communication with all stakeholders from the get-go can help nonprofits avoid wasting time and energy on marketing efforts. Educating your stakeholders right away on paid advertising platforms, their benefits, and how they can help you reach your goals can help all parties feel more comfortable and aligned on the more significant impact of paid advertising.

5. Decide Which Metrics Measure Your Success

The metrics—specific measurements used to evaluate the performance of paid ad campaigns—you track for your ad campaigns depends on your goals. This could range from tracking conversions and form fills for action-oriented campaigns to focus on reach and impressions for awareness campaigns. Take time to understand what the goal of your ad campaign is, and match the metric to the campaign accordingly. Here are a few common metrics in paid advertising:

  • Click-Through Rate (CTR): The percentage of people who click on an ad after seeing it. This metric helps assess how compelling your ad is to your target audience.
    Impressions: The number of times an ad is displayed, regardless of whether it was clicked. This measures the reach of your ad.
  • Cost Per Click (CPC): The amount paid each time someone clicks on your ad. This metric helps manage the budget and efficiency of ad spending.
  • Conversion Rate: The percentage of clicks that result in a desired action, such as making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter. It measures the effectiveness of your ad in achieving specific goals.
  • Cost Per Acquisition (CPA): The total cost of the ad campaign divided by the number of conversions. This indicates how much it costs to acquire a lead through the ad.
  • Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): The revenue generated from the ad campaign divided by the cost of the campaign. This measures the financial return from the ad spend.
  • Engagement Rate: The level of interaction (likes, shares, comments) that an ad receives, which can indicate how well the ad resonates with the audience.
  • Quality Score: A rating in some advertising platforms (like Google Ads) that measures the relevance and quality of your ads, keywords, and landing pages. Higher scores can lead to lower costs and better ad positions.

6. Emerging Technologies Can Boost Your Nonprofit Ads Strategy

Did you know that new and emerging technologies can actually make it cheaper for your nonprofit to run ads? For example, a new campaign type that creates images for you allows you to spend more time strategizing than designing graphics. Staying on top of the latest in paid advertising technology can help you maximize your time, budget, and long-term effectiveness, so don’t be afraid to explore new paid ad options.

Partner with Big Storm to Harness the Power of Paid Ads

Does the prospect of navigating the unfamiliar terrain of paid ads seem daunting? Are you eager to explore the boundless opportunities paid advertising can unlock for your nonprofit? Look no further than Big Storm. We’re always excited to partner with nonprofits to help them reach and exceed their goals.

Our team of digital marketing and paid advertising specialists is equipped with the insights and experience to transform your vision into real-world impact. We create deliberate, data-driven strategies that not only reach but resonate with your audience’s hearts and minds. With a proven track record of empowering nonprofits to exceed their goals, we’re here to guide you through every step of your paid advertising journey. Let’s embark on this path together—contact us today!

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