Nonprofit Advertising Guide: Practical Tips and Examples

Work with our recommended agency to improve your nonprofit ads on Google.

The online space grows more competitive each day. Nonprofits are up against big-name companies, vying for consumers’ attention. If it feels like you’re grasping at straws and still can’t capture prospects’ attention, it might be time to try out nonprofit advertising.

You might initially think that nonprofit advertising is a waste of donations. In fact, it might seem like advertising was designed for for-profit companies with flexible budgets. However, ads actually have an incredibly high return on investment and are a much more attainable strategy than you might realize.

There’s a reason companies invest in paid advertising – it works! Sometimes, traditional nonprofit marketing doesn’t quite make the cut. If that sounds like your situation, it’s time to brainstorm how ads can support your cause and get your services in front of new audiences that you might not otherwise ever encounter.

Whether you’re just getting started or looking to refine your existing efforts, this guide will provide everything you need to get the most out of your nonprofit advertising strategy. We’ll cover everything from common types of ads charities use to real-world examples you can emulate. Here’s what we’ll review:

At Double the Donation, we strive to help organizations increase matching gift awareness and maximize their revenue through corporate giving. We’ve seen the power that effective marketing holds for charitable causes like yours, especially in the corporate philanthropy space. Whether you’re investing in digital nonprofit advertising or using paper ad methods, there are countless ways to amplify your cause.

If you’re ready to explore the power of nonprofit advertising, let’s dive in!

This section walks through the basics of nonprofit advertising.

Understanding Nonprofit Advertising

The world of nonprofit advertising is expansive, and if you’re just getting started, it’ll take some time to delve into everything. Let’s kick things off with the fundamentals, starting with a basic definition.

What Are Nonprofit Ads?

Also referred to as charity advertising, nonprofit ads are paid ads that nonprofits use to promote digital content about their services and fundraisers. Advertising includes digital platforms such as paid search ads and social media ads, as well as traditional advertising methods such as community radio and print ads.

While paid ads can make a notable difference in your outreach, know that they’re just one part of your marketing strategy. “Nonprofit marketing” refers to all of the activities your nonprofit leverages to promote its brand and mission, while advertising is a specific subset of nonprofit marketing that refers strictly to paid channels.

In the for-profit world, companies create billboards, promotional materials for TV, and digital ads to promote goods and services. Advertising looks a little different for nonprofits, though. Instead of promoting a tangible product, nonprofit advertising is used to “sell” a cause. When done effectively, charity ads educate and inform target audiences about the mission, goals, and services of the organization, as well as solicit donations or other forms of support.

Why Should Nonprofits Use Advertising?

Nonprofit advertising is undoubtedly worth the investment. From securing new donors to increasing the visibility of your efforts in the community, there’s a lot you can achieve with well-written, persuasive ads.

If you’re not convinced that you should spend your hard-earned donations on promoting your work, here are a few common reasons why you should:

Use nonprofit advertising to build brand awareness and experience a high ROI.

  • Drive high-quality conversions. Getting Attention’s nonprofit advertising guide explains that with powerfully written ads, “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.” Plus, many platforms come with audience targeting capabilities, allowing you to narrow your audience and deliver valuable content to likely supporters.
  • Build a stronger, more recognizable brand. Nonprofit advertising allows you to get your digital content in front of more prospects than word-of-mouth alone. Existing supporters will also be met with your charitable ads, keeping your cause front of mind even when they haven’t interacted with you for awhile.
  • See major returns on low-cost efforts. In some cases, you only pay when a user clicks your ad. Many platforms, like Google Ads, offer discounts and free platform use to verified nonprofits. Even when you pay out of pocket for your ads, you don’t have to pay to generate revenue from nonprofit ads. This Google Ad Grant Impact Report explains that view-through revenue—revenue from donors who saw but didn’t click on an ad—accounts for 35% of all giving sourced from digital ads.

To see positive results, you’ll need to put in time and effort to create authentic ads. Otherwise, you’ll wind up wasting your budget that could be better used supporting other areas of your mission.

What Are the Challenges of Charity Advertising?

When used efficiently, nonprofit ads can help you make incredible strides for your mission. However, there are some hurdles you’ll need to overcome.

Here are some challenges you’ll want to keep in mind, so you can get in front of them when creating your promotional strategies:

  • Donors want their funds to go directly toward your mission. They might be resistant to the idea of their contributions being spent on paid ads. That’s why some nonprofits are hesitant to pay for advertising — they’re worried about what existing prospective donors will think of them for doing so.
  • You’ll need time to dedicate to managing your ads. Some organizations simply don’t have the staff or time to dedicate to creating their ads. That goes for monitoring your campaigns and making adjustments to maximize results, too. You won’t want to use a set-it-and-forget-it approach. Not to mention, some advertising platforms have a considerable learning curve. We recommend working with a nonprofit advertising expert to mitigate these challenges.
  • Conveying your message can be challenging. Ads are notorious for seeming inauthentic. When possible, use storytelling components like original images to make your ads come across as genuine.

To preemptively overcome these challenges, choose affordable advertising channels and be authentic in your promotion. Some channels are actually free. We also recommend working with a nonprofit advertising agency. These professionals can devote their time to managing campaigns backed by their technical expertise, so you can focus on other areas of your mission.

How Can I Work Nonprofit Ads Into My Budget?

Considering that nonprofit advertising is a paid form of marketing, you’ll need to allocate sufficient funds toward it.

A common misconception is that paid advertising is out of reach for nonprofits with limited budgets. In reality, many paid advertising platforms offer free (or at least discounted) access to verified organizations. Through programs like Google Ad Grants, your nonprofit can tap into paid advertising for free, minimizing the negative reactions donors might have.

As you work ads into your budget, let’s take a look at how organizations break down their nonprofit advertising budgets across different platforms. According to M+R Benchmarks’ annual study, organizations allocate their advertising budgets in the following percentages:

  • 32%  on display ads
  • 24% on search ads
  • 36% on social media
  • 8% on video ads and other forms of advertising

This chart shows how organizations divide their nonprofit advertising budgets between channels.

Once you allocate money toward advertising in your annual budget, use these percentages as a guiding point. Considering that search ads yield the highest return on ad spend among any other channel, we recommend investing most of your budget in that area. According to that same M+R Benchmarks Study, it generates an incredible $3.72 return for every dollar spent, while display ads generate $0.59.

You're not limited on channels for charity advertising.

6 Types of Nonprofit Ads

There are plenty of ways you can leverage paid advertising in your nonprofit’s marketing strategies. However, you’ll need to be strategic about which platforms you use. Decide which ones will align with your goals and will help you reach your target audience.

To help you get a good grasp on your options, let’s walk through six of the most common nonprofit advertising platforms, starting with our favorite.

Promote your cause using these charity advertising channels.

Type 1: Google Search Ads

Create nonprofit ads for Google to connect with users searching for your cause.

Paid search ads are online advertisements that promote an organization’s web content. These ads are displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) and are triggered by keywords related to the advertiser’s organization.

Advertisers pay each time someone clicks on their ad, so they’re not overpaying for advertising space. This makes it a cost-effective way to reach a targeted audience and drive qualified leads.

Google Ad Grants

When eligible for Google Ad Grants, nonprofits can tap into this nonprofit advertising channel for free. So long as they comply with the program’s rules, they’ll receive $10,000 each month to spend on amplifying their web content on Google Search.

To get started, you’ll need to:

  1. Check your nonprofit’s eligibility. Google limits participation to specific organizations with 501(c)(3) status. Governmental, healthcare, and educational organizations are ineligible. You’ll also need a website that meets the program’s requirements. Explore our Google Grants eligibility guide to determine your eligibility status.
  2. Apply for TechSoup. TechSoup works with socially-responsible companies to provide nonprofits with free and discounted tools and services that streamline their work. TechSoup works with Google to verify organizations’ legitimacy, so you’ll need to apply for an account with them. Simply provide some identifying information. Once you’re verified, they’ll provide you with a verification token that you’ll provide to Google.
  3. Create a Google for Nonprofits account. To access the Google Ad Grants application, you’ll need to create a Google for Nonprofits account. Through Google for Nonprofits, you’ll gain access to a range of helpful tools like Google WorkSpace and the YouTube Nonprofit Program, too. Provide information like your tax identification number and contact information.
  4. Apply for the Google Grant. Once your Google for Nonprofits account is approved, you’ll gain access to the Google Ad Grant application. Fill out the eligibility form and wait for approval. In no time, you’ll start receiving $10,000 to spend on Google Ads every month.

We recommend working with a Google Grants agency to take full advantage of this charity advertising method. They’ll work with you to understand your mission, choose the right keywords, and craft compelling nonprofit ads that drive results for your cause.

Improve your charity advertising on Google with our recommended agency.

Type 2: Social Media Ads

Create charity ads for social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Did you know that 59% of Gen Zers are inspired to donate to charity by a message they saw on social media? You’re missing out if you’re not promoting your cause through this channel!

Most nonprofits recognize the power this digital marketing channel holds. After all, the share button allows you to leverage social proof and connect with new prospects. Unless you have a large following that’s consistently sharing and engaging with your content, it can be challenging to gain a lot of traction, though. That’s why we recommend allocating some money toward social media ads.

Social Media Advertising Platforms

So you’re not stretching your nonprofit advertising budget too thin, think critically about the platforms from which you’ll purchase ad space. As you get started, keep these charity advertising platforms in mind:

These nonprofit advertising channels allow you to leverage user-friendly features and reach prospects and existing supporters where they already are: scrolling through social media. Plus, social media has an incredible reach. Sources estimate that there will be 5.8 billion social media users worldwide by 2027.

When creating your messages, remember social media tends to be trend-based, so keep an eye on what’s trending to create timely ads for your cause.

Type 3: Community Radio

Create radio ads for your nonprofit.

Community radio can be a great place to advertise your mission to a local audience. Radio ads can be tailored to specific demographics and areas. Plus, you can physically speak to your audience, showing passion for your cause.

Some nonprofits qualify for free public service announcements on community radio stations. Thanks to the Federal Communications Commission, radio stations have to allot a certain amount of radio time to charitable organizations.

If you’re filling free nonprofit advertising space, there’s one caveat: you’ll need to format your messages as announcements rather than ads.

In other words, you can’t explicitly request donations. However, you can use radio ads to drive website traffic and create buzz about your organization. Then, if your social media posts or website are optimized, visitors may wind up clicking the ‘Donate’ or ‘Volunteer’ button.

Type 4: Print Advertising for Nonprofits

Post nonprofit ads in newspapers and other publications.

If you want to go a more traditional route with your nonprofit ads, try print advertising. Print ads, such as newspaper and magazine placements, can target specific geographic areas, allowing nonprofits to reach their desired audience effectively.

Relatively inexpensive and adaptable, print ads can be placed in a variety of publications, from local newspapers to national magazines. You can even create banners and flyers to promote your cause at local events.

This method works for a few reasons. For instance, print ads tend to be:

  • Memorable. You can provide readers with a tangible message that they can reference later, making it easy to save and circle back.
  • Tailored to the cause. Print ads can be designed to match a specific aesthetic. By incorporating your organization’s branding, these types of nonprofit ads can convey your message in a way that’s visually appealing and unique.
  • Great for establishing credibility. Print ads can be placed in specific publications or at events where your target audience is likely to be present. By appearing in a respected publication or at a reputable event, a nonprofit can establish its legitimacy as a trustworthy organization.

When creating your nonprofit advertising strategy, consider how print ads can play into your approach.

Type 5: Influencer Advertising

Strengthen your charity's advertising with help from influencers.

Influencers are individuals with an established web presence, usually due to social media or a blog. They’ve created a trustworthy brand and amassed a highly-engaged audience.

Companies use social media influencers to promote their products every day. Have you thought about how working with an influencer can amplify your nonprofit’s brand?

Influencers have a large, engaged audience that trusts their opinion and is more likely to engage with their content. Just like you do when choosing corporate partners, choose someone who aligns with your brand.

For example, let’s say you work for a food security organization. You might partner with a food blogger or an influencer who publishes recipes. This will help:

  • Convert and activate new supporters. By asking their followers to donate, follow, or show support in some other way, influencers can drive like-minded people to support your cause.
  • Draw attention to your work. Influencers can promote more engaging content that can spark conversations and encourage people to look into your work.

Reach the right people with the right messages with influencer ads. We recommend developing some materials for influencers to work with. Then, they can make it their own to give it a more authentic feel that aligns with their brand.

Type 6: Retargeted Advertising

Retargeted nonprofit ads are great for driving users to revisit your website.

We’ve all experienced this at some point. While online shopping, we add something to our cart – let’s say, a comfy new shirt. We get distracted and leave the site, only to be met with ads on other websites for that same exact shirt. This is what we refer to as a “retargeted ad.”

While primarily used to promote products, retargeted ads allow nonprofits to engage with people who have already shown interest in the mission.

Remarketing and retargeting are similar forms of digital advertising nonprofits can use to target users based on their interactions with your cause online. This type of advertising is done by placing a cookie on a user’s computer or device and then displaying relevant ads to them based on their prior online activity.

Retargeted ads can be effective in reaching people who have already visited your nonprofit’s website or interacted with you on social media. They’re highly personalized and tailored to the individual user, making them an effective way to drive conversions.

How to Use Retargeted Ads

If you’re unsure how retargeting ads fit into your nonprofit advertising strategy, let’s walk through a few examples.

Retargeted ads can be used to remind people of a nonprofit’s mission, encourage donations, and promote events or services. Here are a few use cases that can help tailor your approach to using this strategy:

  • Abandoned donations: Retarget someone who left your donation page before submitting their donation. They were already considering donating, and it’s up to you to figure out why they didn’t follow through. Think through common reasons why someone might abandon a gift. For example, maybe they wanted to research your services a bit more before submitting a donation. If that seems like a viable reason someone would’ve walked away, you might create retargeted ads that explain your work.
  • Event reminders: Create a retargeting ad campaign to re-engage anyone who didn’t complete their event registration. Let’s say someone left to check their calendar but then forgot to return and finish registering. This type of ad can be a great reminder to revisit your event registration page!

This type of nonprofit ad is a fantastic way to engage users, even if they’ve never actually donated or taken any other action. At some point, users who receive these ads showed interest in your cause online, and a little reminder might be just what they need.

Creating a nonprofit advertising strategy takes a few steps.

Steps to Creating Your Nonprofit Advertising Strategy

So you’ve decided nonprofit advertising is a smart move. Great! Now, you need to create your ads. Let’s walk through easy steps your team can take to create an effective nonprofit advertising plan:

  1. Define your campaign objectives. What are you hoping to achieve by purchasing ad space? Do you want to boost volunteer numbers, increase digital donations, or educate the public about your cause? Knowing this will help you pick which content you want to promote and drive users to take the most meaningful actions.
  2. Set a budget. If you’re not careful, nonprofit advertising can quickly add up. Determine how much money you’ll set aside in your budget for ads. Think back to the industry-standard distributions we discussed earlier when dividing your budget across different charity advertising platforms.
  3. Identify your target audience. Who are you trying to reach with your charity’s ads? Are you attempting to re-engage lapsed donors, connect with first-time volunteers, or get in front of a different group? Get specific here, and think through the demographics of the individuals you’re attempting to reach, too.
  4. Choose platforms for ad distribution. What platforms will put your nonprofit’s ads in front of the appropriate audiences? For example, maybe you’ll use social media ads to connect with Millennial or Gen Z donors across the country while using radio and print ads to reach a local audience.
  5. Create ad content. Now comes the fun part! Create ads that communicate your cause and persuade people to take a specific action to support your work. When possible, add compelling visuals like images and videos to spark an emotional response in users. Advertising platforms often limit the length of ads, so make the most of the characters you’re allotted. We’ll walk through some nonprofit advertising examples in the next section to spark inspiration.

Following these steps will allow you to generate some influential ads for your cause. The work’s not quite over yet, though!

Assessing Your Nonprofit Advertising Strategy

As we mentioned earlier, nonprofit advertising requires more than a set-it-and-forget-it approach. To maximize results, you’ll want to monitor your campaigns, meaning you’ll need to set up tracking and monitoring systems.

Performance metrics like ad clicks and reach will help you understand your performance. Luckily, most advertising platforms come with built-in tools for measuring success. For example, Google Ads users can leverage Google Analytics to view key performance metrics (KPIs) for each campaign, like:

  • Impressions: This metric refers to how many times your ad was shown to users. It can help you gauge how large your reach is.
  • Click-through-rate (CTR): CTR measures how many clicks your charity’s ad received divided by how many impressions it received. This metric can indicate how relevant your ad is to users. For reference, if your Google Ad had 5 clicks and 100 impressions, your CTR would be 5%.
  • Conversion rate: Your conversion rate refers to the number of visitors who complete a desired goal, like registering for an event or donating. The higher your conversion rate, the better. Just make sure it’s actually an action that’s meaningful to your work.
  • Bounce rate: A bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who click through to your site and leave before viewing any other pages. This can indicate page quality. A low bounce rate is always best!

Use these key performance indicators to monitor your nonprofit ads' performance.

Using these KPIs, you can get a solid grasp on your nonprofit ad performance at any point. Throughout your campaign, make adjustments based on results.

Let's walk through some helpful nonprofit advertising examples.

3 Nonprofit Advertising Examples

You can research charity ad ideas and tactics all you want, but nothing quite measures up to seeing examples from real organizations. Let’s walk through some nonprofit ad examples to see paid marketing in action.

American Heart Association

Type of Nonprofit Ad: Google Ad

This nonprofit advertising examples shows how the American Heart Association uses Google Ads.

Google Ad Grants have the power to transform any nonprofit’s marketing. Available to verified 501(c)(3) organizations, it can help amplify the most important pages on your website on Google Search.

For this nonprofit advertising example, the American Heart Association targeted terms like “donate to fight heart disease.” This example shows how your cause can leverage the grant, too. Their ad works for a few reasons:

  • Users searching donation-related terms are likely to convert.
  • The pages that the American Heart Association featured correlate with this search intent and push users to give.

Notice how they offered a few ways for users to engage. Since they’re clearly prospective donors at this stage, users can choose to visit different giving-focused pages, such as their “ways to give” page, a page showcasing donations in action, or pages about monthly giving.

If you’re feeling creative, you can take a similar approach and promote matching gifts by featuring your ‘ways to give’ page or by simply including matching gifts on your donation form. To take this ad one step further, the American Heart Association could use extensions to append their phone number, giving users another way to engage.

This strategy is more technical, and working with a Google Grants agency can help you take full advantage of this nonprofit advertising opportunity.

Reimagine your nonprofit ads on Google with our recommended agency.

Doctors Without Borders

Type of Nonprofit Ad: Facebook Ad

This nonprofit advertising example shows how Doctors Without Borders used Facebook Ads.

Doctors Without Borders is an international medical humanitarian organization delivering emergency aid and healthcare to in-need populations. Seeking the most effective way to amplify their Giving Tuesday efforts, they turned to Facebook Ads and created a Facebook Fundraiser. The combination yielded twice as much revenue as its Giving Tuesday campaign the previous year.

According to Facebook’s case study, the organization ran its ads for less than 2 weeks and generated impressive metrics:

  • Ad spend for Giving Tuesday ads: $26,000
  • Donation value from ads: $72,000
  • Return on ad spend: 2.8x
  • Donors: 60% new, 40% recurring

This campaign exemplifies the power of social sharing and timely nonprofit ads. Not to mention, it boosted our all-time favorite fundraising strategy: matching gifts.

While this is a great example of aggressive nonprofit advertising for a large organization, smaller nonprofits can also tap into this strategy at lower rates. Even when spending a lot less, you can achieve impressive results. You just have to leverage targeting features and create persuasive messages that inspire users.

Girls Inc.

Type of Nonprofit Ad: Influencer Ad

For this nonprofit advertising example, Girls Inc. partnered with Saks OFF 5th and an influencer.

Especially if you’re targeting younger generations, influencer advertising can be a viable option. For this nonprofit advertising example, Girls Inc. partnered with popular lifestyle blogger Vanessa Scott and Saks OFF 5th to create and market an exclusive t-shirt.

Capitalizing on National Women’s Day, the charity created a shirt that uses the same colors as its brand. Reading “Every Day is Women’s Day,” the shirt’s core message aligns with its mission to empower girls to overcome environmental challenges.

To support the campaign, Vanessa shared an Instagram post where she was sporting the t-shirt. She explained what the awareness day meant to her, why Girls Inc. is an important nonprofit, and how 100% of the shirt’s proceeds would support the cause.

Not only does this example show the power of influencer ads, but it also demonstrates how nonprofits can partner with socially-responsible corporations to amplify their causes.

Explore these additional nonprofit advertising resources.

Wrapping Up

When you create genuine ads, you can reach larger audiences and inspire more people than ever to support your cause.

There are a lot of nonprofit advertising platforms out there, though. Carefully think through which platforms will connect you with the right audiences before spending your budget. Whether you leverage Google Ads or partner with influencers, you’re sure to gain traction for your cause.

As you get started, stay up to date with marketing trends and best practices to craft the best ads possible. Here are some helpful resources to get started:

Work with our recommended Google Ads agency to improve your charity advertising.