Paid advertising can get results quickly. We examine when small charities should consider using it
Paid advertising can give small charities’ fundraising and service delivery activities a big boost when carried out effectively. But there’s an obvious downside to paid advertising: it costs money that small charities could otherwise employ to help their service users. So when should you turn to paid advertising for your small charity?
The answer is when you want to go beyond what’s achievable using free marketing techniques, or you need to get results faster. Possible circumstances include when you need to raise funds for an urgent appeal (perhaps for disaster relief) or maybe to target a specific group of people that you are seeking to help.
The most cost-effective form of marketing for small charities is using techniques such as search engine optimisation (SEO) and by using a social media management platform. A charity with marketing-savvy staff can do a huge amount to raise awareness of the charity’s existence and its activities using these techniques without spending a penny.
When it comes to paid advertising the most cost-effective form is usually digital advertising, and specifically pay per click (PPC) search advertising and advertising on social media platforms. That’s because this type of advertising can be very finely targeted at specific audiences using information from your website and social media presences such as keywords, locations, demographics, job titles, interests and common topics.
But is using your charity’s limited budget to pay for advertising a good idea? The broad answer to that is yes because effective advertising works: if it didn’t then organisations from small businesses to multi-national corporations wouldn’t use it, and nor would charities like Cancer Research UK and the Salvation Army.
When it comes to digital advertising, research by Google found that businesses make an average of $2 for every $1 they spend on its AdWords platform. There’s no reason to suppose that a charity cannot expect to make a similar return on fundraising advertisements. Visitors who come to your site via a pay per click ad are 50% more likely to spend money there than other visitors, according to Unbounce and about 40% of charities use PPC campaigns according to a Salesforce report.
In order for both marketing and paid advertising to be effective, timing is everything. To illustrate this, take the example of a charity making posts on social media.
It turns out that it’s important to post on social media platforms on the right day and at the right time to maximise the effect of the message, according to research by Social Sprout. The best day for a charity to post a message for maximum effect is on a Wednesday, and on Instagram the best time is 2 pm. On Facebook, it’s between 8 am and 9 am, and for tweets, it’s at 7 am.
An effective time of year to advertise for donations is when people are in the mood for giving, and in practice, that means the run-up to Christmas. That’s when the country’s largest charities launch their TV advertising campaigns, and it’s when small charities can use paid digital advertising most effectively.
Payment technology company First Capital Cashflow 38% of people it asked said they were more likely to make a charitable donation in the run-up to Christmas, and The Salvation Army says that its fundraising is about 300% more effective - and cost-effective - in November and December, accounting for almost a third of its income from fundraising appeals.
But you don’t have to wait for the onset of winter to launch an effective paid advertising campaign. A campaign is likely to be engaging, and ultimately successful in its goals, if it is relevant.
That means it is more likely to be effective if it taps into the zeitgeist, or if it offers a solution to a problem that people are aware of at that moment – such as a specific natural disaster or human conflict. For example, when Save the Children launched a paid advertising campaign to raise funds for the Syrian refugee crisis it was able to take advantage of the existing television and news exposure surrounding the Syrian conflict. The result was a 93% increase in fundraising during the campaign.
Another good time to pay for advertising is very soon after someone has left your website without making a donation. That’s because your charity will still be fresh in their mind, and they have pre-qualified themselves as having an interest in your cause. Paying to target this person (a technique known as retargeting or remarketing) can be very effective, and tools such as ReTargeter, AdRoll and Perfect Audience can help with this type of paid advertising.
Google Ads is the most popular platform for pay per click advertising, and there’s the added benefit that your charity may well be eligible for a Google Ad Grant of up to $10,000 (about £7,500) per month to spend on Google Ads. Charities can run the Google Ads campaigns themselves, or use Google Ads Express, a free service provided by Google which chooses where ads will appear automatically.
Google Ads is most effective if you use the right keywords, and Google’s Keyword Planner tool can help you choose the right ones for your budget.
In addition to Google Ads, nearly all the social media platforms offer digital advertising including:
*A large number of UK charities have agreed to pause advertising on Facebook in a stand against hate speech.
Paid advertising tips: