The Case for Your Nonprofit Advertising Budget

5 min read

Nonprofit advertising is not “overhead” or a “waste of money” even though many donors — and sometimes board members — may initially think that’s the case. This is a challenge many organizations have to overcome when deciding whether to dedicate some of their marketing and communications budget to advertising.

Nonprofit advertising serves a very important role for organizations like yours, and can be extremely beneficial for raising awareness or soliciting new donors. While someone in a marketing and communications role likely has a clear understanding of this, the general public, and often members of your own leadership or board, unfortunately often do not.

However, ask anyone about the old adage of the business world, “you have to spend money to make money,” they’ll likely agree with that sentiment. Why is it so challenging for people to draw the line between dedicating resources to nonprofit fundraising and being able to have an even bigger impact? Why do we, as nonprofit marketers and communicators, constantly feel like we have to justify our advertising budgets with our tails between our legs?

Advertising is an investment that helps you grow your impact.

You may have seen Dan Pallotta’s famous TED talk on this exact topic, in which he argued that the way many people think about charity is very, very wrong. Donors seek out pie charts that highlight how much an organization spends on services, and how much they spend on administration, marketing and advertising. Many choose to support the organizations that spend the smallest proportion on the latter functions. 

But the fact of the matter is, to survive as an organization, reach your development goals and serve more people, you have to constantly find people to support you. To reach those new people, you have to spend money on advertising. With investments in advertising, you can raise more awareness for your organization, find more donors, volunteers and other supporters, and expand your impact.

As a very small-scale example to demonstrate the importance of advertising, imagine your organization has an extra $100, and that $100 can go to either a service, or a digital ad that can reach an audience of potential new donors. If just 10 people donate $20 after seeing that ad, you now have $200 for your service, and a list of new donors in your database who will likely donate again in the future. That ad was a small seed that grew into more opportunity for impact.

Valuable digital advertising channels for nonprofits

Some of your board members or donors might still think of advertising as high-dollar, vanity tactic that isn’t suitable for nonprofits. When they hear “advertising,” they may picture a primetime TV commercial and all the production and placement costs that come with it. Fortunately for your organization, there are plenty of high-value digital advertising channels available today that are not only cost-effective, but allow you to reach your target stakeholders with pinpoint precision. 

Google and YouTube

As you likely already know, Google offers a $10,000 per month advertising credit to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. This allows you to appear at the very top of a Google results page when people search for keywords that are relevant to your organization’s mission.

And because with Google you reach people who are already searching for terms that are relevant to you, every single ad can immediately include a strong call to action. That call to action can be to learn more about your specific organization or mission, to donate or to take another action.

YouTube is also part of Google’s advertising network, so, if your organization has compelling video stories, this can be an impactful way to communicate with your audiences. In a past study, Google found that people who watch videos are 57 percent more likely to donate, so this can be a valuable place to dedicate advertising dollars.

Facebook and Instagram

Facebook and Instagram ads aren’t just limited to “donate now” buttons or boosted posts to encourage engagement. You can also leverage advertising to attract more attendees to an event or help more people in the community you serve learn about you and what you offer.

And because Instagram’s advertising platform is controlled through Facebook’s ads manager, you can easily test the effectiveness of ads on each platform. This can help you make smart decisions about where to use your advertising budget to get the most return on investment for ads.


During major events or when major news stories break, Twitter is one of the first places many people go to follow updates and join the conversation about as things develop. That’s why, if one of your primary advertising goals is to raise awareness, Twitter can be a valuable place to dedicate a portion of advertising spend. 

On Twitter, you can promote tweets to people who are interested in issues related to your organization. This can help you raise awareness for your organization specifically and find new supporters in a moment of heightened need.

So, next time your board or a major donor expresses concern about designating some of your nonprofit’s budget for ads, you can make the case for the value of advertising for your organization’s mission and offer strong recommendations.

How might advertising fit into your organization’s budget?

Marketing, communications and fundraising play a critical role in organizational growth, sustainability and mission achievement. Learn how you can approach marketing and advertising budgeting in a new way in our 11-step guide.

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