Why now is the most important time for nonprofit advertising

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Why now is the most important time for nonprofit advertising

Many nonprofits enjoy a spike in donations at the end of the year.

And so, they focus their digital marketing programs on November and December.

But here’s a secret: If you want to pull in donations at the end of the year, you need to lay the groundwork now – and keep it going through the spring and beyond.

Here are my recommendations for how to do that with PPC advertising.

Keep budgets consistent

With an emphasis on year-end giving, many nonprofits will pause all advertising until November. That’s not a great long-term strategy.

As with all Google advertising, consistency is key – even for nonprofits.

This is something we work with our nonprofit clients to achieve. One client, for example, gave us an agile budget: as long as our advertising was giving a positive return, the sky was the limit.

This worked great from 2020 to 2021 when COVID-19 and other factors helped drive interest and conversions for our nonprofit’s worthy cause.

But when interest and conversions slowed in 2023, our agile ad budget based on returns would have dropped to a level where the impact of our advertising would have been negligible.

Rather than doing that, we talked to the client, and they agreed to a base $3,000 monthly budget that we could focus on donation-generating campaigns and generating engagement and awareness.

This approach really paid off. As you can see from the following chart, we kept our Google Ads investment steady throughout the year and continued to see a positive return every month. We broke even in some months and came out ahead in others.

Google Ads investment vs revenue nonprofit example

By the time we reached November and December, the revenue numbers were primed to increase.

I strongly suspect that we ended the year much better than we would have if this client hadn’t continued to invest in their advertising throughout the year.

Dig deeper: How to use Google Ads to get more donations for your nonprofit

Monitor the competition

If you need further motivation to keep a base monthly advertising budget in place throughout the year, monitor your competitors.

By using different tools, you can see if competing nonprofits are pausing or pulling back their campaigns outside of the big giving months – which can open the door to you getting your message out.

Don’t obsess about competitors

While you want to watch your nonprofit competitors, you shouldn’t obsess about what they’re doing. (This applies to for-profit advertisers as well.)

Years ago, a competitor to one of our nonprofit clients landed a high-profile celebrity spokesperson. The celebrity’s family had been personally impacted by the cause and was actively promoting the other non-profit.

Raising awareness of important causes is a good thing for everyone – but, at the same time, my nonprofit client also has an important role in supporting this cause. And I worried that there was no way we could “compete” with the celebrity spokesperson and get our message out.

But guess what? We did, and we still do.

Unfortunately, in this case, the competing nonprofit didn’t fully utilize the celebrity spokesperson in their website and marketing. This left us with a window of opportunity to communicate the important work our client was doing in this space and send more donations in our direction.

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Leverage high- (and low-) value video assets

We’re fortunate that the nonprofit client mentioned above has some great, high-production value video assets we can use in their advertising.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t get away with using less glossy assets. We’ve seen that even lower-production-value assets (especially video) can perform very well.

So, if you have a solid video testimonial that didn’t cost millions to produce, don’t sweat it. Use it!

Focus on getting in front of the right people with a message that will resonate with them. If your asset is a little rough around the edges, it may not matter.

We can also dispel the perception that video campaigns are expensive. That’s not always the case. It depends on different factors, and you can usually make adjustments to stay within your budget.

We’ve created video campaigns for clients with monthly campaign budgets as low as $500 per month and these video ads still pack a punch in terms of impressions and views.

When video campaigns are carefully targeted, it’s amazing how many people watch a one or two-minute video advertisement to the end – and click through to the landing page.

Get out of your comfort zone

I’ve spoken about the need to keep a steady base budget throughout the year.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t increase that budget – by a lot – during the giving season.

That includes December, of course. But it should also include parts of November and January.

Here are some of the guidelines we use to think about holiday events in the US:

  • Mid-November to Thanksgiving weekend and Giving Tuesday: Increase ad campaign budgets by 2-3X.
  • December: Increase ad campaign budgets by 4-5X.
  • January: Keep budgets high for at least the first week when many people still have the giving spirit.

In summary, don’t be afraid to increase your budget more than you have in the past – and keep it going over a longer period.

Everything is a test and nothing is absolute

If you really want to lay a strong groundwork for December, you need to create and follow a test-and-learn plan that you apply throughout the year.

It’s the best way to keep a pulse on your nonprofit business, your industry and Google itself.

By continually testing, you’ll enter the giving season with a pretty good idea of what campaigns you should lean into and where to put your budget.

This is a much better approach than pausing everything until November and hoping that what worked last year will work again this year.

Dig deeper: A/B testing mistakes PPC marketers make and how to fix them

The giving season starts now

While you might be used to thinking of December as the giving season, don’t wait until then to start advertising.

Start putting a strong foundation in place now – and start turning every season into a giving one.

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