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Jastine Lumbres
by Jastine Lumbres

Why Nonprofit Advertising Is Important

In the past few years, many discussions surrounding nonprofit marketing have been circulating throughout the nonprofit sector. Brought to the forefront and given major attention in 2013 by Dan Pallotta’s TED talk, nonprofits have been working to slowly dismantle the negative attitudes that accompany the subjects of overhead and nonprofit advertising. Because of the constant evolution of technology and various economic shifts in the past decade, nonprofits have to adopt marketing strategies and attitudes similar to for-profits. One of the biggest aspects of that, which we discuss here, is advertising.

Why Nonprofit Advertising Is Important

Why do nonprofits fear advertising?

Let’s return once more to Dan Pallotta, this time moving away from his TED talk and instead taking a look at his article, “Why Nonprofits Should Invest More in Advertising,” published by the Harvard Business Review.

He restates what we all already know up to this point: Donors don’t like it when nonprofits use their donations for themselves. They in fact consider it “wasteful.” Nonprofits avoid it almost like the plague for fear of this distaste from donors towards advertising could turn into distaste for their organization, meaning a decrease in donations.

Pallotta argues that nonprofits can’t hope to create solutions for the problems they are raising money to solve if they can’t be permitted to grow to the scale needed to make those kinds of large changes. He further argues that nonprofits should “start building demand…on a massive scale” by running “full…ads for ending AIDS, eradicating poverty, and curing cancer.” While I agree with Pallotta, what I find issue with is his aggression, pitting nonprofit advertisements in competition with companies like Bloomingdale’s and Netflix. It is that kind of mentality, an almost corporate mentality that makes donors averse to the concept of nonprofit advertising in the first place. But barring all the varying opinions out there, Pallotta is only one voice among many that has been making the same point: advertising could be the tool nonprofits need to advance.

We understand the hesitation. We understand the doubt. Why take on advertising in the first place?

One word to rule them all: EXPOSURE. 

Why does the for-profit world spend billions on advertising every year? To put a product or service out there at our eye level. Advertising in for-profit world has one goal: to sell. Seilling means putting together a campaign that capitalizes on a company's already built-in branding and visibility.While advertising in the for-profit world is definitely viewed as very corporate minded and even sleazy, we as a public are exposed to it every single day. Because of the various devices that we now have at our fingertips, because of the sheer presence of technology in almost every aspect of our lives, from our jobs, to our cell phones, to the radios in our cars, to even the restaurants we patronize, we may not realize it but we have been exposed to at least a dozen different advertisements in a couple of hours alone. Before you even came to this article, I can almost guarantee that you’ve already been hit with some sort of advertisement.

We don’t even bat an eye at this concept because we have already been taught that it is a part of our daily lives. Can you imagine if nonprofits were permitted that kind of exposure? Advertising is meant to create a desire for something that you may not have wanted before or to strengthen an already present desire for a product or service. What if nonprofit advertising was allowed to be a part of that process? But instead of tapping into that human desire for material things, nonprofit advertising taps into something deeper, something harder to measure but generally stronger than materialistic wants? What if nonprofits were allowed to put their cause out there at our eye level?

Nonprofit advertising would have only one goal: exposure for the cause.

We spoke earlier that nonprofits needs to follow the example of for-profits in their marketing strategies and attitudes. Michael R. Maude agrees saying “it is appropriate for a not-for-profit to speak of customers and clients, to develop a marketing plan and, in general, to act like a business. It points out, however, that not-for-profit marketing efforts are driven by a dual purpose. They seek not only to tap the marketplace but also to advance a charitable mission.” In his article “Marketing Is Different in the Not-For-Profit World,” nonprofits already have a distinct advantage over their for-profit colleagues. Nonprofits have strength of vision as their most enduring asset. The fact that your nonprofit was created for the good of the many, for the good of those in need, already give your nonprofit a boost in the realm of advertising.

To pursue advertising means using that strength of vision to gain exposure for your cause. You have already done the work communicating and establishing a relationship with your donors, a resource whose importance can’t be overstated. Working within the parameters of trust your nonprofit already has established with its donor base, you can use nonprofit advertising to accomplish the big three: Attract donors, Increase donations, and Educate. However, transparency must be the name of the game: your nonprofit has to emphasize that while donations are for the good of the many, advertisements can play a big part in gaining more money for the cause. Not only do you have to create an advertising campaign that will be both effective and pleasing for the masses, you must also deliver on your donor’s trust by showing that advertising is an investment that has the potential to make a large return.

Nonprofit advertising walks a fine line. By being conscious of that line and creating advertising smart and enduring advertising campaigns, your nonprofit has the potential to deliver even more: to yourselves, your donors, and to your cause.

Side note: Ever heard of Google's nonprofit program?

Did you know Google provides nonprofits with $10,000 per month in free advertising credit? This program is known as Google Grants and it's available to almost every 501c3 nonprofit organization. Learn how we can help you get the most out of the Google Grant program. Click below to get started!
There's a smarter way to do Google Grants.

Jastine Lumbres

Jastine Lumbres
Jastine is Elevate Click's first content writer. She received her BA in English from UC Riverside and Master's in English degree from Claremont Graduate University. She currently lives in Rosemead, CA with her family.

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