Charity Marketing

A Quick Guide To Charity Advertising: What You Need To Know

Person looking at large scale charity advertising
Written by MicroStartups

Advertising has evolved significantly in the digital age. 

Whether it’s through traditional media or its new-age digital marketing counterpart, advertising has only grown in prominence, developing new ways of promoting products, services and initiatives.

The charity industry has just as much a need to advertise as any other. While their missions are often complicated and difficult to communicate to the public, charities and nonprofits often find huge success through conducting charity advertising, using a variety of techniques to acquire donations and volunteers. 

But where do you start? What constitutes a strong message? How does a charity find its audience? And why exactly should your charity invest in social media over billboards? 

In this article we’ll try and answer all these questions and provide a quick guide to getting started with charity advertising. 

Charity advertising do’s and don’ts

First, let’s cover a few of the ways you should and shouldn’t approach charity advertising and marketing. 


Have a clear emotional message 

The best advertising tugs at the heartstrings

An ad might not need to make you cry, but it can make you think back to a great vacation, have you yearn for something new or have you bending over in your seat laughing. 

When it comes to charities, it’s particularly important your message has an emotional hook. The most effective charity ads use evocative storytelling, confrontational imagery and a sense of immediacy to elicit the emotional response that gets them the support they need. 

Use simple stories people can relate too coupled with images of real people, animals and places harmed by the challenges your charity is trying to overcome. It’s a simple way to make yourself memorable and make a great first impression. 

Stick to a budget

Like any advertising campaign, charity advertising needs to stick within its own financial means. 

Going overboard with your spending or misunderstanding the costs of your platform (more on that later) can lead to your budget drying up pretty quickly

The most important aim of your campaign is to get your message seen, so distribution and visibility should always take precedence over an elaborate visual or audio campaign using recognisable names, expensive graphics and costly production. 

Outline your budget early and stick to it religiously. Look to save for future campaigns, rather than blowing your budget early. 

Find the right audience

Advertising is not a case of throwing your message out there and hoping people come along for the ride. 

Finding success in charity advertising means focusing your content on a particular audience you know is more likely to donate to your cause, provide their time, and volunteer. 

Doing this involves extensive research based on data, rather than theorising who would be more likely to take an interest in your initiative and hoping for the best. Tools such as Google Trends and Google Analytics can be used to help research the demographics interested in your goals and charity itself. 

Finding the right audience will dictate every element of your campaign — from content to platform to timing. Make sure you aren’t wasting time or money on the wrong crowd. 

Communicate the impact of a donation

Never forget to tell your audience how important they and prior donations are. 

Your advertising should aim to reinforce the idea that you can only do what you do with the financial aid and generosity of your supporters. If you’re putting out advertising that gives off the impression you’re financially wealthy and there isn’t an urgent need for help, then who exactly would be driven to start donating to you? 

That’s not to say you should start begging or cultivate the image of a charity struggling to survive. Instead, you should demonstrate how effective donations are — showing the people who have been helped by them, as well as uplifting footage to counteract the desperation of the challenges you’re facing. Real-world examples get results. 


Muddle your message

As touched upon, the best marketing messages are simple. In today’s digitally-driven society, it’s equally important your message is consistent across all advertising. 

There are so many other charities, brands and individuals out there vying for people’s attention that you can’t afford to let yourself get lost in the shuffle with advertising littered by complicated messaging and a lack of consistency. 

The wonders of re-marketing means people will likely see your content multiple times, and your primary message needs to be the same each time to really hammer it home.

Whatever platforms you’re using to get your message across, from television to social media to email marketing, it’s crucial you stick to a simple core idea. One slogan, similar imagery, a consistent thing you’re asking for. 

By bombarding your audience with too much information you’re creating a scenario where none of it sticks. The best campaigns aren’t afraid to re-use material and understand that people want something simple they can easily explain to someone else. 

Neglect your website

Your website will more than likely be the primary landing spot for anyone looking to donate their money or services to your charity. 

While some advertising will feature a phone number or potentially an email address, much of your audience will want to learn more about what you do and the societal issues you’re looking to overcome. If your website lacks that information or, worse, isn’t able to accept donations, you’ll have nothing but frustrated patrons unable to support your cause. 

Making sure you don’t neglect your website, and ensure that it involves both a technical and creative outlook

On the technical side make sure your website is:

  • Optimised for SEO (images, metadata and keywords) 
  • Fast — pages should load in less than three seconds
  • Easy to navigate (a page should never be more than three clicks away) 

Creatively you need to get your team on:

  • Informative and actionable content that entertains and drives readers to get involved
  • A visually appealing and interesting design that doesn’t distract from user experience
  • Structured effectively with clear calls to action (content without an actionable purpose will only drain your budget)

Forget about PR

Never forget how powerful a strong PR campaign can be.

PR is a brilliant way of reaching new, exciting audiences that may otherwise not be exposed to you through social media, email or paid advertising. PR is an opportunity to lend your voice as an expert on a topic, get creative with an infographic, survey or study, and get your charity’s name in a topical media publication. 

A dedicated PR strategy that focuses on getting media attention can be a huge moment for an emerging charity. Not only will you get a mention somewhere with vast readership, but the authority from these sites will improve your ranking on search engines (leading to more exposure) and give you evergreen content you can use again and again on social media. 

Ignore your successes

It’s easy to fall into a negative message when creating charity advertising. Your situation may be dire and your need for support great, but never feel the need to downplay what you’ve done. 

If an audience can see that previous work has been successful, they’ll feel much more positive about getting involved themselves. Much in the way you should talk about the impact of donations, you shouldn’t ignore where things have gone right throughout your charity’s hard work. 

People want to feel they’re making a difference when they donate to or work with a charity, so don’t be afraid to create marketing content that leads them directly through how they help. 

Just in the way that abrasive, challenging imagery can galvanise people to act, the contrast of positive imagery as a result of your efforts gives them further incentive to get involved. 

Example of charity visual content to complement advertising

Image Unsplash

Which charity advertising mediums can I use? 

Luckily for aspiring charity advertisers, there are a number of different mediums you can use to promote your enterprise and new initiatives. 

First, let’s cover some of the more familiar methods. 

Traditional broadcast media 

It might sound old-fashioned if you work in a new media setting, but traditional media advertising can still be of huge benefit to charities. 

While many businesses have struggled to find an audience for their ads as a dwindling listener and viewership moves to digital platforms, charities have continued to cut through to an older audience that perhaps has more time and money to spend on socially conscious efforts. 

Although these traditional platforms can be expensive at first, the fashion in which ads are repeated throughout a time slot allows your message to sink into the subconscious of the viewer/listener, causing them to think over and commit to donating to your cause. 

Social media

Anyone who knows anything about online culture knows that social media is a hugely powerful advertising tool. 

Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn, social media is perhaps the most cost-effective way of reaching a new audience. You can go down the paid advertising route and invest heavily in reaching new, relevant audiences, or, you can engage in a cheaper approach that prioritises content and organic audience building. 

Either way, social media should be the centre of any modern charity advertising strategy. It can be a hub for content, a space to communicate directly with your audience and an opportunity for relationship building.

Email marketing

Email marketing does feel slightly outdated in comparison to newer forms of digital marketing, but it continues to be a brilliant way of reinforcing your message among an existing audience, and bringing lapsed volunteers and contributors back into the fold. 

Email marketing can be a place to experiment with marketing content to a select group. It can teach you what calls to action work, how people react to certain imagery, and what content is actually engaging before you release it out to the public at large. 

Charity advertising is so often about being hit with the same message over and over again, and a new email in their inbox every week might be the best way to finally break through to someone. 

New media

New media encompasses all modern forms of media separate from the traditional monoliths of the industry. Think podcasts, blogs and email newsletters. 

While these new media platforms often don’t quite have the reach of mainstream media or advertising through huge social channels, they do offer an opportunity for you to better communicate the finer points of your message and create a dialogue with a highly engaged and motivated audience. 

If you can find a blog or a podcast that aligns with your aims, culture and values, there might just be a great charity advertising opportunity to be had. 

Before we move on, a few important considerations about the mediums you choose….

  • Keep your messaging consistent across all mediums. Using wildly different imagery, language, tone and calls to action can confuse your audience and dilute your main message
  • Do your research beforehand. Understand who is successful on the platform and why
  • Building relationships takes time. A podcast might be your big break, but be ready to commit time to getting yourself featured on there

How to do charity advertising for cheap (or free)

While you want your charity advertisement to be of quality, that doesn’t mean you have unlimited money to spend. 

Advertising online can be expensive, especially through social media platforms and Google Ads. Sometimes costs can overshadow those of traditional advertising. There are ways to get your message out there without blowing your budget. 

Utilising your existing audience

Re-think your social media strategy and encourage your existing audience base and members to share content to their personal networks. This creates a system in which people are receiving content directly from people they know, trust and understand the initiatives the most. 

Work with micro influencers 

Micro influencers are a great cost effective way of doing something similar, but on a larger scale. 

Rather than employee advocates broadcasting messages to their personal circle, micro influencers give your content an authoritative and trustworthy voice that can be used to appeal to a usually much younger and eager audience. This is a great way to achieve the boost of ‘celebrity’ involvement without shelling out for a huge name. 

Aim for influencers with a few thousands followers and an alignment with your cause and aims. 

Get involved with local and relevant communities 

Finally, social media is a brilliant community building tool that won’t cost you a penny. 

Getting involved in local or relevant groups and events gives you a space to post your content and direct advertising messages, ensuring it reaches the most relevant audience possible without having to increase ad budgets. 

Networking is crucial in the new media landscape, with a positive relationship often the difference between a big PR win or a podcast appearance. Don’t be afraid to dedicate some time to building these relationships and establishing yourself as a thought leader. 

Reuse content

Finally, content can always be reused, and should be liberally.

If you have a great infographic, blog post or video don’t think it’s over and done when you post it up on Facebook — spread that content around the web for as long as it’s relevant. 

The constantly increasing pace of social media means many people won’t see it the first time round, and as your audience grows so does your position in the algorithm, so you’re presented with a new chance to get this content seen all over again. Much more cost effective than writing a new blog every week. 

What are the benefits? 

So what exactly are the benefits of charity advertising? It may feel obvious, but let’s break them down. 

Advertising is a brilliant exposure tool for charities. Without advertising, there are only so many places a charity can find a place to present their goals. They’re unlikely to receive significant or long term coverage in the media, so advertising is an important way to build a sustained presence

Advertising allows you to control the message surrounding your cause and issue. As many charities are focused on one particular issue, it’s important to use advertising to put yourself at the centre of this issue and build the narrative of solutions around your efforts. 

Now you’re all set to start advertising for your charity. 

A great marketing and advertising campaign plays to a charity’s strengths, understands its target audience and is willing to be diverse across a number of platforms. Follow these simple steps and you’ll be attracting volunteers, donations and bigger marketing opportunities in no time.

About the author


A team of writers and marketers, MicroStartups was founded to inspire the entrepreneurial and business community to give back. We believe in business growth through giving and supporting the local community.

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