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The Surprising Truth Behind Nonprofit Ad Spending on Facebook & Instagram

The Surprising Truth Behind Nonprofit Ad Spending on Facebook & Instagram

Chapter Leadership Brief 5.3.2024

by Eric Berman
Co-Founder, Gr0wth Dr1vers

With the rise of digital media consumption, nonprofits are recognizing the importance of meeting their audiences where they are - online - and are increasingly turning to online channels such as Facebook and Instagram (Meta ads) for fundraising efforts. These platforms can be powerful tools for reaching potential donors, driving awareness and advocacy about the mission.  Moreover, Meta ads provide the advantage of tracking and measuring campaign performance in real-time.  Advertisers can analyze metrics such as engagement, click-through rates, and conversions to evaluate the effectiveness of their ad campaigns and make data-driven decisions about future spending.  All of this said, these benefits are not without risk.  If Meta is used incorrectly, an advertisers' funds can be wasted on ads that are unnoticed, unremembered, and unactioned.

To better understand how nonprofits are faring in this medium, Gr0wth Dr1vers audited over 50 nonprofits within the Meta Ad Library.  Meta Ad Library was created by Facebook in 2018 to provide the public with transparency for all paid advertisements on Meta that touch upon social issues, elections, or politicsOur audit unearthed a sobering truth: many well-intentioned campaigns are likely falling short of their intended impact, because they are deviating from well established, and generally accepted best practices for paid ads on Facebook and Instagram.

Foremost among our findings was the absence of a coherent campaign message for the majority of nonprofits we audited.  We observed in more cases than not, disjointed ads lacking any sort of cohesion, and simultaneously communicating disparate objectives like awareness, advocacy, or donations, within relatively short time periods of 30, 60 and 90 days.   This is a significant issue in social media, where attention spans are very short, and campaign effectiveness is predicated on disciplined focus: driving awareness and recall around a singular, attention-demanding message with a high degree of consistency and frequency.

Equally troubling was the prevalence of campaigns that were not optimized for mobile.  Why is mobile-optimization important?  Meta recently commissioned a Marketing Mix (MMM) study from Analytic Partners, to understand drivers behind ad ROI.  The study examined over 500 ads, from 70 campaigns across six different industries.  A key finding was that ads, optimized for mobile deliver 1.9X the ROI of non-mobile optimized ads.  So, what exactly is a “mobile-optimized ad”?  Meta identified four key features:

  1. Ads that run for 15 seconds or less
  2. Square or Tall aspect ratio (with the exception of Facebook’s In-Stream)
  3. Made for sound off (using supers or captions if appropriate)
  4. Features branding up front

None of the nonprofits we audited were consistently running ads that were mobile optimized, as defined above.  One of the biggest issues was the length of the ad.  We observed a proliferation of organic, longer-form video content, repurposed as ads - often exceeding a 0:30 sec in length.  Beyond the aforementioned “0:15 sec or less” guidance from Meta, consider how Meta actually defines a video view:

The number of times your video was played for 2 continuous seconds or more. Most 2-second continuous video views will have at least 50% of the video pixels in view.

Two seconds!  That means that the majority of paid video views are likely less than 10 seconds, perhaps even less than 5 seconds.  So, when advertisers use longer form videos (basically anything over 15 seconds) with back-loaded messages, their paid dollars are likely impacting far fewer people than expected.  Our advice for any advertiser is to review Meta’s video metrics for current and past campaigns ASAP, and to adjust your content accordingly.  Pay careful attention to # of video plays, average video play time, and how many were played to 25%, 50%, 75% and to completion.

Finally, our audit revealed that nearly half of the audited ads lacked a clear call to action. By neglecting to prompt viewers to "Donate Now," "Learn More," or "Sign Up," these nonprofits were missing the opportunity to establish a relationship with potential advocates, supporters, and donors.  These relationships are important in that they enable the advertiser to take advantage of Meta’s sophisticated audience and targeting tools.  For example, custom audiences allow nonprofits to use donor lists as a source to retarget those same people on Meta—to potentially donate again, make recurring donations, or sign up for a fundraiser or event.  Lookalike audiences enable nonprofits to find new people across Meta, who are likely to be interested in your cause because they share similar characteristics to existing donors or supporters.

In light of these revelations, the question arises: what are some steps that NPOs can take to ensure investments in paid media are delivering upon expected objectives?

  1. Create a campaign that conveys your mission to your audience in a way that’s attention grabbing, well branded and memorable.  We know this is “easier said than done,” but if you don't have an ad campaign, you shouldn't be spending money on media.
  2. Within this campaign, continuously test different versions of your creative to improve overall performance
  3. Work with a pro that's Meta certified.  It could be someone on your team or a freelancer or an agency—with at least 5 years of experience with successful campaigns on Meta.
  4. Follow Meta best practices for performance marketing

The potential for transformative impact leveraging paid Meta ads is immense, but also fraught with challenges, if advertisers stray from Meta’s fundamental advertising best practices.  By heeding the lessons unearthed through our investigation and embracing a fundamentally sound approach to digital advertising, NPOs can harness the power of social media to amplify their message, mobilize their supporters, drive individual fundraising at scale and in turn, affect even greater positive impact in the world.

Eric Berman is Co-Founder of Gr0wth Dr1vers, a team of creators, technology leaders, and brand builders who’ve led many of the most renowned brands in the world, and work at the intersection of fundraising and marketing to serve nonprofit organizations.  He has been fortunate enough to be a part of some of the most innovative and successful marketing ideas in the business. Eric has 20+ years of leading mission-driven brands in the non-profit and for-profit space at Facebook, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and Kind Healthy Snacks.  He is also a member of the AFP.

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