PPC For Charities: How To Use Pay-Per-Click To Benefit Your Cause

James Martin
PPC For Charities: How To Use Pay-Per-Click To Benefit Your Cause

There are numerous ways charities can use advertising, and with tremendous benefits, sometimes to the count of billions of dollars. However, not all organizations have the budget for such groundbreaking ad campaigns, and if you’re considering using ads for your charity, you might be wondering where to start and whether it’s worthwhile.

PPC ads offer an easy entry into ads for charities and can come with no-risk grants for eligible organizations. We’re going to take a look at some of these and weigh up the options for how to manage a campaign once it’s set up. First, though, let’s see why charities might want to use ads and whether they’re likely to make a return on them.

An Introduction to Using Ads for Charity Fundraising

Nonprofits or charities, just like companies, need to draw traffic to their media and create brand awareness. In charities, this typically means making use of the numerous online ways of generating interest and exposure and marketing the project to a targeted audience.

One of the most straightforward ways of generating interest is to pay for it. Organic reach is dying out on platforms such as Facebook, as they move well away from the ranks of a social media entity and more towards a marketing platform. As such, word of mouth is outcompeted by expensive marketing campaigns, and as such, to reach the maximum number of people on these platforms, organizations have switched to advertising.

Ads for charity take many forms, but they all take advantage of the reach that internet ads can have. Google and Facebook reach 84% and 70% of the US population, respectively. This is an enormous demographic to focus on, especially if you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to branch out too far.

To take advantage of this enormous reach, there are several approaches that organizations use to advertise, three of which are particularly useful paths that charities, in particular, may take with their ads:

  • Search Ads – This is the most common form of PPC ad campaign and the one we’ll be mostly covering in this article. It involves bidding on keywords (plenty more info on this below) and reaching your audience where they’re looking.
  • Social Ads – Facebook and Instagram have an integrated PPC system that can be run on the Facebook platform. There are numerous subcategories of PPC campaigns that are available from these platforms too.
  • Gmail Ads – For accounts with Google search ads, it’s a small task to branch out into Gmail ads. These can be a link to a larger ad campaign or your landing page.

But, is it worth it? Charities often use ads to boost awareness or donations, and whether they get a return on this depends on the success of the campaign, which depends on how well it’s set up and run. For charities with enormous advertising budgets, campaigns are almost guaranteed to make a good return, but for the majority with a far lower financial resource, it might be a little more daunting to take the risk.

We’ll go into how to set up a campaign on a budget shortly, but first, let’s take a look at some of the more encouraging statistics for charities and their ad campaigns.

Using PPC for Charities to Boost Donations

To get an idea of how much charities and nonprofits spend on ads, why they do, and how much return they get on this spend, here are some figures:

  • In 2020, nonprofits spent $5.8 billion on ads. This is an increase of $1 million from the year before, far behind the increase seen in corporate ad spend.
  • 60% of nonprofits have an ad budget, averaging around $12k
  • 76% of this spend comes from 20% of the nonprofits, roughly following the 80/20 rule.
  • 57% of people who watch a nonprofit video go on to make a donation.
  • Search ads had the best ROI of $4.78 for every dollar spent

So, ads for nonprofits are very popular and do seem to work. But what might this success look like in its best-case scenario? To provide a concrete example of a campaign done right, take a look at the charity initiatives set up by Dan Pallotta, who invested $350,000 into an ad campaign for breast cancer awareness that resulted in a $194 million revenue generation for the charity.

This may well demonstrate the potential of ads for charity, and this level of return, though probably out of the budget of most nonprofits, does not have to be beyond belief. For your charity, you don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising to succeed; it’s a very simple matter to set up a high-return PPC ads campaign with the resources available to you. Let’s talk about how.

Plan your Successful PPC for Charities Campaign with these Steps

By now, you may be convinced that PPC is the way to go for your nonprofit, but figuring out the right path is still a bit of a mystery. Fortunately, we’ve got a short, 5-step guide to setting up your PPC campaign right here.

Step 1: Identify your Goals

A PPC campaign can serve many purposes. You may be looking to expand your viewer base, or raise awareness of your project in a specific area. Perhaps you’re trying to reach a new demographic in the same area or increase repeat donations among those who are already on board. You could also be looking to reach people who want to volunteer with your charity, or to update people who have already volunteered about new opportunities that may have arisen.

Whatever your goal is, you’ll need to clearly identify it before you start building your campaign, as it will determine the specifics of your approach.

Step 2: Understand Keywords

This is a relatively new concept, so if you’re not very familiar with it, don’t worry. We’ve got a section below that goes into more detail on this, but to summarize, the success of your PPC campaign relies on the effective use of the keywords you choose. Keywords are what link your viewers to your campaign and they will determine where your ads show up.

To figure out which charity keywords to use, you can use online resources, or you can have a simple brainstorming session with members of your team. The key thing to remember is that your keywords should reflect the questions your audience is asking. Therefore, it’s important to have completed step 1, and then to focus on who your audience is and what’s on their minds. From identifying their searches, you should be able to identify which keywords will be useful to your campaign.

Step 3: Set your Budget

This will also depend on the goals you set in step 1. This can be done with some trial and error if you can afford it, but if you’re looking to get donations from your PPC campaign, for example, then the general rule is to set your budget with a donation rate and an average donation in mind.

For example, you may bid $2 on a keyword, and if only one in 200 people who click on the advert make a donation, then you have a 0.5% donation rate and a cost of $400 per donation. If your average donation is lower than this $400 figure, you’ll be losing money.

Conversely, if you bid $1 on a keyword, and you have a donation rate of 57% (as suggested by the above statistics), then for every $2 you spend, you’ll be getting a donation. If, for example, your average donation is $10, you’ll be making $57 on every $10 you spend on PPC ads.

Of course, your figures will vary, so start by identifying this information and setting your budget accordingly. Remember, some keywords cost more than others.

Step 4: Use Grants

For charities, Google has non-profit grants that can cover up to $10k for spending on charity keyword clicks. Check out Google Grants for nonprofits to see what the procedures are for attaining one and whether you qualify.

Step 5: Review and adjust

There’s no strict template for designing and running your PPC ads campaign. As mentioned, it will take some trial and error to find the right keywords, so factor this into your budget and be sure to take data at every point, where possible so that you can review your successes and failures.

Changing the position of information on your website can make a difference, as can altering the key phrases you’re using. When you find something that works, double down on it. When something isn’t working, make sure you’ve identified it correctly and experiment with something slightly different.

Finally, if you have no marketing experience, consider reading up on the basics. Ad campaigns for charities follow much of the same rules as advertising for companies, and understanding some basic principles can help you understand your audience’s experience, and consequently reach them where they are and maximize the impact of your efforts.

Keywords are a great example of marketing techniques that are now commonly used by marketers for every industry, and they’re not a difficult concept to grasp.

The Importance of Charity Keywords and Other SEO Concepts

We mentioned keywords briefly in the previous section, but since they’re so important to the PPC campaigns we have discussed, it’s worth going over them in more detail. Charity keywords are the critical component the success of PPC for charities. They determine where and to whom your adverts will appear.

Keywords work on a basic principle: they’re a carefully-selected guess at what your audience might type into a search engine. From there, your content will show up as relevant to their interests, and they will be exposed to your campaign.

A keyword doesn’t have to be a single word, and there are multiple types of keywords or phrases that can be used. Here are four types of keyword worth considering:

  • Branded Keywords contain the name of a brand such as a company, or perhaps your organization.
  • Generic keywords can be used when someone is looking for something nonspecific that matches their interests. Examples of generic keywords could be “animals” or “schools”.
  • Transactional keywords are powerful for when the donor has stronger intent to donate. Perhaps they’re not sure which charity to donate to or where to contribute some of their Christmas bonus for maximum effect. These keywords could be something like “animal charity” or “child protection”.
  • Location-based keywords can help a donor find your organization in their area. These can be town names or states, or something like “charities near me”.

As you can probably tell, different types of keyword can be chosen based on where your prospective donor is in their journey. If they’re not sure that you exist, you might benefit from generic keywords. If they’re ready to compare your project with others then it’s worth using more transactional keywords and possibly adding the name of your organization and its location.

This will all depend on what you conclude from step one of your PPC campaign plan above.

Once you’ve gone through that, have a look at some of our best practices that can help you make the most out of the stats available to fully leverage your campaign.

Best Practices for Using PPC Ads for Charity

From the statistics available, we’re able to glean some useful best practices for running your PPC campaign. Here are five key takeaways from the data:

  • Keep your website up to date. 75% of young users are turned off by dodgy-looking or cumbersome sites. If you can’t do that yourself, it’s worth investing in touch-ups by someone who can. This doesn’t take long or have to be done often, and it could make a world of difference.

  • Know your timing. The last 3 days of the year represent 12% of donations, with over a third coming in the last three months. Most donations occur between the hours of 10 and 11 pm EST, so combining this information can help you optimize the timing of your content.

  • Focus on recurring donations – you already have their attention, so don’t neglect them! Monthly donations represent 42% higher contributions per year than single-shot donors.

  • Aim for the right age groups – On average, the most generous crowdfunders are between 55 and 64 years old. This will vary somewhat, depending on the nature of your charity, but the takeaway here is to find out your age group and market to them.

  • Pick your platform – There are many competent companies and platforms to handle your PPC bids on your behalf or help you organize and launch your PPC drive. You can hire companies to run the entire thing for you, or select from a range of automation or management services that allow you to have as much or as little involvement with your campaign as you like.

On that note, we’re going to take a brief look at some options for managing your campaigns. Far from an exhaustive list, we’ve picked three popular ones for comparison, to get you started:


This is a good platform for small organizations that want to have their bids automated on a budget. This platform allows you to create campaigns and choose keywords and track its progress, while it handles the fiddly details with its automation services.


This is a good choice for a higher budget, for those wishing to run multiple campaigns with lots of automation. It can handle bids, adjustments to your budget, and management of each campaign, as well give you plenty of useful data for you to make adjustments.

Google Ads Editor

This is a good platform for designing and implementing your PPC campaign but it isn’t one for automating. As a platform, it offers a simple approach to creating and editing your ads and forming a bid strategy for them. It’s good for editing multiple campaigns and is a cheaper option than many, however, it does leave a lot of the heavy lifting to the user.


Charities and nonprofits can make huge returns on ad spend if they approach their campaigns with a data-driven and careful plan. Pay-per-click advertising means that you only spend what you use, and so the cost really only comes down to how valuable those clicks are.

Designing a PPC campaign is simply about knowing your audience and identifying where they’re looking. Then, connect them to your project with the use of tailored keywords or phrases that align with their interests.

From there, you can monitor and adjust your campaign using the data provided, or by making use of any number of available services to help you, as you lead donors to your platform. Rally Corp offers a simple way to engage and mobilize these followers with the use of text messaging that serves as a way to inform, encourage and facilitate donations from mobile devices. It also comes with a fundraising thermometer to track donations and demonstrate immediate results.

Book a demo here to see Rally Corp in action, or download The Ultimate Text messaging Checklist for Nonprofits today.

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