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How nonprofits maximize impact with digital outreach tools

10 min read
Apr 8, 2021

Learn how the right digital outreach tools make it easy to drive more donations, increase awareness, and recruit volunteers – all day, every day.

Nonprofits are up against a lot. For starters, you’re balancing volunteer recruitment, community outreach, events, and more, all while continuing to drive donations and support for your mission. 

It doesn’t help that the market is growing more competitive, either. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofits registered in the United States alone, and that number is significantly higher than it was just 10 years ago. We can all agree that more nonprofits equals more good being done in the world – but it also means cutting through the noise is that much harder for each individual organization.

There is one thing that many nonprofits already have working in their favor: their website. When it comes to promoting your cause, your website is more cost-effective than sending direct mail or running events, and more efficient than coordinating volunteer-driven efforts to raise awareness. 

But simply having a website isn’t enough; you need digital outreach tools to support it.  

Nonprofits have some of the most diverse audience segments – clients, donors, foundations, corporate sponsors, volunteers, advocates – all of whom bring unique and critical value for your organization. It makes no sense to be showing all of these groups the same message, but that is often what happens when these stakeholders all end up on your homepage.  

That's where digital outreach tools like display ad retargeting come in. Have you ever been shopping online for something, and then next day you see a digital ad for that exact product? That's called ad retargeting, and it's not just for the Amazons of the world. Your organization can also harness the power of digital advertising to move your mission forward.

Ad retargeting works in sync with your website, helping you speak to your web visitors with messaging that is tailored to their specific activities and interests, making them far more likely to sign up for your services, make a donation, take a volunteer shift, register for an event, or whatever action makes sense for them to take. 

Other outreach tools like geofencing and search keyword targeting help you actively drive new visitors to your site by targeting your ads to the most relevant people in your community or around the world.

Display advertising tools make it possible to become much more precise in your outreach, and real-time reporting makes it easy to see what’s resonating with your audience or where you could make improvements. In other words, rather than just putting up flyers or posting about an upcoming event or fundraiser on your social media channels, you can have complete control over who is seeing your message, when they are seeing it, and how it connects with their specific needs. 

Now let’s dive into 13 specific examples of how nonprofits can incorporate display ads into their outreach to do more good all year round.

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The people who donate to your cause believe in your mission, so it’s crucial to keep that in mind when you are developing your messaging. Remind people of why your cause is important and worthy, and make them aware of how grateful you are for their support. Display ads allow you to give consistent but gentle reminders to people that any amount they can afford to give is helpful, or highlight a special fundraising opportunity like a matching gift.

1. Promote an online auction

With so many galas and sit-down events being canceled due to the pandemic, it has become important to find ways to go virtual while keeping as much of the entertainment and thrill of the original event as possible. Some organizations, like the American Epilepsy Society, were doing this long before COVID-19 hit. 

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The American Epilepsy Society ran ads to promote an online auction they hosted in 2019 to raise money for their cause.

2. Boost attendance to a gala or charity dinner

As any nonprofit knows, galas are the big fundraising events, and we’re all excited for them to come back in full force after the pandemic. What you might not know is that targeted display ads are one of the best ways to raise awareness about an upcoming gala, dinner, or other in-person event. Retarget people who visit your event page with ads encouraging them to come back and register to attend. 

GRACE Marketplace, a one-stop homeless resource center that serves Alachua County and Gainesville, FL, retargeted its website visitors with ads like this one to invite them to a special (and socially distanced!) fundraising dinner.


Here's one of the ads that GRACE Marketplace ran to invite people to its Farm to Table Gathering to End Homelessness.

3. Maximize participation on giving days

Online giving is one of the best applications for display advertising. It allows you to essentially become a part of people’s lives online and remind them over time to donate whatever amount they can. Depending on how you segment your audience, you can play around with messaging to drive larger donations from people who can afford it and smaller donations from people who can only give a little. 

Display ads are particularly useful for giving days, since these events are digital and time-sensitive in nature. Giving Tuesday is a popular one, but summer giving days can also be a really effective way for local nonprofits to band together and do lots of good. The Amazing Give is a local giving day in Gainesville, Florida (home of Feathr!), and many nonprofits participate each year. 

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The Humane Society of North Central Florida ran ads for The Amazing Give in 2020. Their ad spend was just $100, and they turned that into $3,000 of donations in just 24 hours.

4. Reach big donors in specific locations

One of the best uses of geofencing for nonprofits is to target locations that have a high concentration of potential big donors – in other words, targeting high net worth individuals with ads encouraging them to make a contribution. Some organizations target golf courses, yacht clubs, or even high-income neighborhoods. Similarly, a faith-based organization might geofence places of worship, so that people are encouraged to make donations while they are congregated to worship and discuss topics that are important to them and their communities. 

5. Run an end-of-year fundraiser 

Many nonprofits will put on a major donation drive at the end of the year to capitalize on people feeling a little extra charitable around the holidays. International Justice Mission ran several ad campaigns for its Holiday Gift Catalogue 2020, which allows people to donate money to a specific cause. They spent just $7k on ads and raised more than $100k in donations in just a few weeks.


IJM ran ads targeting people who were searching for specific terms, like “gifts that give back” or “charitable gifts” and then sent them to a landing page where they could donate.

6. Maximize any donation drive with a cart abandonment campaign

You're probably familiar with the frustration that comes from people visiting your donate page but then leaving without making a contribution. Cart abandonment campaigns make it easy for you to reach those people after they leave your site with ads reminding them why they wanted to donate in the first place, and guiding them back to that page to make a contribution. Some gentle nudging can go a long way here, and you'll start to see more donations trickle in.

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Whether you’re looking to reach new clients in your community, get people to attend a virtual event, share thought leadership content or educational materials, or all of the above – display ads let you promote specific programs to specific people to maximize your outreach.

7. Reach potential clients

This can be one of the hardest parts of outreach – trying to get on the radar of people who need your services but aren't aware of what you offer. But luckily almost everyone owns a smartphone nowadays, even those in extreme poverty, which means you can still reach them with online display ads. When it comes to reaching people who have never been to your site before, geofencing is a great tool that lets you target people in a specific physical location with ads that are hyper-relevant to them.

If your nonprofit provides food or shelter services to people experiencing homelessness, try geofencing shelters, food banks or even parks where there is a high volume of people who might need what you offer. You can show them ads with info about your services and lead them to a page on your site with more details about where and when they can get those services. 

8. Promote paid client services

If you offer any paid services, display ads are a great way to get on people’s radar. For example, if someone visits a page on your website that talks about specific services, you can automatically retarget them with ads encouraging them to come back to your site and make a purchase. Or in some cases, you might have a specific list of people you want to target with your paid services. You can easily do this via something called email mapping, which allows you to show ads to people even if they haven’t been to your site – all you need is their email address. 


The Humane Society of Southern Arizona ran an email mapping campaign to target past adopters with ads about the various pet services they offer.

9. Drive attendance to an industry event 

If you host any events for your clients or your industry at large, display ads are a must. You can set up different ad campaigns that align with your outreach strategies. For example, you might want to run ads retargeting anyone who has visited your site in the last year, offering them early-bird registration rates or highlighting some of the cool reasons to attend your event. Later on, you might run another campaign targeting people who abandoned your registration page and encouraging them to come back and finish the process. 


The Foundation Fighting Blindness ran retargeting ads to promote its virtual event called Hope from Home.

10. Share educational resources

Perhaps your organization hosts webinars, publishes reports or newsletters, or releases other types of educational content. Display ads allow you to consistently promote that content to your audience with the goal of getting them to download something or subscribe to receive regular updates. 

Space Foundation releases a quarterly report called The Space Report, and they run ads like this one to encourage people in their industry to check it out.

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Another major challenge for nonprofits can be garnering support for a specific event or program – whether that means recruiting volunteers or participants, or getting people excited to take some specific action. With targeted ads, you can create outreach strategies around any of these goals to ensure your cause is backed up by people and passion.

11. Find volunteers in your area

When it comes to recruiting volunteers for a local event, you might find that you usually end up with way too many or not even close to enough. Targeted ads let you easily remind people of upcoming opportunities so that you never end up understaffed – and on the flip side, volunteers will see regular updates on future opportunities, so they won’t all sign up for the same date. 

Consider retargeting people who have visited your volunteer page with ads about upcoming events. Or if you’re looking to recruit volunteers to serve meals to the homeless, try running a search keyword campaign to target people who have been looking for relevant opportunities. Perhaps this includes search terms like “volunteer food bank” or “volunteer opportunities near me.”

12. Recruit participants for a walkathon

Walkathons, 5k races, and other participation-based events can have a huge impact on fundraising and awareness around a nonprofit's mission. To ensure high turnout, you need to have a multi-channel outreach strategy that attracts the right people with the right messaging, and targeted ads are a great way to do this. You can retarget any or all of your website traffic along with people who have participated in a similar event in the past. 

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The Hydrocephalus Association runs retargeting ads like this one to encourage their audience members to participate in walkathons and other fundraising events.

13. Advocate for legislative change

Just like it’s important to get volunteers excited about participating in and promoting your cause, the same goes for political advocacy campaigns. Advocacy is another major use case for display ads, since it is about gradually persuading people over time to take action on something that resonates with them. It’s all about delivering the right messaging to the right people at the right time. 


IJM runs ads to encourage people to reach out to their congresspeople and ask them to pass legislation related to ending human trafficking.

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