Oftentimes, a non-profit spending “too much money” will give it a bad rap. This is for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is the argument that non-profits need to limit their overhead costs in order to have more of the donation’s revenue left over to directly help the cause. In English, non-profits take some of the money that one donates (usually most of it) and use it to cover the costs of the business, such as payroll of employees. The perception is that advertising is another cost that will drain the amount of money left to contribute to the cause of that organization.
However, such notions are misguided. First, in the case of non-profits, associating the terms “overhead” and “advertising” would be misleading, because one has nothing to do with the other. Advertising for a non-profit has goals of reaching out for donations and educating the public about an important social issue. That’s not “overhead” by any definition- that’s a fundraising and program expense. But that’s not a common belief held by donors.
(Chart by nonprofitquarterly.org)
While United Way only spends 2% of gross revenue on advertising, Red Cross and YMCA spend far less than 1%. According to a CMO Council survey, the vast majority of business owners spent less than 4% in gross revenue on advertising and marketing costs, and the remaining 42% of businesses spending more than 5%. An interesting point to the contrary is that Wounded Warriors Project spends a reported 35% of its resources in advertising and has become among the most well known veteran services organizations out there, now serving over 83,000 registered members, has offices in nearly 20 locations, and has a line of clothing by Under Armor worn by 3 college football teams. Therefore, if a non-profit (and a non-profit’s donors) is serious about growing for the purpose of raising a greater awareness for its cause, they would advertise more than they are now.
When you think of relatively inexpensive ways to advertise a non-profit organization, and when you think of social media platforms that have more than enough space to facilitate advertising with limited competition, the mind automatically wanders to LinkedIn. The professional networking social media application’s membership has been on the rise in recent years due to the millennial generation setting its footing in the workforce. While its functionality is more limited than Facebook’s, there are reasons why advertising on LinkedIn can make a lot of sense. First, you can “follow” specific companies and non-profits, which will allow you to see their posts directly on your newsfeed. There’s also a “Volunteer” section near the bottom part of your profile page that you can edit to show the broad causes that you’re interested in by editing “Causes You Care About.” For example, if I was interested in “Disaster and Humanitarian Relief,” then Habitat For Humanity could place an ad on my home page the next time I log in.
A user can directly show which causes he/she cares about which will lead to ads of suggested non-profits. And this would have more positive consequences for the organizations than solely fundraising. It would raise awareness of actual hands-on volunteer opportunities and even possibly career opportunities for those interested in the industry. For those concerned about the financial implications for non-profits using LinkedIn to promote itself, LinkedIn also offers the flexibility to set a budget, meaning the maximum amount that the organization would want to spend in one day. Lastly, advertising on this platform will grant organizations exposure to a millennial generation that is career driven and socially conscious, meaning that its users are a good target audience.
Advertising is the epitome of what it actually means to “spend money to make money.” In the case of nonprofits, the phrase should be edited to “spend money to make money to help people”. And today’s digital age allows for these organizations to promote their causes flexibly and inexpensively. While more non-profits hopefully follow Wounded Warriors Project’s model and become less fearful of investing in their advertising campaigns, using LinkedIn as a test run would not be a bad start.