Today’s post is by , Founder of nonprofit MediaCause.

mediacause logoMost nonprofits aren’t selling goods and services or capturing leads like traditional B2C and B2B companies. Typical goals include recruiting volunteers, promoting events, collecting petition signatures, creating awareness for important issues, and most importantly fundraising through donations or memberships sales.

In general, they operate with small marketing budgets and need to be as efficient as possible to survive. In doing so they provide a valuable example that other industries can learn from. This post details one winning nonprofit Facebook Ad strategy – community building – that I hope for-profits could benefit from as well.

While it’s possible to use Facebook Ads to achieve most nonprofit marketing objectives, we have found community building or “like” building campaigns to be the most efficient long-term use of budget. Rather than allocating large budgets for each event or important initiative, we recommend investing at least 50% of an organization’s yearly Facebook Ad Budget toward simply recruiting more targeted likes.

Caution: it’s not enough just to grow your like count. In order for this strategy to work, you need to fans that truly care about your organization.

Before we dive into the tactics, let’s take a look at the economics of this approach. Single-objective campaigns might be achievable, but at $0.50 – $1.00 per click it can be very costly to collect 10,000 petition signatures. Even at a 10% conversion rate, it would cost $50,000 – $100,000 to accomplish that goal using Facebook Ads alone. That is more than an entire year’s marketing budget for most nonprofits.

Alternatively, $50,000 – $100,000 dedicated to community building could easily lead to 50,000 more page likes by the end of the year. Unlike a one-time campaign, a Facebook community is an ongoing asset. A Facebook Like is permission to communicate for an extended period of time. If your organization shares valuable (think educational, inspirational, entertaining) content a significant portion of time (we recommend 70% – 80% of your posts), you can continue to market to your fans with the remaining 20% – 30%.

Smaller budgets can be used for individual campaigns throughout the year along with outreach to your newly built community. Overall, you can accomplish more with less if you don’t need to start from scratch on each campaign.

Now let’s take a look at how to execute a community building campaign.

1.     Define your Target Audiences

Start by listing all characteristics of your target audience.

It’s intuitive for a Rainforest NGO to say that they want to target people who love the rainforest. That’s a good starting place, but it’s too narrow. Alternatively, if they think everyone on the planet should care about saving the rainforest, because we all breathe oxygen, that’s way too broad.

Think about how different geographic regions are impacted by the rainforest. In many South American communities, it’s not just the ozone layer that people are worried about; many natives are being displaced from their villages because of the deforestation, finding themselves unqualified to earn a living in nearby cities.


Think about demographics. Even if people of all ages could be interested in your organization, think about which are groups in particular might be especially interested and why. List as much information as possible about the groups of individuals you think are most likely to be interested in your organization as well as the common characteristics of each group. Think about interests or psychographics. Everyone needs air to breathe, but nature lovers, surfers, and hikers tend to appreciate it more than others. This is a brainstorm session; there are no wrong answers, but try to focus on the ones that appear to be the best fit.

2.     Develop Supporter Profiles

Now that you’ve collected a bunch of information about potential supporters, you’ll need to group them together. You don’t want too many groups; we recommend 3-4 to start. For example, rainforest lovers, nature activists, and environmentalists can all be grouped together as friends of the rainforest.

Eliminate characteristics if they aren’t easy to group with others. It’s worth saving them for future tests, but it probably isn’t a good target if you aren’t able to create profiles like nature lovers in the U.S. who hike, ski, or surf.

Don’t forget about your existing fans on Facebook and their friends. Friends of friends are frequently the most cost effective likes to add on Facebook. The social mechanics of people seeing the names of their friends in the ads lead to high conversions. This is one of the most effective targeting options that Facebook offers.

It’s important to choose the CPC bidding option and set your own bids. You can decide between the ranges that Facebook suggests or up to 20% less, depending on your appetite for volume versus desired cost per like. I typically start lower and move up as needed. Some experts say that they’ve seen higher conversion rates with higher bids, so it’s worth running limited tests at different amounts. The exact setup can be a bit tricky. Here’s a screenshot to make it easy:

facebook connections targeting

The best way use your existing fans in the community building process is by sponsoring your most engaging posts. Sponsored post ads typically don’t perform as well as from a like acquisition standpoint, so you need to sponsor content that is designed to elicit comments and shares. It’s not a good idea to sponsor a post without a call to action to engage. Here’s a great example of a post worth sponsoring:

sponsored post example

3.     Match your Supporter Profiles to Facebook Targeting Options

You already have your 1st two groups: Existing likes and friends of likes. Now it’s time to turn the rest of your supporter profiles into Facebook campaigns.

Structure is important for testing and optimization; by naming campaigns after supporter profiles, you build a good framework to test the performance by audience type and creative messaging.

You can start by looking at Facebook’s Broad Categories – but they are generally limited, so you’ll need to search for Precise Interests. Facebook’s suggestions for related interests are generally pretty helpful, so pay attention to those.

targeting on facebook

Depending on your target audiences and their characteristics, you might have 20-30 corresponding Facebook interests, or you might need to get creative. Just start with the keywords that you listed in step one and try to come up with as many similar words as possible. Use an online thesaurus to generate synonyms for broader terms if you get stuck.

4.     Write 2 Ads Tailored to Each Group

There are three keys to writing good ads for community building.

One, make them relevant to each supporter profile. The best way to connect with someone is to customize the message to the person reading the ad. If they live in a particular geographic area, consider referencing the location in the ad.

geo targeted ad copy

Two, make sure to include a call to action to like the page or join the community. It seems obvious, but don’t assume that people will click the like button, tell them to.

Three, be creative. One of my favorite sayings in advertising is “Don’t tell me you’re funny, make me laugh.” This is precisely the approach you should take to writing Facebook Ads. You’ll need to come up with creative ways to target each ad to the supporter profiles without telling them that you know who they are. Here’s a great example of creative ad copy customized to reach a particular audience:

ad creative message

Don’t forget to write two ads for each target audience. This is necessary for testing and improving performance over time.

 5.     Test & Optimize

One of the greatest features of a self-service ad platforms like Facebook is the ability to see performance in near real-time. It takes about a day for Facebook analytics to report accurate data, but that’s ok because it takes longer than that to collect a statistically relevant sample.

You will have a clear understanding of each ad’s performance well before you reach 100 clicks, but that is a good number to aim for if you have a large enough budget. If the immediate results of a particular ad are horrible compared to the others, you can turn it off well before you reach 100 clicks – but that’s a good number to aim for statically relevant.

From this point forward, you’ll need to review your ad reports once a week or more frequently if you’re spending more than a few hundred dollars per week. The optimization process is easy: remove ads that aren’t performing well but make sure to add new ones. You should also consider pausing supporter targets altogether if you aren’t seeing good cost per like results compared to the other target audiences. Be prepared to test new target audiences if you’re planning to run a community building campaign throughout the course of the year. You can revisit your initial brainstorming note for ideas about new target audiences to test.

Now it’s time to go build your Facebook community; those likes will come in handy next time you have an important initiative to promote. Just one piece of parting advice: don’t forget to share useful information with the community every week (1 post a day is recommended).

A Facebook community can be a valuable resource, especially if you’re able to invest in ads to grow it. Don’t let it go to waste by over-promoting yourself or not posting enough and letting everyone forget about you.

Happy community building!

eric facas mediacause– Eric Facas, the founder and CEO of Media Cause, is an online media strategist and social entrepreneur with experience at leading Internet companies including Google and America Online as well as start-ups. Prior to Media Cause, Eric was co-founder of the digital advertising agency, ethology. As a social entrepreneur, Eric is passionate about developing scalable solutions to global issues by leveraging the power of the internet and technology.

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