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Coronavirus and fundraising: Adjusting your digital advertising strategy

The more we’re learning about this novel coronavirus sweeping the globe, the more we’re realizing that it may be months before life returns to normal. In this wave of uncertainty, many nonprofit organizations are scrambling to determine how to handle their fundraising during this pandemic.

We’ve already seen the effects on event fundraising. But when it comes to direct-response marketing, we’re advising clients to stay the course. In fact, as people are staying home and keeping their distance from each other, they’re spending more time on their digital devices.

That’s why online channels like digital advertising offer the unique ability to adapt quickly to the fast pace of this ever-shifting landscape. Digital ads allow you to stay connected with your current audience and get it front of new audiences.

This is crucial at a time when so many nonprofits are being pressed into extra duty while also being advised to shore up their revenue reserves.

Without the continued flow of donations, food banks won’t be able to provide meals for people stuck in their homes. Rescue missions won’t be able to help the vulnerable homeless population. And so much more.

But before you jump into any digital ad campaign based around COVID-19, it’s important to note a few restrictions that we’re seeing and hearing from our vendor partners. If you fail to heed these warnings, you may be squandering even more resources.


Google Search ads are a powerful tool in any digital media campaign. Just don’t mention anything about the novel coronavirus.

After speaking to our Google Partner representative, we’ve learned that Google’s AI will flag and disapprove anything pertaining to the coronavirus as a sensitive event of a global health crisis. That means terms like “pandemic,” “COVID-19” or even “social distancing” will not be allowed.

The same applies to your Google Ad Grants strategy.


This is a good time to take a fresh look at your digital strategies. With the fast-moving nature of the news around COVID-19, digital channels like social media and email give nonprofits fast-moving options to keep donors informed.

Likewise, Facebook is closely monitoring any ads that mention the coronavirus. As a Facebook Marketing Partner, we contacted our representative and received the following advice.

The social network is not accepting ads or content that may be characterized as spreading misinformation or that try to “create panic” around the pandemic. Specifics include eliminating ads that promise to cure COVID-19, marketing medical face masks or price gauging items of high demand.

In what we’re seeing so far, it’s difficult to get anything that even mentions coronavirus approved by Facebook. Our advice: Don’t bother.

This will help ease your organization’s financial pressures so you can sustain your mission.


For display ads, there are always fewer restrictions, because we’re not confined within the walled gardens of Google or Facebook. The same is true about content and messaging limitations related to coronavirus, but that doesn’t eliminate the chance of restrictions in the future.

Reason being, digital media is purchased through multiple demand side platforms and data sources. Each supplier may implement a different policy and/or no policy at all.

Thus, display ads might be a good way to reach out to donors with coronavirus-specific messaging. For example, you could use display ads ask for more donations during this time when you’re low on volunteers.

Just be aware that everything is moving rapidly, and there is a chance these ads may also get shut down. Therefore, you could spend hours crafting impactful creative and messaging only to have the rules change right before launching the campaign.

As the information continues to roll in (or if it changes), we’ll be updating this post with any new advice we have to offer.

Shane Thornal

Shane Thornal is an experienced leader within the digital landscape and serves as Senior Director, Digital Media, at RKD Group. Shane understands programmatic media buying and knows what questions to ask to drive campaigns forward. He is a strategic thinker, focused and extremely hard working. Shane understands how to build high-performing teams, has great industry knowledge and knows the triggers to pull to get the best out of everyone. He is driven and dedicated to his clients’ goals and objectives, and will not rest until they are achieved.

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