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COVID-19 provides nonprofits a rare opportunity for digital ads

The COVID-19 pandemic continues its slow spread across the U.S., and nonprofits are doing everything they can to adapt during this turbulent time.

As the need for service increases, so does the need for funds. The federal government’s economic stimulus package provides some much-needed relief for nonprofits, but there’s another avenue for revenue that many organizations may be overlooking: digital advertising.

You may be thinking that now is not the appropriate time to advertise with everything that’s going on. But that’s exactly what makes this the right time to put your mission in the spotlight.

Donors’ loyalty to the causes they support has not changed. They still have a need and a desire to give, and nonprofits have a need to receive in order to fund programs during this period of uncertainty.

So, let’s go over why digital media is such a great fundraising opportunity for nonprofits to invest in at this time.


With social distancing guidelines in place nationwide through at least the end of April, it’s clear that we’re all going to be spending a lot of time at home in the coming weeks. In the absence of events – including all sports – everyone will be looking for ways to pass the time indoors.

That means a lot more people on their devices looking at the news, social media and other websites.

We’ve seen how the coronavirus pandemic has affected media consumption already:

  • 22% spike in web traffic
  • 12% increase in video streaming
  • 23% rise in Twitter usage
  • 50% surge in cable news viewership


More people are scanning social media at different times of the day. More people are searching on Google and Bing. More people are watching videos to completion.

We’ve also seen increases in Google search results for nonprofits and charities, according to WordStream:

  • 10% increase in search ad impressions
  • 23% increase in search ad conversions
  • 20% increase in search ad conversion rate


And these numbers are likely to increase as more time passes. People have more time on their hands and will read and learn about new organizations.

At the same time, entire industries have practically shut down operations, from retail to restaurants to travel. And this is spilling over into advertising – no services, no need to promote them.

That means the supply of available ad spots has also dramatically increased. Some media businesses have been left scrambling to fill the void.

Former AOL CEO Tim Armstrong told The Information, "If I was talking to the Google advertising base in 2008 and 2009, I would have said, 'This is the single best time in the world to advertise and build your brand.' And, you know, most companies were doing the exact opposite. I’ve seen this exact same thing happening right now."

Enter nonprofits.


Digital advertising is a crucial piece of any omnichannel fundraising strategy, but you shouldn’t think of it from a transactional point of view. Too many organizations break their advertising into siloed channels – display, paid search, social media, etc. – and focus on immediate donations.

Nonprofits have a tremendous opportunity right now to use digital ads to spur long-term growth for their organizations.

Now is the time to stay in front of your audience and continue to share your mission and your impact. This is also a chance to get in front of a new audience and grow your brand awareness.

If you pull back now, you’ll lose any momentum you’ve built up. Think of branding like a hot water heater. It needs to stay warm to be effective. If you let it run cold, you’ll have to spend time waiting for your brand to heat up again.

Your strategy should take a full-funnel approach to reaching donors. That means using a variety of tactics, messages and channels to move people down the funnel from prospecting to engagement to conversion to (eventually) retention.

COVID-19 provides nonprofits-3

Use digital ads to tell your story. Discuss your mission and the great work you do. Talk about the increase in need that you’re seeing right now. Share stories about the impact donors are making.

And, of course, you can mix in asks for donations.

We’ve already seen a spike in online fundraising revenue with some of our clients who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have seen a much-needed injection of revenue.

It’s unclear what the long-term ramifications of the coronavirus will be on the economy and on the nonprofit community as a whole. That’s why we recommend that you keep pushing forward with your digital advertising.

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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