Terri Harel

Using Retargeting Ads to Increase Donations & Support

In a world where there are more nonprofits and causes than ever before, it’s a constant challenge to come up with strategies to acquire new donors. And if there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that people will be visiting other websites beside yours. So how do you stay top of mind with visitors after they click on to their next destination? One option is using retargeting ads.

Retargeting Advertising Basics

Have you ever visited a company’s website only to eerily find that all of a sudden you are seeing their ads on lots of other sites you visit? That’s retargeting.

So how does it work? Well, when you hit a certain page on a company’s website (the pricing or checkout page for instance) that company will place a cookie in your browser that “tells” the ad networks across the web to serve you that company’s ads. That’s why it seems like all of a sudden the company is magically following you around the web.

According to the retargeting service Adroll, only 2% of shoppers convert on the first visit to an online store – retargeting engages the other 98%. Something similar undoubtedly happens on nonprofit donation pages too; a portion of visitors wind up making a donation, while the rest leave without completing a gift.

Nonprofits can use retargeting ads to boost the chances of converting visitors that have bounced from the donation page into donors later on. As your organization’s message follows a prospective donor around, you’ll stay top of mind, increasing the chances that the visitor will go back to your site and complete the gift. Larger nonprofits with marketing budgets, or those that can leverage corporate relationships to acquire donated ad impressions, are great candidates to try out retargeting campaigns to increase their online donation volume.


According to InternetRetailer.com, the American Heart Association implemented retargeting ads for their 2012 “Go Red for Women” Campaign. Using 1.3 million ad impressions donated by mediaForge and its partners, AHA segmented its target audience and reached out specifically to women who had visited the campaign or AHA website but did not register for the newsletter or donate. A portion of the ads also targeted visitors who had watched an educational video on the nonprofit’s Facebook page.

The ads rotated with varied calls to action, inviting the women to register for newsletters, make donations, or pledge to wear red clothes during February. A donate option was still available on each ad, but the variety of ads provided AHA with a great test of effective CTAs and minimizing the feeling that the ads were spam.

Smartly, the AHA rolled out the ads strategically in January and February, the peak weeks of the campaign. By the end of the campaign, the retargeting ads produced a 62% increase in newsletter and educational material registration, along with a 67% increase in average donation value from consumers who converted through the ads compared to those who did not. AHA’s effective planning for their retargeting ad system resulted in an impressive return on investment.


Action Against Hunger, an organization dedicated to sustainable solutions to hunger and an end of malnutrition, also uses retargeting ads as a marketing strategy. ACF uses Facebook Exchange, the social media platform’s targeted ad service which accesses preferences through third party, demand-side services like Adroll. ACF uses Adroll and, in turn, maximizes potential donor’s time on Facebook by strategically exposing them to the ACF brand.

ACF’s Online Marketing and Development Manager, Christian Pielow, attributes the organization’s success with retargeting to good strategic planning: segmenting your audience as specifically as possible, as well closely aligning ACF brand content to retargeting ad copy and visuals and the click-through landing page. For instance, visitors who view ACF’s pages about hunger will be shown ads and landing pages about hunger or someone who visits the Philippines’ country page will see ads about the organization’s emergency efforts and will be directed straight to its Philippines donation form.

Once a visitor completes a donation from a retargeting ad, ACF makes sure to take that person off its retargeting list. Not only does this save ad impression costs, but it also prevents people from feeling spammed or bombarded with asks. With that said, it may be useful to save retargeting ads for emergency appeals or special campaigns, when your organization can adjust its copy to thank donors for their previous support.

If you’re interested in learning more about retargeting campaigns, we’ve included a few helpful links below to get you started!

Additional Resources on Retargeting Ads:

  • BLOG: What Is Facebook Exchange?
  • VIDEO: 5 Tips for Running a Successful Retargeting Campaign
  • TIPS: How to Use Google Ad Words to Create a Retargeting Campaign
  • BLOG: Twitter About to Launch Retargeting Options

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    Photo Credit: Sean Hobson

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