You may be saying “Mr. Direct to Donor, why would I read this? My online advertising budget is limited to whatever I can find between the couch cushions.”
First, please call me Nick. Mister Direct to Donor is my dad (actually, Dr. Direct to Donor, DDS, but that’s another thing).
Second, knowledge of the basic online advertising metrics, along with a deep knowledge of what you are willing to pay for each type of constituent or click, can help you bootstrap an online marketing budget by making investments that will pay off in shorter timeframes that you can get offline (usually).
So, first things first. Online advertising is dominated by CP_s. The CP stands for “cost per” and the _ can be filled in by C for click, A for acquisition, or M for thousand.
(Yes, I know. It should be “T is for a thousand.” However, you can do that most American of things — blame the French — for this one. M technically stands for mille, which is French for one thousand. You may have encountered this in the dessert mille-feuille, which is French for a cake of a thousand sheets, or in the card game Mille Bourne, which is based on being chased by a thousand angry Matt Damons.)
The big question for advertising is “one thousand what?”. In this case of CPM, it’s impressions. You are paying whatever amount (the average is $3-4 right now) for one thousand people to see your ads. It’s basically like every other advertisement you’ve ever seen (pre-Internet) where you buy a magazine ad from a rate card or TV ads based on how many people are watching.
With this new thing called the Internet, however, you don’t need to pay this way in almost any case. You can measure at a greater level of interaction, so most advertisers will allow you to pay per click, especially in the areas of greatest interest to we nonprofit marketers like search engine listings, remarketing, and co-targeting.
But even that is not enough control for some, who wish to pay to acquire a donor (or constituent) and that’s where cost-per-acquisition comes in. This is not as popular as CPC, as the publisher of the ad is dependent on you to convert the donation or registration, but has maximum advantage for you as an advertiser.
What you are buying in each successive step closer to the act that you want to achieve (usually donation) is certainty. With CPA (also CTA or cost to acquire), you know exactly how much you are going to pay for a constituent; with CPC, you know how much you are going to pay, assuming this batch of people converts like the last batch; with CPM, you are spraying and praying other than your front-end targeting model.
The beauty of this level of control is that it can be used to justify your budget. There are vendors who will run CPA campaigns where they get all of the initial donations from a donor. Assuming they are reputable, these can be of great value for you, because you then get to keep the second and subsequent donations (that you will get because of your excellent onboarding and stewardship process). Others will charge a flat CPA; if your average gift is usually over that CPA, you can pull in even these first donations at a profit. Some are even doing this for monthly donors, where you can calculate a payout and logical lifetime value.
Once you have those running, you now have the budget (because of your additional net revenue) to look at CPC ads. If you have your donation forms running and effectively tested, you should be able to net money on these as well, by targeting well and testing various ad copy/designs and offers.
So use your knowledge of ads to help bring in some extra money that can be used for… more ads (if profitable)!