Unless you are at a very large nonprofit, you have probably had a miniature budget at one time or another.
True story: I ran MADD’s first pay-per-click search engine ads over a decade ago with $20 from my own credit card (this was pre-Google Grants). I said I would only claim for reimbursement if we raised back that money. One $30 donation later and MADD had its first proto-paid-donation-acquisition budget.
The challenge is that many nonprofit budgets are zero to start; they only come about because they are willed into existence.
The one and only bit of good news about a budget of zero is that your budget isn’t negative. When you think about it, most direct marketing budgets are negative: you are given an amount of money and you have to return an even larger amount of money when you are done.
So you have an idea you’d like to pursue (let’s say display advertising to fuel online donations). You have no budget. The first thing you need to do is go to your boss and tell her or him:
- About your idea
- How much it would normally cost
- You are willing to do it for nothing
- If you are able to reinvest the new revenues you get in your idea
This last part is the critical thing you are looking for. Your boss doesn’t have to hear about you talking about your idea ever again if you were wrong. And if it goes wrong, it won’t cost her/him anything. But if it goes right, you want to help make it go more right.
This is usually an agreement a boss should be willing to make. If not, examine 1) you, 2) your boss, and 3) your boss’s impression of you. At least one of these things is not very good.
So, now that you have your reinvestment plan, you need efforts that will generate net revenue at no cost.
The first way is Google Grants. You knew I was going to say this, didn’t you. There’s almost no way not to be able to additional revenues from this:
- If you don’t have an account get one.
- If you have an account, maximize your spend.
- If your spend is maximized, optimize your spend.
- If your spend is maximized and optimized, apply to go to the next level of revenue.
- If your spend is maximized, optimized, and at the highest level of Google Grants, you are at a large enough non-profit that you should be able to get a small budget for an innovation if you are justifying it well.
The thing is that your grant dollars in AdWords are fairly easy to maximize and optimize, because every time you log into AdWords, they will have recommendations for you to have a sentence in the first half of your ad to increase clicks or split your ad groups up or add keywords or create a dynamic ad or what-have-you. Follow the recommendations and continually refine.
Failing that, list out your ads and see what has the lowest interactions. Re-write the ads and test the new ads against the old.
Failing that, list out your ad groups, see what URLs to which you are sending traffic have the lowest conversions and work on the conversion side of things on your Web site.
Eventually, I’ll do a whole week on AdWords, because it is a highly useful tool, but if you continually refine like this, revenues will follow.
The other way to start to create a budget online is with services like eMiles that run cost-per-acquisition donor campaigns. That is, they will offer to get you donors for, lets say, $40 per donor. If your average gift is generally $50 per person, run the campaign and take the extra profit.
If these options aren’t open to you, running a co-targeting campaign to your cream of the crop donors online will also generally have positive results. That will put some of your own money at stake, but, as I mentioned at the opening, I’m not adverse to that.
So these are some ways to kickstart your budget. Once you have strategies that work for you, grind on it. Your goal is to be at the poker table continually garnering chips. You may lose some hands, but with the law of large numbers and the ability to reinvest, you will almost certainly come out ahead.
And, with your $0 budget, you can also subscribe to my free newsletter here. Hopefully, I’ll have some tips there that will help you get into the high single-digit budgets in no time.