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podcast: Facebook advertising for beginners with Sarah Ali

photo: Facebook advertising for beginners with Sarah Ali

Facebook and other social media tools can be effective in helping you reach your goals - but you have to be deliberate and strategic with them. In this episode, Sarah Ali, non-profit digital strategist, takes us step-by-step through Facebook advertising. Learn how to understand your audiences, create Facebook campaigns and much more!

where do we start?

When we're thinking about using Facebook as part of our strategy, there are some questions we need to ask ourselves first. The very first question you should ask yourself is “why should we try something new and what value is this going to have in the long-term?” and more specifically, “why should we invest in Facebook advertising anyways?”

The answer is this: it’s where your audience is.

Your donors, constituents and potential new members are spending nearly seven hours a week on Facebook. We often talk about using the right message with the right audience at the right time in the right place - and guess what? Worldwide, people are CONSTANTLY checking their Facebook account on their phone! Facebook is the right place to reach your donors and to reach your community.

all about your current audience

Let’s say you want to put an ad in a magazine - you’re more likely to choose a magazine that your target audience reads and this is true for Facebook too. It’s more effective because you’re better able to reach people when you meet them where they are.

One of the major benefits of Facebook Advertising is the ability to discover, reach and target audiences - it’s the most targeted form of advertising! You can advertise using Facebook targeting to people by age, interest, behaviour or location. If you know your donors or supporters, you can use Facebook Advertising to engage them.

You can engage with people you know AND new communities while having a clear feedback loop where they can share how they feel about your cause.

With your current audience, you can take your email list, upload it into Facebook’s Custom Audience and target those people through Facebook ads and online. That way, you’re engaging with those who already support you where they are.

Using a Facebook Pixel, you can send ads and content to people who have visited your website or engaged with a specific post in the last year.

You can also use Audience Insights on Facebook, which is a tool in Ads Manager which gives you tons of targeted data - who is engaging with you on Facebook and what their age, gender, relationship status, education level, job role, interests, page likes, cities and countries visited, languages used, frequency of activity and devices are. Don’t worry about confidentiality though, Facebook never identifies them by their name. Just general (but super valuable) statistics!

new audience, new strategy

Your most successful audiences will be the ones that are behaviourally the most similar to your most engaged audiences (such as your monthly donors) on file - they are easier to convert. Facebook uses a complex sorting algorithm that finds these similar matches, you just need to trust them! It will find any common trends and link the most similar ones, AKA your “look-alike” audience, back to you.

If this feels too transactional or aggressive, don’t fret! Think of it as engaging with new communities! By giving potential donors an opportunity to know about your organization, take action or donate on your page or head over to your website and sign up for emails, you further diversify your audience.

Facebook gives you the tools to engage new communities or audiences in a way that’s trackable, measurable and integrated. No more guessing - you’ll be able to see how many times your post scrolled across someone’s screen, how many times someone has clicked it, how many times it’s been watched if it had a video and for how long. Don’t be afraid to even target those from organizations similar to yours!

step one: choosing your objectives based on your audiences

Now that we understand who we’re talking to, it’s important to understand what our objective is and how it works in Facebook advertising - which is structured on three levels.

The top level is about your campaign objectives which are based on what you want to achieve with each audience. There are three types to consider: awareness, consideration and conversion.

Awareness objectives are for those audiences that don’t quite know much about you if anything at all. You would choose this objective to build your brand awareness and increase your organizational reach to get more new members to see your content and introduce them to your organization. This is a great first step to engage with them and eventually convert them into donors.

Consideration objectives include sending traffic to your website and increasing engagement on a post or on your page. This works with audiences who know who you are and a little bit of what you do and want to learn more or get updates - especially if you’re hoping to convert them in the near future.

Finally, you have your conversion objective which is the final step in your engagement. This includes audiences who donated, signed up for emails or registered to an event you’re holding.

You can also change these objectives based on your program or organization - every organization will be different and use these differently. Once you combine these objectives with the audience, you’ll start to see a clearer picture of how this can be useful for your organization - beyond just boosting your post. It all depends on your strategy!


In order to build your strategy, you need to ask yourself and your team key questions such as: who your audience is, where are they viewing the content, are they looking at it in a particular place in Facebook, when will they see it and what will they see, why will they care and how will we know they took action. Then with those answers, you create a purpose statement that guides your entire campaign.

With your strategy, you create a brand personality. Think about how would we fulfill a need they might have and what kind of action would they take. This need can be based on a problem they want to solve with the assistance of your organization. You need to understand what the problem is in order to create value and provide solutions for them. At every step of your marketing and fundraising, you need to create value for your donors.

Once you figure out your strategy, you can begin your Facebook advertising process.

setting up your Facebook page using Ads Manager

If you haven’t done any Facebook advertising before, you will have to set up a Facebook page and your ad account in Facebook Ads Manager. This is where you can manage every aspect of your advertising experience. You can find essential tools, menus and buttons - Sarah recommends taking the time to play around with it to get to know how to use it.

Automatically, you will have a default advertising account associated with your personal Facebook profile. You want to make sure that the profile you use to set up your nonprofits Facebook advertising account is an administrator on your Facebook page or ensure that you create your Facebook page prior to this process to make sure you have administrative access.

In this default account, select the menu at the top-left corner and choose SETTINGS so you can input your account name and business name. This way, when you’re running ads, it doesn’t say that it’s coming from an individual instead of your organization. There you can fill in your nonprofit name, address and charitable number if you have it.

Once you’re set up, play around with it and see what works best for you, your constituents and your donors. Once you fill in these nonprofit details, you can also invite your team members to administer the advertising account you created. There is also a ton of permission settings you can use - Sarah suggests making the people who will manage this to have an admin role. This avoids being unable to adjust something or send out a new set of ads and the person you’ve asked to do it doesn’t have access to it.

After you’ve filled in all your information for your nonprofit account, you should add a payment method. You’ll see an option to update your payment settings on the left column. If you’re worried about limiting your spend, don’t worry! You can set an account spending limit here so you’ll always be sure you don’t spend over your budget.

step two: making sure it’s all aligned

The second level is where you’ll use your audience insights to answer those questions we mentioned earlier and see if it matches. Another question Sarah urges you to ask yourself is timing - does the timing of this campaign align with the rest of your content calendar? If you’re budget-driven, you can also ask yourself: how much are you willing to pay to achieve your objective with that particular audience? Start to weigh out your initial cost per acquisition or per donation with your long-term value to help you make smart budgeting decisions.

step three: making decisions about your ad

Once you’ve asked all those questions, answered them and inputted the data, it’s time to focus on your ad. While there are six different types of ads, Sarah recommends three: single image, single video and carousel.

Single image ads are about 125 characters of text plus a headline, unlinked description and a call to action button (such as donate, sign-up or send a message.) If you scroll through your newsfeed and see an ad that isn’t moving - that’s a single-image standard ad. They’re cost-effective and easy to test and try out in your first campaign. Sarah recommends starting with this ad type.

Be sure that your image doesn’t have too much text on them though (about more than 30%) because Facebook will flag it and take it down. If you have a time-sensitive campaign, you DO NOT want to risk getting your ad taken down!

Single video ads are easy to experiment with and best of all, Facebook’s algorithm prioritizes them too! It’s something that grabs attention within two to three seconds and can range from short mobile ads to really long promoted ads for desktop. However, Sarah suggests keeping videos under six seconds if possible - within the first three seconds, your audience will decide whether or not they’re going to keep watching!

Carousel ads allow you to include up to 10 images or videos, each with their own link, all in one ad. This works really well to showcase different features of your programming, explain a step-by-step process or to tell a story. You can provide multiple images that take your donor or audience on a journey from the first image to the last, sending a compelling story that strengthens your call-to-action.

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The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano