Published: 25 September 2018

Levelling the playing field – how small charities can use their size to their advantage

Working in marketing at a small charity can be hard. Battling against low brand recognition, a lack of digital skills and small or non-existent budgets. But in digital marketing, being small actually opens up a huge number of options if you know how to use your size to your advantage.

One of the things I love about digital is that it’s open and if you know where to look you can take inspiration from other charities’ tactics. In the words of Steve Jobs “always be shameless about stealing great ideas”.

There are other huge opportunities for small charities. Many people have lost faith in large charities and are looking for organisations they can trust, with low overheads and can show exactly how their money will benefit the cause. Unlike other channels, digital isn’t just about budget, it’s about the strength of your tactics and ideas.

Making your small size work for you online

1. Spy. Spy and then spy some more. This has just got unbelievably easy. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has been forced to become more transparent. Now all you have to do is go on to a competitor’s Facebook page and you can view all their ads and see which audiences they’re targeting. What’s more, if you have a Google Ads account, check out your auction insights report (or use a tool such as SpyFu or SEMrush) to see which competitors are bidding against you for PPC keywords and pushing up your costs.

2. Start your own Facebook fundraisers. Through Facebook’s charitable giving tools you can fundraise or ask for donations within Facebook. Many big charities plan their campaigns a minimum of two months in advance and struggle to use this new functionality to full advantage. Small charities can get ahead by being reactive – next time you think – we really need money for X – set up your first Facebook fundraiser.

3. Use your pay-per-click (PPC) grant from Google. $120K of free advertising a year from Google is a huge amount of free money whichever way you look at it. Google gives charities free spend to run search ads so that when someone searches for relevant terms (e.g. ‘charities near to me’), your ad will appear. Be warned, learning PPC is hard and you need to take it seriously to comply with Google’s new rules, but there is heaps of free training.

4. Build your online presence. The majority of people who want to research charities will do so online. Therefore, make yours easy to find. Google your charity – can you find it? Create articles and free toolkits to drive traffic to your site. Check out your Google reviews and find out what your supporters really think about you.

5. And most importantly, reimagine transparency and build trust. Excel where large charities struggle. Show exactly where the money goes and the difference it can make. Do not accept internal barriers – this is an area which if done right will help you truly level the playing field.

Image: Inês Pimentel on Unsplash


Sophie Smith, senior donor acquisition officer, digital fundraising, Action for Children

Sophie runs digital fundraising campaigns at Action for Children having previously worked in digital marketing at Marie Curie, Young Enterprise, King’s College London and the University of Cambridge. She specialises in Facebook ads and PPC campaigns. Find out more here.