* Paid search. The concept of developing a budget for online marketing might scare some nonprofits — particularly in this economy — but it shouldn’t. Search engine marketing is an easy way to wet your toes. SEM involves placing ads (called “sponsored links”) on Google, Yahoo and MSN Live Search.
For starters, buy the search terms that are related to your mission — unless your organization is the first that appears under the organic (or free) search results. Even if your organization is the top organic search listing for keywords closely related to your brand, purchase pay-per-click ads for those keywords, too, and point them directly to a donation form. (For an example of how this works, type “Amnesty” in Google.) Search ads can be particularly effective when there’s breaking news related either to your organization or to one of the societal challenges you seek to solve. It’s best to hire an expert to help you with this, at least to get you started.
* Other paid ads. After you’ve conquered search, consider paid placements in e-mails and even banner ads. For the former, seek out online properties that actually “sell” space in their e-mails to organizations like yours, and run a test to see how the placement performs. Banner ads generally are the worst-performing from a cost-per-acquisition perspective — and require the hassle of actually creating the ads — but some Web sites and blogs that are good matches for your mission could deliver surprising results, especially the first time you run the ads.
* Paid acquisition. Some third-party online properties, such as Care2, will recruit a set number of new e-mail addresses for you on a cost-per-name basis. To do this, they set up online actions related to your mission, promote the actions to their own members and then enable those who take the actions to check a box to opt in to your nonprofit’s e-mail list. You then pay a set cost for each name. You might be able to entice third-party Web sites to recruit donors on your behalf, too, by offering to pay them a set amount for every donor they send your way. The cost per donor typically will be much higher than the cost of the e-mail address of someone you later try to convert into a donor.