Monday, February 9, 2009

Advertising on nonprofit websites?

I was recently asked what I thought about nonprofits selling space on their website for advertising. I will tell you what I told them. I think it is a bad idea.

It's one thing to sell space (typically in the form of a sponsorship) for your nonprofit event's program, but it is something else entirely to put advertising on your website. There are 2 main reasons why I think it is a bad idea:

  1. Dilutes your mission/compromises your website: By selling ads on your website you may put at risk the integrity of your website and organization (there is a reason nonprofits don't sell ad space on their websites). Additionally, ads on websites rarely are attractive, plus depending on the ad it can negatively affect your brand. Also, ads on websites can be distracting- and you don't want people clicking away to check out a book on amazon- you want them clicking to your donation page.
  2. Appearance = reality: It will appear as though your organization is endorsing those that advertise on your website. Nonprofit organizations should not endorse for-profit businesses. Additionally, it would be time-intensive to ensure that every company upholds the mission/ideals of your organization- for example: Sierra Club wouldn't want to put up X corporation's ad and then find out they just logged 150 acres for their new company and killed off the local wildlife, it might not look very good to your supporters.
This doesn't even go into the issue of who would manage the advertising, and the additional time and hassle of worrying about UBIT (unrelated business income tax). Additionally, most (if not 99.9% of) nonprofits do not sell advertising on their website. In fact, after searching and looking at a few hundred sites, I only saw one that did, the AARP, which most people don't even know is a nonprofit organization.

The same goes for nonprofit blogs, in a short interview in December, Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) said "One thing that I'm pretty sure a nonprofit SHOULDN'T do is run advertising on their blogs. I think blogs are probably more effective to non profits for communicating what they are on about, finding people to support them etc. But if you start selling advertising you distract people from what you're on about as an organization."

Now, if you decide to sell it anyway, this post by Social Signal talks you through your options.

I had great difficulty locating nonprofits that sell advertising on their website, so if you know of any that do, please post a link in the comment section.


Amy Sample Ward said...

Thanks for starting this conversation, Kristen - I think a lot of organizations are considering putting ads on their websites as a way to raise a bit more funding in the economic down-turn. I agree with you though, that it is usually not the best option. Your two points are excellent and I would add:

Many nonprofits have the opportunity to turn their website or blog into a go-to spot for news, information, resources and more for the community/sector served. Part of what makes that possible is the fact that the organization's site/blog is fine-tuned to the right conversations, has a higher signal to noise ratio. Putting ads there would bring that ratio back down and make the resource much more like any other resource online where visitors have to focus on what they are looking for much harder.

That isn't to say that all advertising is bad or obtrusive. Just that focusing on bringing in ad revenue on your blog will probably detract from the quality content you have time to write and are presenting. And it's that quality content, after all, that will secure your spot as a resource in the community, gain supporters, and then donors.

Nonprofit SOS said...

Great points Amy! Thanks for your comment, I couldn't agree more.


Anonymous said...

In some cases the cost of bandwidth to run a website makes sponsorships key to the non-profits survival. For non profits that are strictly providing education and getting their message across online through their website (usually with videos), selling sponsorships is the only way they can afford to keep the content available to audiences for free at this time. Even with sponsorships it is likely that bandwidth will outweigh sponsorship/"advertising" dollars for a long time.

TheCouponLady said...

Totally agree. Non profit organization should do what they are designed to do. Putting ads up is wrong!

Scott Holte said...

Here are a few more examples of nonprofits that do have sponsorships on their websites.

Nonprofit SOS said...

I view radio stations a little differently than typical nonprofits - they are similar to newspapers where it isn't as surprising to see them have advertising on their websites. The Children's Museum doesn't exactly have advertising - they have an ad from their museum sponsor - but it is very similar.

Accountant said...

One question I was kicking around is if putting up advertisements would somehow result in the loss of a tax exempt status for a charity? Would this not be considered to be a profit seeking motive?

Nonprofit SOS said...

A nonprofit wouldn't lost tax-exempt status for having ad revenue - it would be considered unrelated business income and that income would NOT be considered a donation, it would be considered taxable income. See:,,id=156395,00.html

for more information.

James said...

One thought I had is that, in the case of the AARP, showing advertisements, properly vetted, could probably be seen as providing a service to their constituency. I suspect that most nonprofits wouldn't have that justification; I would think that, for most nonprofits, showing ads would be more of a distraction than a service.

Nonprofit SOS said...

Hi James,

Thank you for your comment. I've actually moved this blog over and it is no longer active. You can find this post here:

Would you mind re-posting there and then I'll respond? Thanks!