The Guaranteed Way to
Drive Online Awareness


First, let’s get one thing straight. You need an audience. This may seem self-evident, but too many causes rely on a handful of major donors or stakeholders to sustain them, neglecting the potential thousands who are interested in offering support. As I’ve written before, you can have the greatest mission in the world, but if no one knows about it, you won’t go far. So In this post, I want to share how to raise awareness for a cause online using a tactic that is guaranteed to work.

First, the Ways that Aren’t Guaranteed

There are any number of digital tactics you can use to bring awareness to your cause. But if we define awareness online as sustained, real-time exposure of your cause to a new and targeted audience, then by definition the classic forms of digital marketing don’t fit the bill.

Organic social media (i.e. the daily and weekly posts you publish for free on your social channels), email marketing, and content marketing (blogs, podcasts, videos) are important parts of an overall awareness program, but these are limited to your existing audience. Moreover, each needs to be built and nurtured one subscriber at a time. Can these tactics reinforce your mission and value proposition to your audience? Of course. Will they result in an influx of new site/social visitors and immediate expansion of your mission? Probably not.

In order to drive an immediate and sustained level of awareness you’ll need to do something that puts you in front of your desired audience and keeps you there.

The Guaranteed Way to Drive Awareness

Your most powerful tool for how to raise awareness for a cause online is paid digital advertising.

Paid digital can take many forms, including pay-per-click search and website display ads, but here I’m going to focus specifically on paid social media advertising because it offers the added benefit of growing your social following as it brings attention to your cause.

If you haven’t run a campaign of this nature before, I’ll showcase an example here – a program of ads we’ve developed for the Mental Health Association’s teen suicide prevention initiative. There’s more to this type of campaign than the three steps you see here – from the research that goes into developing content and strategy to how we optimize the ad mix and budget each month – but in general, paid social advertising follows the structure featured below:


1. We develop a series of ads to run across Facebook and Instagram (the channels through which we felt we’d reach teens and parents): 


2. Working within Facebook’s Ads Manager, we select our demographics, target audience, geographic location and ad budget:


3. We develop landing pages so that when users click on the ads, they arrive at a location that guides the visitor along a path of additional education (and eventually a call-to-action):

Our goal with the MHA campaign was awareness for the prevention of teen suicide. To-date, over 1 million people have seen the ads, and over 20,000 have clicked the ads to learn more, while hundreds have either filled out forms or called for additional support; when it comes to awareness, paid advertising works. 

But Why is Paid Digital Advertising Guaranteed to Bring Awareness to Your Cause?

Again, let’s refer back to my specific definition of awareness: sustained, real-time exposure of your cause to a new and targeted audience:

  • As long as you’re running a digital advertising campaign for an extended period of time, people will see and learn of your cause and continue to be directed to your chosen destination (sustained).
  • Since your ads are being served directly into your audience’s news feed, the user will see the ad as you publish it (real-time).
  • In running your campaigns, you’ll be using your ad platform’s tools to reach additional followers (new and targeted)

So there we are. Awareness, guaranteed.

The Benefits of Investing in Paid Digital Advertising

As I’ve highlighted with the Mental Health Association example above, a properly-executed paid digital ad campaign will deliver awareness. But there are many other benefits to investing in this tactic, including:

Supercharging mission growth:
Organic social media and community development, email marketing and blog/content posting are essential parts of your organization’s outreach, but they deliver slow, steady growth. For the reasons cited above, paid ads supercharge your reach. If you want targeted exposure quickly, this is the path to follow.

Outpacing your competitors:
Your cause faces competition for dollars, awareness and attention from other brands and organizations. By making smart investments in paid ads, you’ll achieve greater recognition in your audience’s mind – especially when you consider that for reasons of budget and (frankly speaking) antiquated thinking – many nonprofits don’t even see paid digital ads as a viable tactic.

Market and audience research:
Paid digital campaigns provide a trove of great information around audience types, demographics and messaging.

  • Want to try out a new mission statement or campaign pitch? Run several variants across a paid ads series and see which resonate most – based on hard data.
  • Want to see how much need there is for your service offering in a specific region? You’ll know after a couple of weeks of running your campaign.
  • Always felt that a certain age or gender was your “true” supporter? You can confirm this through your ad platform’s reporting functions.

If you haven’t before explored paid digital advertising for your cause, I understand if there’s trepidation. It’s complex, and you’ll probably have some convincing to do with the board or a skeptical leadership team. Moreover if you have tried it, but haven’t been pleased with the results, it pays to bring in an outside agency to audit and make recommendations.

In either case, the upsides to the right campaign can be enormous – and you don’t need to dive in with a massive investment to start.  All I advocate is being open to the possibility, and then starting slowly. The learnings and potential reach will be eye-opening.

If you’d like to get your feet wet, visit the platforms themselves. To start, the ad centers for Facebook and LinkedIn offer good educational resources. Best of luck heading down this path, and if we can be of help along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re only an email away.





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