Should nonprofit organizations sell advertising space on their websites? No, I don’t think they should. A few years ago I wrote a post about this very topic. It still receives a lot of traffic, and got me thinking whether things have changed. I still believe that a nonprofit’s website should not be used for advertising. I do want to clarify that putting up logos and links for sponsors of an event, etc on the event page is totally acceptable and very different than putting google ads up on your nonprofits homepage. There are two main reasons why advertising on nonprofit websites is a bad idea:
- Advertising dilutes your mission and 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 most nonprofits do not sell ad space on their websites). Particularly if you go with an ad service where you cannot control what ads are shown to website visitors. Additionally, ads on websites rarely are attractive and depending on the ad it can negatively affect your brand. Lastly, ads on websites can be distracting – you don’t want people clicking away to check out a book on amazon – you want them clicking to your donation page.
- Advertising creates burdensome extra work and can potentially lead to conflicts of interest. There are some important aspects to consider when deciding whether to put advertising up on your nonprofit website. First, websites visitors will assume your endorsement of any advertisers so it will be critical that advertisers do not create potential conflicts (i.e. 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). Depending on your organization’s ideals, it can be a time-intensive task to ensure an advertiser fits the bill. Second, with advertising comes unrelated business income tax (UBIT). UBIT is something nonprofits don’t have to worry about unless they are receiving income that is not related to their mission (donations, event revenue, etc).
Advertising on nonprofit websites is not a common occurrence. A very small percentage of nonprofits engage in this practice. To see an example of a nonprofit that does advertise on their website, check out AARP. When I originally wrote about this, Amy Sample Ward shared in the comments some great thoughts about this issue:
“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.”
Similar to websites, a nonprofit’s blog also is not a good place for advertising. Darren Rowse at ProBlogger summed it up best in a short interview he did with me at the time of this original post, and 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.”
If your organization decides to move forward with advertising as a source of revenue, Social Signals wrote a great post discussing the options.
What do you think? Should nonprofits have advertising on their websites? If you see any that do, please post them in the comments.
Photo credit: Chris Blakeley