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Nonprofits and Native Advertising

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A few months ago my local AFP chapter hosted a panel discussion with representatives from some of the big corporate giants in our city. The primary topic of discussion was sponsorships and other support they provide to nonprofits. The big takeaway was that they are not really interested in the main perks that nonprofits offer such as event tickets and recognition on donor and sponsor lists.

What they like should be no surprise: employee involvement and alignment with company values. So far, so good if you’re approaching the corporate foundation. Increasingly, though, sponsorship money comes out of the marketing department and they will have additional goals related to company visibility ... but the traditional methods just don’t cut it any more.

Media advertising has suffered a similar problem with the usual ads losing their effectiveness thus the rise of native advertising1. Native advertising is promotional content developed by or for a sponsor that is presented as editorial content. Earlier this month, John Oliver had a few words to say about the practice:



Even so, I think there may be a place for native advertising in a nonprofit’s sponsorship benefits package if approached thoughtfully and strategically. Most organizations have publications, such as websites, blogs, and newsletters, that could host sponsored content. Already nonprofit news outlets are including native ads in their programming and I expect that the nonprofit sector will learn a lot from their first forays into this territory.

For an enterprising organization that wants to give it shot, there a three words to live by: Quality, Relevance, and Transparency. Above all, you do not want to alienate or exploit your constituency. Just like using humor, when it works, it’s great for everyone but when it fails, it fails hard and publicly. Since this is a new potential source of revenue, I recommend that you learn as much as you can before diving in. A good place to start is this excellent article by Elaina Polson at Lenz, Inc.

Assessing the Good and Evil of Native Advertising


1. But is it really all that new? I love to listen to recordings of the Jack Benny Program (still funny after all these years!) and he often worked his sponsors into the run of the show.


For me, fundraising and communications go together like peanut butter and jelly – delicious & filling!

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