Non-Profits and Facebook Audiences

No one has been exempt from Facebook’s “curation” of our News Feeds. At any given time, you’re seeing 1/10th of the posts from all of the pages and friends you’ve liked, possibly even less.

As a non-profit (or small business) marketer, you’ve seen the flip side of this coin: your Facebook posts are going out to 20%, 10%, 3% or even less of your Facebook fan base.

If you’re on top of all the changes, you’ve improved your game by:

  • Using Facebook Insights to see when your audience is online
  • Using a photo in every post
  • Keeping your text short, to 140 characters or less (yes, this is for Facebook, not just Twitter), and
  • Asking questions or offering really engaging content

Maybe you’ve even decided to boost or promote posts. Still, those posts aren’t reaching the numbers or producing the results you want to see.

Before you throw in the towel, consider:

Facebook Custom Audiences

A Custom Audience is an ad targeting tool that allows you to create groups of people based on any one of these three things:

  • An existing data file of e-mail addresses
  • Tracking code to trail your most recent website visitors, and
  • “Lookalike” criteria for both of the above audiences.

For the non-profit, Custom Audiences are an incredibly valuable tool.

Facebook Custom Audience #1: Website Visitors

The tracking code for your website is the easiest and most immediate audience you should set up. Follow these directions. You’re essentially adding tracking code to your website that will follow your website visitors for between 1-180 days. The precise timeframe is your choice.

During that time, they’ll be in your Facebook Custom Audience and you can target any kind of ad to them. And, no, they don’t have to be current fans to be a part of this audience.

A word of caution: make sure you add a line like this to your Privacy Policy: Our site uses cookies (small pieces of data stored for an extended period of time on your computer, mobile phone, or other device).

Facebook Custom Audience #2: E-Mail Files

The next step is to create Custom Audiences based on e-mail files. There are abundant opportunities here, including creating custom audiences from lists of:

  • Existing donors
  • Existing donors, segmented by some criteria (online vs offline giving, age, geography, etc.)
  • Event participants
  • E-newsletter subscribers
  • Volunteers
  • Clients/Customers/Visitors, etc.

Facebook will take your file and find profiles connected to the e-mail addresses. You probably won’t find all of the people on your list, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Facebook Custom Audience #3: Lookalikes

Third, and, finally, this is where we get to some really interesting territory: Lookalike Audiences.

For the smaller non-profit or business, you may not have a lot of website visitors or a lengthy e-mail list from which to build an audience. Still, build those audiences (and add to them regularly!) and then create Lookalike Audiences from them.

Lookalikes are Facebook users that Facebook has deemed similar to your own Audience. Don’t worry if you end up with a Lookalike Audience with millions of people in it.  You can limit this audience when building ads by country, state, age, gender, interests, and many more demographic points.


Using these audience options,your Facebook ads will become much more effective. The three Audiences will give you at least four new audiences (website visitors and their lookalikes, the e-mail file and their lookalikes), plus your usual fan base.

Click here for step-by-step directions to create Facebook Custom Audiences.

Admittedly, Facebook Custom Audiences present two particular conundrums to non-profits:

  • The idea of “cookies” – the code that follows you around the internet and tells Facebook that you just visited a website, allowing that website to advertise to you on Facebook – can really bother some folks. I get it: we want to respect privacy, honor confidential relationships, and not come across as marketers.
  • Many non-profits don’t devote much, or any, money to advertising, especially not on Facebook. It’s a difficult case to make when you don’t know who your fans are.

So here are some counterpoints:

Conducting skilled and effective marketing campaigns has traditionally been the domain of consumer or retail companies. And, for precisely that reason, that’s why that sector owns much of the economy.

Non-profits have chosen to not be as aggressive as for-profit companies and, because of that, we’re all crossing our fingers and hoping we make budget between October and December.

Facebook Audiences provide a much more targeted use of our time and funds on Facebook. They allow us to speak directly to our donors, volunteers and website visitors. And if you had an opportunity to speak to a donor, wouldn’t you take it?

If you have questions about Facebook Audiences or even just advertising on Facebook, let me know. And if you’ve used Facebook Audiences in a creative way, let me know that too – I’m always open to new uses for these tools!


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