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Feb 01, 2023

Building an Effective Advertising Campaign for a Nonprofit Starts with Research

The importance of nonprofits cannot be overstated. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, there are currently 1.3 million charitable nonprofits in America that feed, heal, shelter, educate, inspire, and care for people of every age, gender, race, and socioeconomic status. But they cannot thrive on good deeds alone. Up to 80% of a nonprofit’s funding comes from individual donations. As any nonprofit ad agency will tell you, individual donations are best generated by having an effective advertising campaign that clearly communicates a nonprofit’s mission and vision. As an agency specializing in nonprofits, Bellweather has both the experience and the expertise in creating effective campaigns for nonprofits. And we have found that the most effective advertising campaign for a nonprofit starts with a thoughtful research strategy. 

But what does a thoughtful research strategy look like?

Bellweather’s proprietary research process, the Immerse phase, helps discover how individuals understand, experience, and produce their world and experiences. While there are many elements that make up Bellweather’s research process, inclusivity and listening play a central role.




  • When we listen, we can effectively identify the overarching questions our clients need to answer, and gather all necessary information through one-on-one interviews, focus groups, and document reviews. By listening we uncover stories, providing an invaluable way to understand and know your audiences’ experience. We call these stories Foundational Narratives: powerful storytelling tools that provide a strong bedrock for future messaging and creative work, no matter the medium. And the experts agree. Branding and marketing experts believe that it’s critical for nonprofits to use storytelling skills, involving personal stories about being helped by a nonprofit, to inspire donors to get onboard. 

The Results

Ultimately, Bellweather’s Immerse phase consistently yields insights and strategies that are: 


  • For Brooklyn Public Library, Bellweather created an audience-driven campaign. Our research phase included over 1800 minutes of interviews with 57 people, three separate surveys with 1350 respondents, and a Brand Workshop with BPL staff in order to better understand BPL and its audience. The campaign featured portraits of patrons, photographed by Brooklyn artist and street photographer Andre D. Wagner. The campaign highlights surprising mashups of resources and events, embracing the institution’s brand voice of being inclusive, fun, and warm.


  • Bellweather led extensive research to unearth the best strategy to promote kids’ well-being through the secure storage of firearms. The Be SMART campaign strategy centers around being informative and direct—without inciting fear—through text messaging.


  • Bellweather rebranded NYC’s official healthcare provider, MetroPlusHealth. We re-envisioned the brand across websites, apparel, storefronts, company equipment, and social media, leading to a:
    • 34% Increase in New Website Visitors, YOY
    • 25% increase in Direct Visits, YOY
    • 18.4 million impressions
    • 20% growth in Instagram followers
  • We developed the inaugural brand and campaign for NYC Kids RISE, a nonprofit working to expand economic opportunities through college savings accounts. Through a collaborative effort, we delivered a brand that is unified, responsive, and inspiring, with results surpassing expectations:
    • 96% eligible student enrollment rate within the target audience—an unheard of level of participation (the goal was 60%)
    • $3.6M+ total accumulated for students’ accounts, including contributions from the community and families’ own savings

Why a Thoughtful Research Strategy Matters

Nonprofit organizations serve the needs of many different types of people. For this reason, it will be important for nonprofits to find an advertising campaign that is inclusive, and  resonates across demographics and generations. Overall, nonprofits that pivot to an inclusive message are more likely to increase awareness. And finding the right inclusive message for your nonprofit begins at the research level. Our Director of Research, Fernanda Alonso, who leads our growing team of researchers, says, “For Bellweather’s clients, if the campaign doesn’t resonate, it can be a life or death situation. For example, health insurance isn’t going to be the same for a twenty-something-year-old college student at NYU as it is for an immigrant who doesn’t speak English well. This is where research becomes an essential part of the creative process. The better we understand the shared needs of a complex consumer base, the more likely it is we’ll be able to strategize for an effective campaign message that can have life-saving consequences.” Read the interview for more on Fernanda’s approach to research.