This Direct Marketing Agency Is Helping Nonprofits Navigate Platforms’ Political Policies And Pitfalls

Political advertising can get dicey on social platforms.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have different and shifting rules for the content they allow. In 2019, for instance, Twitter banned political ads – a rule the platform rolled back earlier this year.

Currently, the larger social platforms mostly allow political ads, but with restrictions, said Patrick Burton, VP and director of strategy and acquisition at MissionWired, a direct marketing agency that works with progressive nonprofits and political campaigns on strategies to raise money and grow their reach. MissionWired’s clients include Make-A-Wish, Save the Children, Sen. Raphael Warnock and Sandy Hook Promise.

When running Google Search or YouTube ads, political advertisers can’t upload and target their own file of donors, unlike most Google advertisers. And Meta has more than 20 different ad placement options, but only a few slots are allotted for political and social issue advertisers. Messenger, WhatsApp, Right Hand Column, Marketplace, Search, Facebook Stories and Suggested Videos are among the placements that are off-limits to political and social issues advertisers, per Meta guidelines.

Ads from a gun violence prevention organization that advocates for gun control legislation or circulates a petition urging Congress to act would be considered political content. And since many platforms ban or limit gun ads, mentioning firearms in an ad can pose problems.

But MissionWired, “generally speaking,” has good relationships with the ad platforms it serves on, Burton said.

“We can come to a solution where they take a look at the creative we’re serving and see what our real intent is,” he said. If Meta’s automated review process flags an ad, for instance, MissionWired can request a manual review by a person.

Mixing it up

But navigating political advertising on social platforms isn’t the only challenge facing MissionWired, which, since it was founded in 2007, has raised more than $3.1 billion for its clients from small donors, including more than $1 billion in online donations.

Like most ad buyers, MissionWired had to switch gears when Apple’s 2021 privacy changes on iOS made targeting ads and tracking conversions more difficult.

Before Apple released its AppTrackingTransparency framework, Facebook was a dominant force for nonprofit advertisers. But now MissionWired is exploring other approaches, such as investing more in programmatic display and CTV ads and experimenting with in-app mobile games that gamify the process donating to a nonprofit.

Apple’s updates also prompted MissionWired to increase segmentation on Facebook. Due to signal loss, the available segments are less specific than they used to be, so the agency must buy against more segments on Facebook to reach the same audiences it had reached in the past. The agency would previously target two to four audiences for a standard client. Now it’s between eight and 10.

When creating segments, MissionWired typically splits audiences up by their response rates and propensity to donate, Burton said. Geographic targeting may also come into play for local political campaigns and organizations looking to put pressure on specific legislators.

The measure of an ad

In addition to rolling with platform changes, MissionWired has its own custom internal tools for targeting, measurement and testing.

For example, MissionWired has a Digital Co-Op that creates custom models for clients to help them figure out who is most likely to respond to a donation request at any given time. Inspired by how nonprofits bundle their mailings together and split the costs, this targeting is “based on billions of rows of data and our machine learning software,” Burton said.

ML-powered targeting increases ad spend efficiency, both when acquiring new supporters and retargeting existing donors.

“Instead of targeting a file of 1 million potential donors, we can narrow that down to the 100,000 absolute best prospects, which lowers the costs for our clients,” Burton said.

Another in-house tool called Sign for Good helps nonprofit advertisers test, measure and manage ad campaigns. The tool creates user experiences tied to specific calls to action for every individual who interacts with a given client and sets up A/B tests to come up with different user flows depending on the options selected.

Advertisers can coordinate campaigns so that an email or text teases a letter coming in the mail or a physical invite is sent to a recipient with a QR code. “[This] has become pretty ubiquitous in our practice for the social advertising we run,” Burton said.

The agency built its own machine learning models in-house and has been using them for about four years. As for machine learning’s glamorous cousin, generative AI, MissionWired is tapping into it to help with brainstorming, but not for content creation.

MissionWired will continue to develop its own content and do its own creative testing.

“With the ability to reach such a broad audience,” Burton said, “it’s more important than ever for us to be focused on testing every single piece of content that we’re using and every single journey that our users are going through.”

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