Revised with new information as of March 22, 2011

Coyote Communications Technology Tip Sheet Logo

Monetizing a Web Site:

Should Nonprofits, NGOs or Government Agencies Ever Do It?


Monetizing a web page means putting advertising on a web page. That can be in the form of a display ad or an in-text link.

Some advertising works this way: every time someone clicks on an ad, the web site owner is paid a fee, often as little as a penny. If you raise even $10 a month with such web ads, you are considered doing very well in terms of revenue. The most popular source for these is Google Adsense.

Some organizations also join a program like Amazon Associates and link to books on their web sites as well.

Ads can also be done in the old-fashioned way: a business pays you a fee up front to display the ad for a set period of time.

Many nonprofits and NGOs are tempted put ads on their web pages as a way to generate much-needed revenue. But is it appropriate for a nonprofit or NGO to put ads on a web page? After all, many nonprofits put advertising in their print materials. For instance, there is nothing unusual about seeing advertising in a printed program for a nonprofit theater performance. Or a flier or brochure for a nonprofit event ("Sponsored by...."). But there is also no question when you look at those printed materials, at least the ones that are well-designed, that the focus of the material is the content, not the advertising. In addition, note that you probably won't see advertising on a brochure that lists an organization's health services or an organization's annual report.

As a nonprofit organization, the purpose of your web site is to reach out to potential and current clients/customers/program participants, volunteers and donors, as well as to educate the press, elected officials, other organizations, the general public - even the surrounding neighborhood. Your web site isn't just to get new clients or donors; it's also supposed to build your organization's credibility. As a nonprofit organization, an NGO, even a government or public sector agency, you are a mission-based organization. Advertising on your nonprofit or NGO web site easily takes away from that web site purpose, as well as your mission. It also encourages people to leave your web site!

Online ads can negatively affect your nonprofit organization's credibility: one Pro-Choice site I visited had monetized its blog with Google Adsense, and all the ads were for anti-choice organizations, making it difficult to tell what the blogger actually stood for. I have visited web site for NGOs that are supposed to be helping poor women in a developing country and was greeted with ads for mail order brides.

I think most of the material on a nonprofit or an NGO web site - and a government web site, for that matter - is far too precious for advertising, and I don't allowed such on nonprofit organization's web sites I have managed.

When would I bend my no-advertising rule? In these narrow circumstances:

In all of these cases, advertisers are vetted, and its clear to anyone visiting the page that the listings are there because the businesses paid a fee. Such online advertising should never be open-ended; it should be up for renewal in three, six, nine or 12 months.

Even if you are not a nonprofit company, NGO or government agency - you're a for-profit business and you are focused on making money - remember that advertising on your web site should never draw the reader's focus away from the content so much that the advertising dominates the page. Ads need to be placed carefully on a web site, without interfering with your content. You don't want your web site confused with those sites that masquerade as produced by some helpful individual or organization but are, in fact, online ad farms; they are set up only to generate advertising revenue, with rather general text that is rarely updated.

On a personal note: My consulting business is not a nonprofit. Even so, I've been careful about online advertising, because I don't want my web site to ever be confused with an ad farm, or to give a visitor a reason to click off the site after looking at just one page. The primary purpose of most of my web pages is to promote me, as a consultant and an expert, and in many cases, online advertising would take away from that. That's why I do not monetize my blog at all either. That said, I do use Google Adsense and Amazon Associates on a set of pages on my site targeted specifically at volunteers and potential volunteers, rather than my primary target audience: nonprofits, NGOs, and government/public sector agencies, as well as corporations that want to engage in community-betterment programs. I set up these monetized pages because I got tired of responding to the same messages from volunteers and potential volunteers again and again: how do I volunteer, how do I find community service to fulfill a court order, how can I find funding for volunteering overseas, how can I volunteer in Japan/Haiti/latest disaster site, etc. I could have simply stopped responding to those questions, but decided I'd continue to offer the help and make money from such as well. It's a gamble, but so far, it's paid off. I update my Adsense settings constantly in an effort to keep the advertising appropriate - something an ad farm doesn't do. Note just how different these pages look from the rest of my web site - also an effort to distinguish these money-making pages from the rest of my site, which have a completely different purpose.

Also see: Web policies and security for nonprofit organizations

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