Make Your Non-Profit Print Ad Pop

by Ben Holse (He/Him)

Rainbow slinky on a pink backdrop

Best Practices for a Non-Profit Print Ad

Whether it’s for Coca-Cola, AARP, or your local 4-H club, the goal of a print ad remains largely the same: get the reader to take an action. That action could be buying more pop, calling Congress, or raising a prize pig. To make that happen, you need to catch people’s attention and then clearly and concisely tell them what you want them to do. A print ad can be expensive, so make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. Below are a few of the best-practices we have used to create advocacy print ads for clients that make an impact. 

Include eye-catching imagery. The first step in promoting your cause is to get your audience to stop flipping pages and take notice of your print ad. One surefire way to make that happen is by employing powerful and arresting imagery. What qualifies as eye-catching? Generally speaking, people tend to engage more with images that have a human face, an unexpected element, or otherwise stand out from the rest of the page. When it comes to using photos of people, make sure they are as authentic as possible. If you can’t get a real-life image of someone impacted by your issue, be careful to choose a stock image that looks authentic and that people in your audience can identify with. If your print ad uses an illustration instead of a photo, you could try something that seems to stick out of the negative space on the page or use bright colors. 

Be short and concise. Even when you’ve grabbed a viewer’s attention, one thing’s for certain, you won’t have it for long. Tempting as it is to list every reason a viewer should embrace your non-profit's cause, remember, the vast majority of viewers will skim your print ad. Make sure the really important points get across. You can accomplish that by sizing the text in your ad so the biggest words are the most important and the smallest words are the least important, that way readers will see what they need to see first and then they can read more if they’re interested. You should always make the call to action—something like “Call Congress today”—and the headline the larger elements on the page. Depending on the size of the ad space you bought, you may also be able to include a few short sentences that create an emotional connection with your audience while informing them about your issue.

Use the common vernacular. When writing copy for your non-profit print ad, use language in your text that the average reader will understand and relate to. Avoid using slang or insider-type words or phrases. We all love word-of-the-day calendars, but your non-profit print ad isn’t where you want to try these words out. Write your copy in a concise, clear way that will be easily understood by your target audience. Also, if your print ad will run outside of where you live, make sure you’re using vocabulary that reflects that geographic area. For example, we say “pop” in Indiana, but people in other states call it “soda”. If a print ad doesn’t feel authentic to the audience it’s speaking to, readers are much less likely to pay attention to it. You might even get some negative backlash on your print ad if it feels culturally tone-deaf to the people who see it.

Have a clear ask. Whether it’s calling Congress or registering your prize pig in the county fair, always keep your “ask” in mind. Make sure it’s crystal clear to your target audience. It should be summed up in a single, clearly worded sentence that is easily identifiable within the ad. You might also want to add some urgency to that ask. If you’re asking people to call Congress, you probably want to ask them to do it “today,” rather than whenever they happen remember later. 

Use branding, but not too much. Make sure your non-profit's logo is prominently displayed in your print ad. A viewer should never have to guess who made the ad. That being said, don’t go crazy. Fourteen variations on your logo in one non-profit print ad is not going to help make it any more recognizable. You also don’t need to make it the largest element on the page. It should be legible, but it doesn’t need to take up as much real estate as your call to action. If you’re working with partner organizations, especially if they are better-known than yours, you’ll want to be sure to include their logos as well.

Once your print ad is all ready to go to the publication, you might want to assess some other aspects of your advocacy campaign to make sure you’re on the right track for 2020. Check out our blog on the difference between advocacy strategy and advocacy tactics here. We’ve made working with advocacy organizations a core part of our business, so you can also reach out to us with any questions here.