Brent Merritt is a digital strategy consultant at Metric Communications and blogger at The Caliper. His work is focused on nonprofits, advocacy, and public affairs.

Digital fundraising professionals face a significant new challenge when it comes to fundraising on Facebook. How do you get your appeals in front of your Facebook audience despite the significant decline in organic reach and the resulting reduction in engagement caused by changes to the News Feed algorithm?

The short answer is, more than ever before, you have to embrace the pay-to-play nature of the platform. The key, though, is doing it in a way that delivers maximum ROI. Running Facebook fundraising ads is an excellent way to reach your target audience and optimize for donations while generating data that allows you to measure your success.

Despite the significant opportunity fundraising ads offer, getting started can be daunting. The Ads Manager interface is not particularly intuitive, and the advertising advice offered by Facebook and third parties is almost always focused on e-commerce rather than nonprofits and advocacy campaigns.

The guide below covers the key steps to running a Facebook fundraising ad campaign from start to finish, including set-up, monitoring and evaluating success after completion. The risk is low, and the potential rewards are great, so be sure to consider testing this channel as part of your next fundraising effort.

1) Set up a conversion event and create a campaign.

The very first step before you even open Ads Manager is to have your web developer set up a conversion event that’s triggered when someone makes a donation on your website. This is absolutely critical because it allows you to set up the right kind of ad campaign, and it also lets Facebook report back on key metrics about your ads, including how many people are giving, and how much.

After your web guru gives the green light, open up Ads Manager and create a new campaign. Select “Conversions” as your marketing objective, name the campaign, then continue on to plan your ad sets. (Note: any fields that aren’t specifically mentioned in this guide should be fine left with their default settings.)

Once you move on to ad sets, one of the first fields you see will ask you to choose a conversion event. Be sure you’ve selected “website,” and when you click into the field, you should be able to select the conversion event your developer created for you.

2) Identify your target audience.

Now that you’ve got the basics done, it’s time to think about who’s most likely to respond to your fundraising ads. A simple approach is to start by showing them to your Facebook fans, a group that’s easy to identify and has already demonstrated an affinity for your cause by liking your page.

To create an audience of all your page fans, start by setting the audience location as “Worldwide.”

Next, in the “Connections” field, select “People who like your Page,” and be sure to type in the name of your page to add it. Leave the rest of the audience fields blank, and using these settings, your ads should reach anyone who likes your page.

If you have an enormous Facebook audience that you want to narrow down a bit, consider using the more advanced approach of creating a Custom Audience. You could, for example, base one on an email list of your past donors to try and reach the most productive segment of your following.

3) Choose your budget and schedule.

Choosing the budget and schedule for your ads can be tricky simply because there’s no clearly defined “right” amount or timeline. There are a few key considerations that should guide your decision making, though.

Perhaps the most important factor in setting your budget is that you want to generate enough data to decide if the financial return from running ads is worthwhile. With this objective in mind, you’ll probably want an absolute minimum of a couple hundred dollars for your budget. This should generate enough data to give you a good sense of your cost per action and ROI.

If you can set a higher budget, go for it. Keep in mind that you’ll be able to monitor your campaign’s performance and turn it off at any time if the ROI dips below the threshold you want to hit. (Don’t pull the plug prematurely, though. Costs often start out higher as Facebook’s algorithm optimizes delivery. At the very least, allow the learning phase to finish before you consider turning off your campaign.)

As far as scheduling, it’s better to err on the side of running your campaign for longer. If you compress too much of your ad spend into a short time period, your ads are more likely to get served to less desirable prospects just because they happen to be on the platform at the right time. To begin with, spread out your spend over a week or two, and Facebook will have an opportunity to show ads to the best prospects when they become available.

4) Design your creative.

The final step before you can publish your campaign is to set up the creative elements of your ad. The simplest way to select an image and ad copy is to pull from what’s worked best in your past communications.

If you’ve run other types of Facebook ads such as page promotion, start by using your top-performing image from previous campaigns. For your copy, consider which appeals have worked best in other digital channels. For example, what messages most effectively drive donations in your email campaigns? The more you can base your creative on past successes, the more effective it’s likely to be.

Once you’ve loaded your graphics and copy, make sure the donation functionality is set up correctly. In the “Website URL” field, enter the link to your website donation page. (If needed, you can confirm with your developer the correct URL to use.) Finally, make sure the “Call to Action” field is set to “Donate Now.” This will populate a donate button directly on your ad.

Now you’re all set to go live. Click the “Review” button at the bottom of the page, and if everything looks good, publish away.

5) Select metrics and monitor campaign performance.

Once your campaign is up and running, spend some time thinking about which metrics you’ll use to monitor your campaign and define success. There are three in particular that you’ll want to pay attention to:

  • Conversion Value is a straightforward measure that tells you the total amount of donations your ads have driven.
  • Cost Per Result tells you how much you’ve spent on average to secure a donation.
  • Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) measures ROI. It calculates how much money you’ve raised for every dollar spent.

It’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on all three of these, but ROAS is the most important. You can have a high Cost Per Result, but if your donors are making large gifts, the return will still be worthwhile. If you don’t see these metrics listed in your Ads Manager dashboard, click the blue plus sign then the “Customize Columns” link to add them.

Here’s what the interface for custom column selection looks like (in this example, a donation is set up as a “Purchase”):

Bonus tip: Run an A/B test.

As you monitor your ad campaign, keep in mind that there’s probably significant room for improvement in the future. If you plan to invest in fundraising ads over time, there’s a good chance you can improve your ROI by A/B testing.

A/B testing is too large a topic to cover in depth here, but it’s one of the most powerful tools Facebook offers for iterating more effective ads and lowering costs. You can test different elements of your campaigns to find the best options, including audience, creative, delivery optimization, and placement. You don’t need to get hung up on this if you’re just getting started, but if you’ll be investing in Facebook ads regularly, A/B testing should absolutely be part of your strategy.

Conclusion: Try, learn, repeat.

If you follow the steps described here you should have no trouble getting your fundraising ads launched and evaluating their performance. For many organizations, Facebook fundraising ads can be an effective tool to cultivate a valuable audience that’s increasingly difficult to reach with organic content.

As with any digital communications effort, the most important thing when you experiment with fundraising ads is to approach it with a mindset of continuous learning. Always be willing to try new things, draw lessons from the data and do even better the next time.

Guest Blogger Bio: Brent Merritt runs Metric Communications as an independent consulting practice focused on digital strategy for advocacy, public affairs, and nonprofits. He helps organizations identify specific, measurable objectives and reach them using data-driven digital communications. His approach is grounded in the view that digital technologies are breaking down the barriers among traditional communication industries, and that successful practitioners must be agile enough to pull from a variety of disciplines.

Brent’s professional experience consists of work in corporate communications, direct marketing, higher ed marketing, and consulting on advocacy and media projects. His analysis of digital media and politics has been published by The George Washington University, The Virginia Mercury, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, MediaShift, and and has appeared in Axios Media Trends.

He holds an M.A. in Media and Strategic Communication from The George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, where he was a University Fellow, and a B.A. from the University of Virginia.

Follow Brent on Twitter @brentmerrittconnect on LinkedInor send a message directly