Web Sites Donate Ad Space for Social Good

Publishers With a Purpose Offers Online Inventory to Nonprofits

By Published on .

Allison Mooney
Allison Mooney
Nonprofits and causes in need of ad inventory can look to Publishers With a Purpose to help them spread their message for free.

Now that President Obama has issued a call to arms for activism, some are forgoing traditional volunteer opportunities, and instead picking up the tools of their trades to lend a hand. So rather than work in a soup kitchen, say, they might design a Web site. The thinking is that their professional services are more valuable than their soup-ladling skills.

Businesses are catching on to this concept as well, choosing to donate some of the value they create. A new consortium called Publishers With a Purpose is encouraging Web site publishers to pledge 5% of their total ad inventory to selected nonprofits and social causes, with the shared goal of simply doing good.

"The big idea is to bring together like-minded publishers that want to give back, but have limited time and question how effective their individual efforts can be," says Mark Mangan, CEO of Flavorpill, who conceived the project. In addition to Flavorpill, the effort counts more than two dozen top independent blogs, sites and e-mail magazines as members, such as Gothamist, Gawker, Pitchfork and PSFK. Their goal is to raise both awareness and money for worthy organizations, which currently include the Alliance for Climate Protection, Architecture for Humanity, Charity:Water, Donors Choose, Electronic Frontier Foundation and National Resources Defense Council.

"Nonprofits and social causes need to raise awareness of their work," Mr. Mangan says. "However, advertising -- both online and off -- can be cost-prohibitive for them. So we've developed a group of forward-thinking publishers to donate a percentage of their ad inventory. Even one of these sites doing this would be significant but, across the network, we're estimating around 40 million monthly impressions will be served for free."

The effort is similar to Google Grants, a program that helps organizations with a 501c3 status promote their Web sites via Google AdSense. Organizations that receive a Google Grant (there are currently more than 4,000) are awarded an online advertising account, which they can use for general outreach, activities and recruitment of volunteers. So far the program is seeing results: U.S. Fund for UNICEF's e-commerce site, Shop UNICEF, experienced a 43% increase in sales over the previous year, while CoachArt, has seen a 60% to 70% increase in volunteers.

Publishers With a Purpose is hoping to affect the same kind of measurable change. "By all agreeing on a handful of great causes and standardizing the work of getting ad creative," Mr. Mangan says, "we can – hopefully -- move the needle a little bit for these organizations -- that is our goal."

Whether this idea will catch on with larger publishers and ad networks remains to be seen, but it sounds like a great way to further corporate social responsibility efforts. While there may not be a direct ROI, there is certainly a halo effect. Right or not, ads say something about a site's content. Ads for causes they support can help publishers both do good and look good doing it.

Allison Mooney is VP-director of trends and insights at MobileBehavior, an Omnicom Group company, and runs its blog, Next Great Thing. She is a regular contributor to Ad Age's Digital Next.
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