Using Google Ads and Meta advertising to recruit remote volunteers

In 2022-23, 17 heritage organisations took part in the Digital Volunteering programme that was funded as part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Some of these organisations used Google and Meta (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp) advertising to recruit volunteers to work remotely on digital projects. This ‘how to’ guide shares the process, learning and challenges of using Google and Meta Ads to recruit volunteers.

Image by Mariia Shalabaieva on Unsplash

Using Google Ads and Meta advertising to recruit remote volunteers

1. Project background

In 2022-23, 17 heritage organisations were funded through the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Digital Skills for Heritage initiative to deliver digital volunteering projects. Some organisations recruited volunteers to work remotely on digital activity, doing everything from online transcription to geotagging.


2. Recruitment

Organisations used online advertising tools Meta (serving platforms including Facebook and Instagram) and Google Ads (serving its Google search platform, YouTube and Gmail) to recruit remote volunteers. They employed these tools alongside more traditional digital marketing methods such as newsletters to email lists and social media.

Primary motivations for advertising through Meta and Google Ads included:

  • Reaching a larger pool of prospective applicants.
    The reach of both tools is billions of users. They are a vast international volunteer marketplace, and significantly larger than existing organisational or sector networks.
  • Targeting specific types of applicants.
    Google Ads and Meta are powerful tools that enable advertisers to specify the types of user your advert will reach. For example, particular age demographics; volunteers with exact skills and interests; volunteers living in priority geographical areas.
  • Project efficiency.
    These tools are designed to be simple to use and monitor, saving projects time, energy and budget.
  • Internal stakeholders
    Staff who worked with these tools included marketing teams, project officers/managers.


3. Digital technology and costs

There are a number of step-by-step guides available through Google Ads and Meta to support organisations to create an advertising campaign:

The cost of using each platform is dependent upon the aims and budget of the organisation. Both platforms are designed to be flexible, easy to use and support organisations to tightly control what they are prepared to spend.

Currently, the platforms function slightly differently with regards how you can allocate a budget.

Meta Ads lets you set daily budgets (an average amount you are willing to spend every day over the entire ad campaign) or lifetime budgets (budget for the full campaign), whereas Google Ads campaigns only use daily budgets—except for video campaigns.

Organisations ‘pay-per-click’, meaning each time an advert is clicked by a user it subtracts an amount from the available budget.  

Pricing example

Royal Horticultural Society, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to deliver a digital volunteering project, sought to recruit over 200 remote volunteers to geotag and transcribe records from their collection. On Google Ads they set up a maximum budget of equivalent to £40 per day for the first week. On Meta, their daily budget was £40 per day for the first week. They increased these totals to £80 per day for week two to reach more users. The organisation recruited over 200 remote volunteers within a month. The total spend for the campaign across both platforms was just under £2,000.


4. Campaign stages

1. Define the aim/s of your recruitment campaign
Set a goal for the numbers of remote volunteers you seek to recruit. Agree where appropriate the types of volunteer you wish to prioritise. These would ordinarily relate to the core aims of your project. For example, do you want to engage those with specialist skills or subject knowledge? Those with no previous heritage experience? Young women? Coastal communities of the UK?

2. Research both platforms and their functionality
Understand the targeting options (e.g. geography, age, keywords that align with hobbies and interests) available through Google Ads and Meta. You may prefer to use one, or both.

For example, you could target people living in the same region as your museum but not within 25 miles of it, who are aged between 18-35, and who have expressed an interest in themes relating to fossils, dinosaurs or archaeology.

3. Agree the budget
Before setting daily limits on expenditure for each platform you should finalise your overall internal project budget. The more ambitious the campaign, the bigger the budget.

4. Set up the campaign
Following the step-by-step guides (see ‘Digital technology and costs’ above) create your campaign. This should not be overly time-consuming. If this is your first campaign, create a daily limit for the initial week of your campaign to ensure you can review performance and tailor the campaign appropriately.

5. Monitor and respond
Both platforms provide easy-to-use analytics tools to track impact. Good practice suggests you should monitor how successfully your first week generated clicks and ultimately interest in signing up to volunteer. If your first week was unsuccessful, consider adjusting the keywords within each platform to enable you to reach different users. Continue this iterative process ideally until the recruitment goal is achieved or the budget is spent.


5. Key learnings

Meta can better match you with individuals whose traits and interests align with heritage volunteering opportunities

Google Ads and Meta offer lots of the same capabilities but there are specific differences in the functionality they offer.

Feedback from Digital Volunteering projects was that Meta (specifically Instagram) was generally more effective in delivering targeted engagement with those interested in heritage volunteering. It was deemed more able to match specific volunteering opportunities with behaviours, interests and hobbies of individuals. For example, campaigns effectively recruited using keywords including local history, landscapes, volunteering, gardening, maritime history, horticulture, creative writing.

Compelling images and succinct messaging is key

There are countless articles advising on how to design the right advert on Google and Meta through the right images and calls to action. Heritage organisations should consider how they creatively  use images of their assets (collections, venues, events) to create the right adverts. What was deemed effective from Digital Volunteering projects was messaging that conveyed a sense of novelty and uniqueness to the opportunity (eg. uncovering hidden history of XXXX, digitise historical objects lost in a shipwreck). More generic or overly specific messaging will be ignored in a sea of advertising space.

Be informative, responsive and personal

Unlike digital volunteer recruits who sign up for the opportunity through your mailing list or social media, digital volunteers arriving through a click on Meta or Google Ads may have limited to zero knowledge of your organisation. Ensure that the registration process directs users to a well designed landing page that supports them to find out more about the opportunity quickly, what the likely time frame will be before a member of staff contacts them – and ideally when a member of the team will reach out to new recruits within a few days. If you leave them confused or waiting, they’ll disengage fast.


6. Key challenges

Poorly targeted adverts won’t work

Be mindful that launching an advert in Google or Meta is an ongoing process of review and adaptation. You need to check in to your reporting tools to see which keywords/targeting methods have not been successful, and which were more effective. At key stages (for example, weekly) be ready to adjust your targeting with different keywords, or more flexible geographic restrictions.

Some level of digital expertise will help

While Google and Meta advertising tools are designed to be accessible to all levels of users, projects who delivered campaigns with the support of experienced digital marketing professionals more confidently set up and evolved their campaigns. There are a range of networks including Arts Marketing Association to provide contacts and support if required.

Allocate budget to digital advertising

The potential reach and targeting capabilities of these tools cannot be understated. The heritage sector does not provide a free alternative to a digital volunteer marketplace. The majority of Digital Volunteer projects had not allocated a digital advertising budget at the outset. If you have an ambitious goal to engage larger numbers of targeted volunteers, you should budget accordingly and include it funding bids.


7. Useful links


More help here

A large garden greenhouse with house plants

Transcribe, geotag and research horticultural heritage collections

The Royal Horticultural Society’s Digital Dig is a virtual volunteering project, with more than 165 volunteers helping the UK uncover and document its hidden horticultural history. The project has helped uncover and document hidden horticultural history through three distinct volunteering programmes: Transcribers, Geotaggers and Digital Ambassadors and has created digital resources that will make this previously inaccessible collection widely available to online users.

Screenshot of heatmap of new archaeological sites in Devon

Image analysis for heritage mapping, using open-access software and remote sensing data

New technology allows us to discover and map previously unknown examples of archaeological sites. Working with a team of 60+ volunteers, the Unlocking Landscapes project used open-access software and remote sensing data to undertake a systematic search for new archaeological sites across all 638 parishes of Devon and Cornwall.

Red topped mushroom in woodland

Recruit and manage digital volunteers to deliver data analysis projects

Plantlife International is a wild plant and fungi conservation charity. It’s four-year project Building Resilience in South West Woodlands (2018-2022) raised awareness of Atlantic woodlands across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, as well as undertaking important management works to ensure the conservation of these habitats. As part of this project hundreds of 360-degree (fisheye) photographs were taken across several project sites. Digital volunteers were recruited to undertake the data analysis work in order for these photographs to be analysed.  This resource shares Plantlife’s journey in recruiting and managing these volunteers and their data work.


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Published: 2023

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

Please attribute as: "Using Google Ads and Meta advertising to recruit remote volunteers (2024) by John Coburn supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


More help here

Digital Heritage Hub is managed by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Heritage Digital Consortium and The University of Leeds. It has received Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery funding, distributed by The Heritage Fund as part of their Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Digital Heritage Hub is free and answers small to medium sized heritage organisations most pressing and frequently asked digital questions.

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