Free PSA Advertising for Nonprofits Continues to Surge

This article appeared in the May 26, 2022 issue of Nonprofit Pro.

Free PSA Advertising for Nonprofits Continues to Surge

By Steven Edelman

It’s spring. Birds are chirping, flowers are growing and television stations are airing more Public Service Announcements (PSAs) than at any time in history.

Based on information provided by Nielsen, the marketing research company known for its television ratings, PSA airings in the first four months of 2022 grew by 8%, compared to the same period a year ago – and increased by a remarkable 60% compared to the same four-month period just five years ago.

This growth continues a trend that Nielsen has seen developing over the past five years, as television stations and networks increased their donations of free advertising time to nonprofit organizations that air PSA campaigns.

For nonprofit organizations, trade associations and government agencies, this growing abundance of available free advertising time has been of great help in delivering their messages to large national audiences.

Nielsen has been showing steady annual PSA airing increases for years, as shown in the chart below, with PSA airings up by 13% in 2018, 9% in 2019, 3% in 2020 and 12% in 2021. Only starting in March 2020 — when the nation was hit by COVID-19 and stations turned to running special health messages — did PSA airings grow by just 3%. However, in 2021, as station activities returned to normal, Nielsen saw the growth in PSA airings make up for lost time – increasing by 12% for the full year and bringing the full-year increase for the five years since 2017 to a staggering 50%.

Yet, the news about this five-year surge in PSA usage has surprised many industry analysts. Some attributed it to the growth in cable networks such as Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, ESPN and a multitude of new regional cable sports channels. Others have suggested that it was due to the emergence of digital networks (known as “Diginets”), introduced when over-the-air stations switched to digital broadcasting formats.  Still others believe the growth in streaming and connected television, which has started to attract advertising time away from broadcast television, has driven the cable network growth. The answer is probably that all have combined to make more free advertising time available today than at any time in history to help nonprofits reach large national audiences.

Today, according to Nielsen, stations and networks are donating over 1 million free airings a month to nonprofit organizations. In a typical month, stations are running almost 1,000 PSA campaigns; these campaigns received 12.4 million Nielsen detected airings in 2021, up from 8.8 million in 2017. This does not include any airings that stations provided to the Ad Council, whose information is not publicly available.

The total estimated value of the free donated advertising time made available by stations and networks is over $2 billion annually – and could well exceed $4 billion when donated advertising received by the Ad Council is included. These are known as “in-kind” donations, which represent donations of services rather than money made to qualified 501C (3) nonprofit organizations and 501C (6) trade associations to help them to fulfill their missions and communicate with the communities they serve.

Free Public Service Announcement advertising is a uniquely American practice. It is not something broadcasters are required to do. This makes it a special opportunity for not-for-profit organizations who chose to take advantage of it.


Steven Edelman is the president of Connect360 Multimedia, a leading distributor of Public Service Announcements and a digital marketing company that works exclusively with nonprofit organizations, trade associations and agencies of the federal government. Steve has published numerous articles about accounting and compliance issues related to PSAs. He is a member of the nonprofit committees of the American institute of CPAs and the New York State Society of CPAs.

About The Author

Steven Edelman

Steve Edelman is a Partner and President of Connect360. He is a leading expert on the measurement, valuation, and financial reporting of Public Service Announcements by not-for-profit organizations.

About Connect 360

Connect360 is a leading media placement agency driving measurable results for some of Charity Navigator’s highest-ranked nonprofits, well-known associations, government agencies and public relations/marketing firms.

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