Why You Don't Really Want Increased Awareness


If you work in marketing or fundraising for a nonprofit, chances are you’ve decided, or been asked, to work toward increased awareness for your organization. On the surface, it usually sounds like a good idea. After all, the more people who know about your cause, the more who will donate, right?

While it’s true that you’ll likely raise more money if more people are aware of your organization, there are three fundamental flaws in limiting your goal setting to increase awareness:

  1. It is difficult and expensive to measure accurately.
  2. It’s not what you’re ultimately after.
  3. It’s a waste of time and money to reach everyone with your message.

How much does the universe weigh?

Trying to measure awareness is much like measuring the weight of the universe.Theoretically speaking, it’s possible. But to do so with any accuracy will take far more time and money than it’s really worth.

Measuring awareness can be accomplished with polls, surveys, and focus groups, but unless you intend to interview every single individual within a given area, you’ll eventually end up calculating an estimate that is only ever going to be “statistically valid” to within a number of percentage points.

You’re probably familiar with this concept from observing public opinion polls and presidential elections. The people making those estimates have far more Ph.D.-wielding statisticians and resources than most nonprofits can afford, and they’re still not always right and often have a confounding margin of error.

Though this may not be what you want to hear, it’s actually OK, because increased awareness isn’t what you’re really after anyway.

Dude, where are we?

Setting a goal of increased awareness is a lot like deciding to go on a road trip without any idea of where you’re going.

Like the aimless road trip, “increased awareness” is only one step in the process, and pursuing it without an end goal in mind may take you places you never wanted to see and cost untold time and money.

Though there are different variations on the same idea, the role of marketing and fundraising is to help as many people as possible advance through four steps: awareness, interest, decision, and action.

In the case of a new donor:

  1. A potential donor becomes aware of your organization.
  2. He or she either already has or develops an interest in your cause.
  3. The prospective donor makes a decision to consider getting involved.
  4. They then become a donor by taking action and making a donation.

Your success in marketing or fundraising is ultimately measured in donations, ticket purchases, services consumed, or whatever actions you’re seeking to encourage.

In general, there’s nothing wrong with seeking increased awareness, but it’s not what you’re ultimately after and shouldn’t be the primary focus of your goal setting.

Stop Wasting Money on Marketing and Fundraising

Remember: Someone must have, or develop, an interest in your organization before they will take action.

Right or wrong, it should come as no surprise that not every single person in your community is interested in your cause. For those who are not inclined to have an interest, no amount of asking will ever convince them to donate in a meaningful way. What’s more, reaching every single person within your community is very expensive, and trying to reach them all would be a waste of time and money.

One of the keys to smart prospecting (or finding new prospective customers, donors, volunteers, staff, etc.) is to target those who are most inclined to be interested in your cause. For example, an animal shelter might target pet owners or partner with a pet store.

You get much more bang for your buck by being strategic about who you target with your message.

Next Steps

The next time someone on your team suggests that you work to increase awareness (or if you already have this goal in place), stop and ask what it is you’re ultimately seeking. Once you’ve determined the ultimate action you want people to take, ask who in your community is most likely to have an interest in your cause, and then focus your efforts there.


Image credit: NSX Club Europe

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