Awareness: the rising tide that lifts all boats

There’s a concern among some that the more ubiquitous your cause, the more people think it’s already solved, or that someone else will solve it.  These folks will talk do you about donor fatigue, resting your file, or sticking to certain times of year to make your splash.

But it turns out that the more aware someone is of your non-profit, the more likely they are to donate to it.  This not only makes sense (there is no point at which Coke will stop making you aware of Coke), but it’s backed up by research.

You must be a bit clever to study whether awareness impacts donation rates.  After all, someone who is more aware of your nonprofit because they are a donor, not the reverse.  So researchers Smith and Schwartz manipulated how much people thought they knew about an organization’s mission.  They asked subjects questions about what they had read about a charity.  There were two sets of questions: an easy one and a hard one.  The people who got the easy set of questions thus thought they knew more about the subject.

Those donors who “knew more” were more likely to donate.  In other words, awareness led to increased donations and revenue.

This is a large part of why we advocacy for media efforts like PSA campaigns.  These campaigns literally increase a person’s willingness to donate.

However, with this knowledge comes a change in what the person is willing to support.  If people thought they knew all about the charity and its aims (that is, they got the easy questions), they were less likely to want to invest in the charity’s efforts to raise awareness.

So, if you are a well-known charity and issue area, you want to ask people to donate to your programmatic activities.  If you are a lesser-known charity, you might want to ask people to donate to your efforts to raise awareness.

This has two big implications:

  • What got you here won’t get you there.  In the infancy stage of a nonprofit, it is acceptable simply to point at a problem and say “this is a problem; we need to get more people like you to acknowledge the problem.”  However, as nonprofits mature and people are aware of the issue the cause represents, you need either to adjust your fundraising efforts to focus on what you are doing to solve the problem or to find more obscure areas of its cause to reenergize your donor base.
  • Different strokes for different folks.  This study found substantially different donation rates to different messages just by asking a couple of questions up front that made people confident in (or doubt) their knowledge of the organization.  Since you have people on your file with all sorts of different knowledge levels of your organization (and perceived knowledge levels), you want to be asking different things for different people.

    Specifically, this would tend to indicate a difference between your acquisition and donor messages.  People who are your supporters know you and your issues (or, at least, think they do).  They don’t want to support awareness activities for things they think people already know about.  On the other hand, people who are new to your organization may be willing to chip in to help spread the word.

So, the short version:

  • Awareness helps raise all fundraising efforts
  • People who know you don’t want to pay to help other people know you
  • Differentiated messages work based on the donors’ knowledge of your organization

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