Awareness of the Problem > Awareness of the Work


The previous post showed how fundraisers can harness awareness and tension to raise more money.

There’s a key thing to note, and it’s worth taking a whole post to say it well…

You want awareness of the problem your organization exists to solve more than awareness of your organization’s work to solve the problem.

When a nonprofit’s fundraising creates awareness of the problem they are working on, recipients of the fundraising experience tension and are compelled to action.

Note: if causing your donors to experience tension doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, remember that tension is the source of almost all actions taken by humans:

  • If I’m having health problems because of what I eat, I experience tension with what I eat, and I take an action to eat healthier.
  • If I’m wanting a new TV, I experience tension with my current TV, and I take an action to buy a new TV.
  • If I see a family who is losing their apartment because they are caring for a daughter who is in the hospital for several months, I experience tension with that situation, and I send in a gift to help them keep their apartment.

It’s all the same thing.  This type of tension is your friend in fundraising.

So, when a nonprofit creates awareness of the problem that the organization works on, donors experience tension with that situation, and send in a gift to help solve the problem through the nonprofit.

But when a nonprofit creates awareness of the work the organization is already doing on the problem… where’s the tension?

Why would people feel tension?  It sounds like the organization has everything taken care of.  They are helping so many people!  That’s so great!

In your fundraising, make sure you’re raising the right kind of awareness.  If a nonprofit is always and only telling stories about people who have already been helped… you’re raising the less helpful kind of awareness, so you’re raising less money than you could be.

In our experience, the organizations that raise the most money and retain more of their donors have about a 2:1 ratio – they “raise awareness of the problem their organization is working on” about twice as often as they “raise awareness about the work their organization is doing.”

Not All “Awareness” Is Created Equal


Many nonprofits try to increase “awareness” in order to increase the number of new individual donors to their organization.

But not all “awareness” is created equal.

I’ve noticed that there are five distinct types of awareness – and that a couple of the types are far more effective at causing new people to donate.

Type #5 — Awareness your organization exists

This type of awareness comes when potential donors see an organization’s name and logo. It results in very little action and is the least effective form of awareness.

(My basic rule is to never, ever spend money for this type of awareness. For small organizations, even when it’s “free” it’s not worth the time it takes because there are so many more effective ways an organization could be spending its time.)

Type #4 — Awareness of the work your organization is doing

This type of awareness is a little better. Because potential donors see the type of work an organization is doing, the people who are passionate about that work or your beneficiaries are interested.

However, because the focus is on work the organization is already doing, it doesn’t sound like any help is needed. When it doesn’t sound like any help is needed now, fewer people give.

And notice: the person who is now aware has not been asked to give a gift. The organization is completely reliant on the person thinking of giving a gift, seeking out the organization, and then giving a gift. So the chances of them taking action are extremely low.

Type #3 — Awareness of the work that your organization is doing and the person is asked to make a gift to help now

Now things are getting interesting. The person who has just been made aware of what an organization is doing is asked to give a gift. Simply by asking people to give a gift, you’ll increase the number of people who will give.

However, this still won’t produce a lot of gifts, because the focus is on the work the organization is already doing.

Type #2 — Awareness of the problem that your organization works on

This type of awareness usually happens when the media share stories about the problem an organization works on. Think about a news story about the lack of books for local children to read, or a typhoon overseas, or a wetland that’s going to be turned into a shopping mall.

Suddenly, a LOT of people are aware of the problem. And anyone whose heart is touched by the “problem” is emotionally interested in giving a gift to help. Many of those folks will look for organizations that work on that problem and make a gift.

For example, say there’s a story on local news about how children in the area don’t have enough books to read. In that scenario, the local library will receive unsolicited donations from new donors.

Type #1 — Awareness of the problem that your organization works on and the person is asked to make a gift to help now

This is the most effective type of awareness. A potential donor is suddenly aware of a problem that they care about, and in the same moment is asked to give a gift to help.

This type of awareness is reliably the most effective at causing new donors to give donations.

The most successful donor acquisition campaigns are engineered to create this type of awareness:

  • The organization purchases (or earns) people’s attention by buying direct mail lists, Facebook ads, radiothons, half-hour TV shows, etc.
  • They use that attention to make readers / watchers / listeners aware that there’s a problem happening now
  • They then ask the reader / watcher / listener to give a gift to help now.

When you create that magic combination – that a person is aware of the problem and is asked to give a gift to help solve the problem – that’s when you have the biggest successes in acquiring new donors.

Awareness without an Ask is almost always a waste of time and resources.

If you’re a smaller organization, think about this list the next time your organization is asked to consider an idea to “increase awareness.” If you’re going to spend money and/or time, make sure it’s on the types of awareness that are effective at getting new donors.

Before’s & After’s


Our last post was about how the distance between the “before” and the “after” shows the donor the power of their gift.

Speaking of this, I’ve noticed that there are four different ways organizations tend to handle “before’s and after’s,” and each results in different fundraising results…

Only the “Before”

Organizations that share only the “before” – the need that exists in the world before your organization has helped – will raise a lot of money in the short term.

But these organizations have troubles keeping their donors, because their donors never see or feel what their gift accomplished.

This short-term success can be extended to medium-term and even long-term IF the organization has a fantastic donor acquisition program and works on an issue with broad appeal. But it’s not a good strategy for smaller organizations – and I don’t think it’s particularly honoring to beneficiaries or donors.

Only the “After”

If organizations only share the “after” – the positive state after the organization has done its work – the organization will raise less money than it could be raising.

Some donors are motivated just by hearing the “after.” But a lot more donors are motivated by hearing the “before” and the “after.” When the “before” is never shared, a significant percentage of people don’t give, or give less.

A secondary consequence of only sharing the “after” is that organizations accidentally hide the need faced by their beneficiaries.

No “Before” and No “After”

If you share no “before” and no “after,” you also raise less money. This happens when a nonprofit tells donors that the work is happening now, that the work will continue, and asks the donor to “continue to” support the work. There’s no “before.” There’s no “after.”

These organizations accidentally communicate to donors that no change happens when the donor gives – so why should the donor give?

I hope it’s obvious that “why should the donor give?” is a rhetorical question, because the nonprofit is presumably doing good work. This post makes the case for why asking a donor to “continue to” support an organization’s work is one of the least compelling ways to ask for support.

“Before” AND “After”

The organizations where we’ve seen the greatest fundraising success share both the before and the after. They share the bad news and the good news.

When Asking in appeals and e-appeals, they share what’s happening now (the “before”) and what will happen if the donor gives a gift (the “after”).

When Reporting in newsletters, they share what was happening (the “before”) and what’s happening now (the “after”).

The constant contrasting of the “before” and “after” helps a donor see how big an impact their gift to your organization can make, or has made in the past. This is the best strategy, and it provides a strengthening blend of short-term and long-term success.

This strategy honors beneficiaries because it creates awareness of the current situation and of the hopeful future that’s possible. It honors donors by showing them the impact of their generosity.