Why typical advertising has no impact on nonprofit marketing

At Non-Profit Humour, a strangely familiar tale of a nonprofit organization that was lulled into a state of stupidity by an ad agency: Advertising campaign reaches Mrs. Betty Turner, 93, and 17,678 people who don’t care.

In this satire — and despite the realism, it is satire — an organization runs a meaningless awareness campaign that costs a lot and has absolutely no impact:

The campaign, which lasted an entire week, was seen by an estimated 17,679 people and many hundreds of cats and dogs. Since the Foundation’s website doesn’t have web metrics Snidely says they couldn’t actually tell whether the ad campaign had any impact, but she’s optimistic that the ads made a big impression on the public.

It’s all too common. A nonprofit is persuaded that “awareness” is a powerful thing. So they develop a multimedia campaign built on abstract concepts (sometimes including opaque wordplay and/or weirdly photoshopped images). After paying the agency for developing the ads, there’s little budget left, so the impacts are spread thin.

The agency then counts “impacts” — which means how many people might have seen or heard the campaign: If the publication running an ad has a circulation of 15,000, that’s 15,000 impacts. Never mind that the huge majority didn’t see the ad at all, they merely had access to it. And if that ad is abstract and lacks a clear challenge or call to action, even most who see it will be unaffected by it; it’s just more noise in their noisy days.

Counting impacts yields pretty big numbers, so they report the large number as if it has any kind of meaning, creating visions of 15,000 people who are now fanatical supporters, when in reality, there are zero new supporters, and awareness was raised in about three people — like the woman in the story who was hit by a falling billboard.

If you’re serious about recruiting people to join you in your cause, you will not waste time or money on vague awareness campaigns. You’ll do measurable, donor-oriented marketing that actually brings supporters in the door.


Comments

4 responses to “Why typical advertising has no impact on nonprofit marketing”

  1. If you justify the spend with ‘awareness’, it just means you did not make any money!
    It is not hard to have your ad seen by thousands of people, anyone can do that. It is getting the interest and the conversion where these agencies lack the skills because they deal with corporate who just want to be ‘seen’ all day to create ‘awareness’.

  2. If you justify the spend with ‘awareness’, it just means you did not make any money!
    It is not hard to have your ad seen by thousands of people, anyone can do that. It is getting the interest and the conversion where these agencies lack the skills because they deal with corporate who just want to be ‘seen’ all day to create ‘awareness’.

  3. Hi Jeff. I’ve been reading your posts. If typical advertising has no impact on nonprofit marketing, and (if I can remember well), you mentioned that social media isn’t that good for fundraising as well. What should be the best way for me to promote my fundraising website? I don’t have money to pay for campaigns and my option is just social media. If these two isn’t that good for promotion, what should I do? Thanks for the posts. I hope for your reply.

  4. Hi Jeff. I’ve been reading your posts. If typical advertising has no impact on nonprofit marketing, and (if I can remember well), you mentioned that social media isn’t that good for fundraising as well. What should be the best way for me to promote my fundraising website? I don’t have money to pay for campaigns and my option is just social media. If these two isn’t that good for promotion, what should I do? Thanks for the posts. I hope for your reply.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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