Awareness survey reveals the painful truth: Nobody has ever heard of you

It’s kind of discouraging.

Recent polling of people’s awareness of nonprofits by Grey Matter Research — see topline results here — basically show that hardly anyone (including active donors) is aware of nonprofits at all.

The survey asked American adults to name the first nonprofit that comes to mind for them (excluding any local place of worship). Here’s what happened:

Brand All Americans Active Donors Non-donors
American Red Cross 20% 19% 22%
The Salvation Army 11% 14% 7%
The United Way 4% 5% 3%
Goodwill Industries 4% 5% 3%
St. Jude Children’s Hospital 3% 4% 1%
ASPCA 3% 2% 4%
Habitat for Humanity 2% 2%
YMCA 2% 2% 2%
American Cancer Society 2% 2% 2%
Susan G. Komen 2% 2% 2%
American Heart Association 1% 2% 1%
Catholic Charities 1% 1%
Humane Society 1% 1% 1%
March of Dimes 1% 1%
PETA 1% 1%
All others 20% 23% 15%
Can’t determine the specific organization 7% 7% 7%
Not actually a non-profit 2% 4%
Can’t think of any 15% 7% 24%

Only two organizations broke into double-digits. Most sat at one or two percent or less. The top four, and the majority of the rest, have physical presences in most US communities, which is probably the key to widespread awareness. Widespread being defined as 1% or more.

Some of the organizations on this list (and many more who couldn’t even claw their way into the one-percents at the lower end of it) have spent immense amounts of time and money on “awareness” campaigns. In most cases, they bought snake oil from internal or external experts who told them making more people aware of them was a darn good investment that would pay off in stronger fundraising results.

Do you think anybody moved from 1% to 2% because of an awareness campaign? That would be a stunning success. I doubt it.

I’ll guess the most successful awareness campaigns moved someone’s awareness level from 0.966% to a commanding 0.968%

Despite all this discouraging news, thousands of intrepid nonprofits are managing to raise a lot of money. Hundreds of billions of dollars. They don’t do it with “awareness.” They do it by targeting the right people with specific calls to action. Do that, and you’ll always be well-funded. Even if the percentage of Americans who say they know you is painfully small.


Comments

6 responses to “Awareness survey reveals the painful truth: Nobody has ever heard of you”

  1. Hi Jeff, big fan of yours but I think you’ve misread the data when you say that “hardly anyone … is aware of nonprofits at all.” It’s not saying that only 20% of Americans have heard of American Red Cross, just than 20% would name them as the non-profit that is foremost in their mind. Similarly for the small charities, just because only 1% of Americans would name your charity as the foremost in their mind doesn’t mean that only 1% of Americans know of you at all, so these results aren’t completely apocalyptic.
    According to the data 24% of Americans can’t name a non-profit, which is still obscenely high, but that means 76% of Americans are at least aware of non-profits in some respect.
    Otherwise I agree, segmentation and targeted calls to action is the name of the game!

  2. Hi Jeff, big fan of yours but I think you’ve misread the data when you say that “hardly anyone … is aware of nonprofits at all.” It’s not saying that only 20% of Americans have heard of American Red Cross, just than 20% would name them as the non-profit that is foremost in their mind. Similarly for the small charities, just because only 1% of Americans would name your charity as the foremost in their mind doesn’t mean that only 1% of Americans know of you at all, so these results aren’t completely apocalyptic.
    According to the data 24% of Americans can’t name a non-profit, which is still obscenely high, but that means 76% of Americans are at least aware of non-profits in some respect.
    Otherwise I agree, segmentation and targeted calls to action is the name of the game!

  3. Interesting! Reminds me of a Seth Godin post this year, Macro trends don’t matter so much: http://ow.ly/kDNVR
    “Most non-profits don’t need every new foundation or big donor, they just need a few.
    When you pay attention to the big trends, you’re playing a numbers game and treating the market as an amorphous mass of interchangeable parts. But that’s not what your market is. The trend, for example, is for people to buy and read virtually no books each year. As an author, that doesn’t matter one bit to you, of course. What matters are the 100,000 people who might make your book one of the most popular of the year (that’s only one out of every 3,000 people in the country).”
    In other words, it isn’t a big deal less than 1% of the US population (i.e., 3 million people) think of your nonprofit first. You need far fewer than that to sustain your nonprofit. You need a dedicated tribe of donors who will tenaciously spread awareness to other people who resonate with your message. That’s the “awareness” that matters.

  4. Interesting! Reminds me of a Seth Godin post this year, Macro trends don’t matter so much: http://ow.ly/kDNVR
    “Most non-profits don’t need every new foundation or big donor, they just need a few.
    When you pay attention to the big trends, you’re playing a numbers game and treating the market as an amorphous mass of interchangeable parts. But that’s not what your market is. The trend, for example, is for people to buy and read virtually no books each year. As an author, that doesn’t matter one bit to you, of course. What matters are the 100,000 people who might make your book one of the most popular of the year (that’s only one out of every 3,000 people in the country).”
    In other words, it isn’t a big deal less than 1% of the US population (i.e., 3 million people) think of your nonprofit first. You need far fewer than that to sustain your nonprofit. You need a dedicated tribe of donors who will tenaciously spread awareness to other people who resonate with your message. That’s the “awareness” that matters.

  5. You’re right, we must target the right segments with specific calls to action. But those calls to action must clearly communicate how taking that action will make a difference.

  6. You’re right, we must target the right segments with specific calls to action. But those calls to action must clearly communicate how taking that action will make a difference.

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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.