How the big lie about “raising awareness” can sink your fundraising

Wouldn’t you love it if every prospective donor to your organization had already heard of you, knew what you do, and believed you to be effective, efficient, and honest?

Your fundraising campaigns would go better. Right?

Of course that’s true. It’s the truth behind one of the biggest lies that bedevil fundraising:

“You need to raise awareness before you can raise funds.”

Lies that have truth behind them are the most dangerous, because they’re the most believable.

And this one is a lie, as noted by Tom Ahern, at HOAX! “Raising awareness” unmasked:

“Raising awareness” is a passive, wait-and-see, hope-and-pray approach to fundraising. Non-specialists love it. Lazy people love it. Board members who want to be helpful love it. Board members who want to put off their fundraising duties as long as possible love it.

The problem with raising awareness is that it’s not really any easier (that is, cheaper) than raising funds. So you may spend a bundle and, with luck and skill, successfully increase the awareness of a group of people. But you still don’t have any revenue. You still have to spend the fundraising money to get that. In the end, the “raise awareness, then raise funds” formula amounts to spending twice as much to get about the same amount of revenue.

Because those “aware” people you reached first time around don’t turn out to be meaningfully more likely to donates.

In fact, in some cases, audiences that have been targeted with awareness messages sometimes become less responsive than ones who don’t. (Why does that happen? Just take a look at Stupid Nonprofit Ads and you’ll see why.)

Fundraising is hard. Doubling your spend doesn’t make it any easier.


Comments

2 responses to “How the big lie about “raising awareness” can sink your fundraising”

  1. Raising awareness is critical wen looking for new donors. Certainly your focus needs to be one getting donations from your current supports rather than raising awareness.
    If they aren’t aware of what you’re doing and feel a connection surely they wouldn’t be a donor, right?

  2. Raising awareness is critical wen looking for new donors. Certainly your focus needs to be one getting donations from your current supports rather than raising awareness.
    If they aren’t aware of what you’re doing and feel a connection surely they wouldn’t be a donor, right?

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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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