4 min Read
December 13, 2017

The real reason your organization isn’t well-known

Too many organizations feel they are a “best kept secret” or “hidden gem”. They’re doing great work, but never seem to get beyond their own inner circle. To solve this problem, organizations try to raise awareness about their work. While raising awareness is important—it’s just the first step. We become aware of lots of things and then they slip away again, fading from memory as soon as the next big thing comes along.

To build an enduring brand, you’ve got to get on people’s radar and stay there. You’ve got to build mindshare.

Mindshare is a term used to describe the level of awareness that a product, program, service, or business has in people’s minds. It’s closely related to Positioning, which is the single idea you strive to establish with your target audiences. Mindshare is less about what people think about your nonprofit and more about how much they think of you. If they aren’t thinking about you much, you lack mindshare.

For-profit businesses regularly engage in these practices to establish and maintain mindshare:

  • Repeatedly running the same commercial in one hour of television
  • Retargeting ads for products you’ve checked out in other media
  • Advertising or marketing in attention-grabbing ways (for example, taking over an entire subway car, creating a three-dimensional billboard sign, or creating a controversial ad)
  • Sending you catalogs or emailing you regularly

The point of establishing and maintaining mindshare, for a for-profit business, is to be top-of-mind when it’s time for someone to purchase that company’s products or services. For nonprofits, the point of building mindshare is to be top-of-mind when your target audiences need your services or are looking to support the type of work that you do.

Ask yourself these questions to get a sense of who’s built mindshare successfully with you:

  • If there’s a natural disaster and you wanted to donate to the relief efforts, which organizations would come to mind first?
  • If you wanted to become a volunteer in an animal shelter what organizations websites would you think to look on first?
  • If you wanted to support cancer or other disease/disorder research which organizations would occur to you to support?

Of course, many people will dig deeper before supporting the first organization that comes to mind. But since 61% of people prefer to give to well-known nonprofits, not necessarily the ones that are most effective, mindshare really does count.

Most nonprofits don’t invest in the types of tactics for-profits use because they can’t afford them, they’re not sure where to start, or they lack the staff capacity to manage it. Instead, many organizations launch discrete campaigns that generate some awareness and action, but over time, mindshare slips away because it’s not reinforced when the campaign ends.

Here are a few ways to build your nonprofit’s mindshare:

Build a clear brand. If you’re not clear what you’re trying to communicate about your organization (not just the work you do) then, chances are, your audiences won’t be, either. Start by defining what you want to communicate, getting aligned around that, then leverage it to build mindshare.

Create evergreen campaigns. Most nonprofits create fundraising and other campaigns that have a short shelf-life, meaning they run only for a few weeks or months. Consider exploring themes that you can use for a longer period of time and keep it alive. This is particularly true for recruitment campaigns.

Embrace repetition. Many messages are more likely to build mindshare than just one. If you’re advertising, spend your money on multiple ads rather than one big one as a rule. Email regularly. Remain active on social media. Worried they’ll get sick of you and jump ship entirely? Watch your analytics regularly to track opt-out rates, spam complaints, conversion rates, and other metrics that will indicate you’ve gone too far. Be sure to compare them to industry benchmarks.

Track it. Mindshare is a key component of brand awareness. You can measure it a number of ways, including public opinion polling, surveying, and more. Big Duck’s Brandraising Benchmark is one low-cost option for national nonprofits. To track it, you’ll need to pick a surveying methodology you have the capacity to repeat regularly, ideally every 1-2 years, so you can measure if it’s going up or down.

Don’t be afraid to market. Some organizations are fearful of engaging in activities that feel too much like traditional marketing because it feels false or “salesy”. If you develop a brand that’s authentic and true, then communicating regularly in order to build mindshare shouldn’t go against your organization’s values. Help your leadership understand that it’s a critical step to raising your visibility, especially with donors and prospects.

This piece on the 8 ways your attempts to raise awareness will likely fail might also help.