6 min Read
September 12, 2016

Eight ways your attempts to raise awareness will likely fail

Most organizations yearn to have the issues they support front-and-center in the minds of their target audiences. They also want to be viewed as central to the issue: the go-to org for a movement, for example. If you’re planning to raise awareness and increase your nonprofit’s visibility, you’ve got hard work ahead. Here are some of the obstacles to watch out for. With good planning and foresight, you can dodge these potential potholes.

1. Failure to set goals and measure progress

Raising awareness and increasing visibility are abstract concepts that can be hard to measure. (For more on that, check out my earlier post, “What are we raising awareness for, anyway?”) How much awareness and visibility are enough? How will you know when you’ve achieved them and can celebrate accordingly? And once you’ve reached that point, what comes next?

If you’ve taken the time to write down the specific, measureable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.) objectives for your campaign before it launches, you’re already ahead of most nonprofits. Doubly so if you’ve figured out how to measure your objectives with real numbers that will help you know for sure if you’re on track.

Consider qualitative and quantitative metrics that you can benchmark before the campaign and revisit during and afterwards. Maybe 1 out of 100 people claim they’ve heard of you or your issue right now. Your objective might be that by the end of the campaign, 5 out of 100 say they’ve heard of you or your issue. Remember that a sample size of 300 or more is generally considered large enough to be statistically valid, and plan accordingly. We created the Brandraising Benchmark as an affordable way for nonprofits to measure if specific audiences are familiar with them, find their missions personally important, and are likely to donate to help address this, too.

2. Failure to put strategy before tactics

Often, tactics are selected before the team has defined larger goals, explored alternative approaches, and agreed if they’re a good idea in the first place. For instance, you decide to run an ad campaign before you’ve defined how it will be measured, fixed the website the ad campaign points to, or even discussed if advertising is the right approach in the first place.  This generally happens for one of two reasons.

First, your staff and volunteers will naturally gravitate toward the tactics they have expertise with, or those that are most obvious. PR people will want to use media outreach, for instance. People with advertising backgrounds think in terms of ads. Digital folks think in terms of email, social media, and other online channels.

Secondly, Low-Hanging-Fruit-Syndrome kicks in. That’s when nonprofits purchase ads and commit to running an advertising-based awareness campaign because of persistent salespeople offering discounts, for instance. Or you exhibit at a street fair because your staff person’s husband organizes the event. (This is a close cousin of Shiny-Object-Syndrome, where you pick a tactic because your are enamored of a new tool, despite whether or not it is the best use of your limited resources.)

Put pressure on your team to brainstorm multiple approaches that might be effective before you commit to any particular tactics.

3. Failure to grab attention

Humor and controversy are time-honored strategies that help grab attention. Cutting through the clutter takes strength, not a gentle touch. The 2008 Great Schlep campaign is one of my personal favorites, as is this public service announcement, not approved by AJWS.

Some of the most exciting and cost-effective awareness-raising efforts are unexpected and nontraditional. Remember the ice bucket challenge?

4. Failure to connect and inspire

Once you grab attention, move your audiences toward action by inspiring feelings in them, not lecturing. The Love Has No Labels campaign, created by the Ad Council, does this brilliantly.

If you’re sending organization-centric messages to try and inspire people, you’ve fallen into this pitfall. Instead, use copy/imagery that inspires and feels personal and audience-centric, not like the usual boilerplate. You’ll know you’re heading in the right direction if the word “you” dominates, not “we” or “us”.

Creating audience personas that you reread and regularly assess your own writing and graphics against is another useful device to make sure you’re speaking their language, not yours. Rereading Big Duck’s user personas before and after every blog I write helps me write and refine with much greater clarity and purpose.

5. Failure to convert

Your campaign should have a clear call-to-action (CTA) that outlines a simple step your audience will take to advance your goal. Capturing their email is the holy grail: it’s a great way to measure that you’ve converted someone from ‘unaware’ to ‘aware’, and it gives your nonprofit a way to build a relationship. Give people something meaningful in exchange for their email or they won’t have motivation to sign up. Ebooks, videos, and other useful, free ideas are tried-and-true ways to do that. Take a look at our Rebrand Effect ebook sign up, as an example of a helpful resource and a smart way to get signups (or so we think!)

6. Failure to engage

Great! You got their email address! Now what? Too many organizations put all their time and effort into the launch of the campaign and fail to think through what happens after someone converts. Be sure to map out the next steps, starting with an engaging welcome series or drip campaign, before you launch. Those voices in Field of Dreams were wrong: just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. Using cookies and automated email marketing systems like Hubspot, Pardot, Act-On and others make it possible to engage people ways that feel personalized but require limited hands-on time once they’re set up. Call us if you need help. (Did you catch that CTA?)

7. Failure to sustain your focus

If your team isn’t consistently focused on the campaign, over time the people who’ve become watching will slip back down the ladder of engagement, and you’ll be back where you started. That’s a total waste. If you forget about your audiences, they’ll forget about you.

After your campaign launches, your focus should shift toward monitoring, sustaining, and optimizing the campaign over time. Be sure your campaign has the staff attention and funding necessary to keep it on track until you reach your objectives. Typically, this will be over years, not months; set expectations accordingly.

8. Failure to celebrate!

I hate to be a downer, so let’s end on a high note. As you make progress, sharing results along the way will help keep your team motivated. Provide regular ‘report back’ presentations at leadership team or board meetings, for instance. Surface the lessons you’ve learned so they can be used to benefit other projects, too. Keep coming back to, and reporting against, the objectives you set in your campaign brief. Track results in the most measureable terms possible, then share insights anecdotally. You might even post results in social media, your blog, or other forums too, encouraging those who’ve taken action to see themselves as part of the larger community and feel even better about their commitment to you and your cause. And bonus points to those of you who report back to your community. Those activists, donors, and program participants will be even more motivated to take action the next time you ask if they feel part of your success.