paper bag

Board Member: I have a great fundraising plan! I know someone at the billboard company and they will let us display billboards in 60 locations around our area, for free!


Staff: Wow, that sounds interesting, what do we have to do? Do we have to pay to create the art and print for all 60 billboards?


Board member: Yes, but it will only to be a couple of thousand and think how many people will see them and how much awareness we can raise and that will bring us money.


Staff: How will they know to how to send in money if they see our name on a billboard as they drive by at 70 mph? Will they be able to see a web address or phone number? How can we find out how many people actually saw the billboard?


Board member: Well, hmmm,not sure, but it will really help us raise awareness about our cause and I think that is important.


Staff: sigh.

Just What Is Awareness Anyway?

Awareness is the ability to directly know and perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns. At  this level of consciousness, awareness can exist by an observer without necessarily implying understanding; it is the state or quality of being aware of something.

Important: Awareness is a relative concept:  it may be focused on an internal state, such as a gut  feeling, or on external events by what you see, hear or feel. Awareness provides the raw material that allows us to form an idea about an experience.

So what does this have to do with fundraising?


Anyone who believe fundraising is a matter of “getting the word out” isn’t really a fundraiser. Or a marketer or advertiser of any kind, or even, of any real, tangible help to your work.


Spray and Pray:


Spraying your message out to the general public under the belief that once they’ve heard what you do, they’ll line up to donate is pure delusion. It doesn’t happen.


Often the stated purpose of a fundraising campaign is to “Raise Awareness about ………”. For those already dealing with a particular issue or cause, they already know. Chances are excellent that their friends,  families and classmates, co-workers and others around them are ‘aware’ of the disorder, as well as need and urgency for change.


Do you think there people out there that don’t know about cancer, or that smoking is bad for your lungs? Do we really not know our natural resources are dwindling far too rapidly or that there are people suffering and starving all over the world, at any given time? To me, raising awareness is a bit insulting. If you care, you know.


The likelihood that someone who knows nothing about your mission will become ‘aware’ and decide to support your work with cash is slim at best as a result of this new awareness. Sure, every now and then some new and unusual issue comes up, and does require attention. But attention does not translate into supporters, sponsors or donors.

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then, but that is not how to manage a fundraising program.


The Ice Bucket Challenge was a hoot and one of the  most historically successful campaigns, but not because its purpose was to raise awareness, the awareness of ALS piggybacked on a what was in reality social media phenomenon.


People give when it is important to them: if it is their family, their community, their values and goals.


People give when you offer a motivating opportunity to them — when you show them a specific way their cash will make the world a better place.


A Few More Strikes Against Raising Awareness:


  • It is a one-way process: ok, you are aware; now what?


  • It is passive process: awareness requires no further effort or action from the awaree.


  • It is and self centered process: it becomes more about your message than the interaction with the donor.

  • It’s a mystery process: how effective was this effort, how much awareness did you raise? How did you calculate that?Did you get more out of it than you spent?

What Works Better:

Successful, ongoing charitable giving, meaning when it works for both donor and organization, is a two-way relationship. It’s never passive, and requires the fundraiser to be as much of a listener as a speaker. The focus must be on what that donor needs to hear to be compelled to engage, not simply stand by and say ‘Wow, I never knew about that before.’


So for those that believe a crucial mission is  to  “let’s get the word out” as their vision for fundraising, let’s really understand what you want to accomplish and help them understand that fundraising is really so much more than ‘raising awareness’.

  • Don’t raise funds for awareness, raise funds to address and solve a problem. Awareness is meaningless outside of itself, is impossible to measure.
  • Create your fundraising program around something that is specific and tangible that can make a step forward.
  • Your goals are interest, engagement and action; set your standards higher that simple awareness.

Would you like to move beyond awareness to engagement and support? Call and let’s get started.


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