As the pandemic slowly begins to subside, it’s worthwhile to take stock of how far the nonprofit industry has come. Supporters have by and large been eager to help the causes they love and drive important social missions forward. Despite fatigue and uncertainty, many organizations have been able to meet (and sometimes exceed) their fundraising and engagement goals.
Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, it’s a great time to review your fundraising plans, identify how you can find new ways to re-energize your community and spread awareness of your mission, without asking for more monetary support.
After a long year of pandemic fundraising, many nonprofits are turning to awareness campaigns to help reach new audiences and deepen connections with existing supporters. They are an easy and effective way to rally your entire community together online while growing your mission’s visibility. And they don’t require nonprofit supporters to reach back into their pockets.
Before embarking on an awareness campaign, there are a few best practices to help set you up for success. Here are our four favorite strategies:
- Determine the timing of your awareness day, week, or month.
- Actively foster a sense of community around your mission.
- Start engaging conversations about your mission.
- Centralize and improve your nonprofit’s online experience.
Awareness campaigns can be extremely effective for attracting new donors and boosting the brand awareness for your mission. The key is standing out and captivating supporters’ attention quickly. Let’s dive in.
1. Determine the timing of your awareness day, week, or month.
As you begin planning an awareness campaign, first consider your timing. The calendar is already full of official and unofficial awareness days, weeks, and months devoted to a variety of causes. By aligning your nonprofit’s own awareness campaign with an existing event or campaign, you can tap into the already established momentum and online buzz.
Research upcoming awareness days in 2021. There are tons of existing awareness periods, so determine which can best relate to your organization’s focus. Awareness days can fit into a variety of large buckets, including:
- Environmental Purposes
- Health & Wellness
- Diseases & Disorders
- Community Causes
- Cultural Heritage
Just be sure to put your unique spin on your campaign to reflect one or more specific issues your cause works to combat. Personalizing the campaign to reflect your mission, brand, and giving cultures can help you stand out in today's crowded online world.
If you don't find an existing awareness cause to align with, don’t worry! You can still plan and launch a standalone awareness campaign, essentially making your own special day or week and starting conversations where you see a gap in the calendar.
Just be sure to nail down your core message early. This is similar to crafting a fundraising case for support, but not geared towards asking for donations. Instead, focus on clearly articulating your mission, why it matters, and how your community makes an impact.
2. Actively foster a sense of community around your mission.
During the pandemic, we’ve seen increased public trust in nonprofits, largely generated through community-building and awareness activities. Supporters respect and appreciate organizations that serve as active spokespeople, educators, and stewards for their causes. By launching an awareness campaign, you can increase the visibility of your cause and start impactful conversations with your supporters (more on this next).
A hyper-engaged community is an invaluable asset for any nonprofit. It can create a shared sense of belonging and commitment among your diverse groups of people and supporters. To truly grow your reach and influence, you’ll need to find ways to unleash your passion and impact outside your organization and current base. Think of your cause and your awareness campaign as facilitating community growth as opposed to conducting fundraising.
To foster a sense of community around your mission and awareness campaign, lean into social media. Many peer-to-peer fundraising best practices and outreach tactics that you already use on social media will be helpful. Consider these tried-and-true tips:
- Encourage supporters to share personal messages and post their own stories about what your mission means to them.
- Promote campaign hashtags and ask supporters to tag you in all posts.
- Highlight, share, and like your supporters' stories. “Social proof” is a powerful motivator to attract new supporters and inspire existing champions to take action for your cause.
- Recruit volunteer ambassadors to help promote your campaign and build shared feelings of belonging.
- Launch a competition for prizes, recognition, and rewards to galvanize supporters and motivate them to be your social media army!
And don’t forget your corporate partners! Their resources and reach can help put you in touch with even wider audiences that will already feel a connection to your cause through their relationship with the partner. The world of corporate philanthropy is diverse and flexible, so gauge your partners’ interest once you have clear plans in place for your awareness campaign. Many might appreciate the opportunity to help your cause in new ways that don’t necessarily involve donations and sponsorships.
3. Start engaging conversations about your mission.
The community that you build around your mission and campaign will become more self-sustaining if you start conversations that keep supporters engaged and interested.
Encourage and create opportunities for interaction. Directly engage with supporters in a variety of ways. We already talked about the power of leveraging social media, but think about education, too. Many organizations host virtual discussions or roundtable events as an effective way to facilitate conversations and drive awareness of their missions.
Additionally, consider the range of virtual fundraising ideas you’ve rolled over the past year and think about how they could be adapted for the purposes of starting awareness conversations.
Viral challenges and peer-to-peer tactics are the perfect examples. Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? This awareness campaign’s viral challenge was so successful for two reasons:
- It generated a knowledge gap. When you suddenly see countless videos of people dumping cold water on themselves, you’ll naturally have a few questions. The uniqueness and virality of this challenge raised questions that got new audiences interested to learn more.
- It tapped into social proof. As mentioned above, social media is so powerful for nonprofits because it shows new audiences that their loved ones and colleagues already care about your cause, making it more likely they’ll feel compelled to get involved.
For the best results, look for conversation-starting tactics that bridge the digital and real worlds. Movember’s annual mustache-growing challenge is a great example—a real-world challenge that raises questions from friends and family, who can then be directed to learn more from the posts and pictures that the participant shares online.
And even if mustaches don’t fit very well into your plans, there are plenty of other options. Branded merchandise like t-shirts, ribbons, and buttons can accomplish the same goal of bringing your mission into real-world conversations.
4. Centralize and improve your nonprofit’s online experience.
Awareness campaigns can drive huge increases in traffic to your website, so make sure your web content is informative and intuitive. You’ll only have a few moments to catch and retain the attention of new visitors, so be ready. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Create a dedicated page or microsite for your awareness campaign. Centralizing the campaign in this way makes it easier to control visitors’ experiences and gives you a single location to point new supporters towards. Actively direct readers to this central location in all of your social media posts and email marketing, and encourage your supporters who share or repost your content to link to it as well.
- Develop plenty of additional content to go on this page or microsite. Blog posts, infographics, interviews, videos, and more are all valuable and engaging types of content that will enrich your campaign. Plus, you’ll have a ready-made library of materials to promote via social media to boost your likes and shares.
- Offer an intuitive virtual event experience. If your campaign will involve any virtual events, discussions, or other gatherings, make sure they’re easy to attend and engage with. Virtual events are here to stay, so if you haven’t yet invested in professional-grade tools that give you full control over the user experience, now is the time to do so. A mix of pre-recorded and live-streamed content can work well during virtual events, so get creative to come up with the right combinations that fit your mission and goals.
- Review web design essentials and use them to improve your campaign page or site. Double-down on these fundamentals:
- Impactful design and uncluttered layouts
- Bold, eye-catching imagery that immediately greets visitors
- Clear and concise text that tell a story your mission and community
- Impact statements or stats that show how your cause has made a difference
- Prominent calls to action that direct visitors to next steps, like following you on social media, signing up to volunteer, or subscribing to your newsletter
- Distinct branding that gives the campaign a unique identity but also clarifies its relationship to your nonprofit
- Clearly labeled links to campaign content and to your organization’s main homepage
Although awareness campaigns aren’t necessarily geared towards fundraising, you may see an increase in online donations along the way. Your donation form should be easy to find and complete to ensure that any new supporters who feel motivated can quickly make a gift.
With a solid online presence and an active community, your organization should see surges in activity on your site. Take steps to prepare your online experience—interested supporters who land on your site after clicking through a social media post can easily be confused or turned off if your landing page isn’t ready to offer an enjoyable, intuitive experience.
After a year of crisis fundraising, messaging pivots, and new types of events, taking the time to simply focus on your mission and community can be a smart move. Awareness campaigns are invaluable tools for nonprofits to drive their missions forward and start new conversations, but they require just as much prepwork and strategy as fundraising campaigns.
Start with these tips, and keep building your plans based on your unique mission and base of support. You’re sure to start something great. Best of luck!