My problem with awareness campaigns


When I worked at the Canadian Cancer Society as a corporate fundraiser, I had a sign on my desk that read:

“You are here to:

(1) End cancer


(2) Raise money so we can end cancer”

It guided everything I did.

Could I work with a corporate partner who wanted help changing their workplace to a healthy one? Even if it didn’t raise money, it met the criteria for #1 so I’d happily pass them along to our cancer prevention team.

Could I help write a letter to go to all employees asking them to give during the staff campaign? It accomplished #2 so you bet!

But it also helped when a board member would suggest something like this: “Let’s get all the taxi companies in the city to put our logo on the side of their cabs” (real suggestion).

I’d run it through my test: does it accomplish #1? Nope. Does it accomplish #2? No. So it’s not worth my time. Because ultimately those “awareness” campaign ideas often came from someone’s ego, not an honest desire to give generous donors the opportunity to help people with cancer.

Because at the end of the day, the family who can’t pay their rent because mom had to quit her job to drive her daughter to chemotherapy… There’s not much she can do with “awareness”.



Written by Rory Green

roryRory is a Senior Development Officer by day, and FundraiserGrrl by night. As a major gifts fundraiser, she connects donors with an opportunity to invest in a better future. FundraiserGrrrl is a blog about her cheeky observations about life in fundraising.

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3 thoughts on “My problem with awareness campaigns

  1. In general terms I’m in agreement with you on this, Rory. However, we see that awareness tactics that are well integrated into fundraising campaigns can provide a lift to fundraising results — and can increase the overall effectiveness of fundraising efforts.

  2. Unless my donor retention rate was above the 50% range – I would still focus my time and money on keeping my donors and donor stewardship than awareness campaigns. They SOMETIMES boost undraising revenue, but I guarantee the ROI isn’t as high as donor retention: “Improving donor retention by just 10% can double the lifetime value of your donor database!” – Dr. Adrian Sargeant.

    So before getting that newspaper add, or billboard – ask yourself “What would happen if I invest this money in donor retention instead”?

  3. Solid point, and I agree with you. Investment in improving retention will yield significantly more short and long-term revenue than awareness campaigns. Awareness is something I’d add in only when everything else is working at full capacity.

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