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Aug 01, 2023 BY Joi Bass Branding, Marketing

Brand or Bucks: Understanding When to Focus on Brand Awareness vs. Fundraising

Mighty Insights

Insights, delivered.

Which would be more valuable right now: 1 million people visiting your website or $1 million in donations?

If you’ve spent any time in nonprofit communications and marketing, you’re familiar with the competing priorities of building awareness and raising money. Brand building, the low and slow burn of engagement often gets lumped in with urgent, immediate fundraising efforts—resulting in subpar metrics and burned-out staff. Deciding where to invest limited marketing resources can feel like a shot in the dark. So let’s dive into the unique differences between fundraising and brand awareness and help you decide which strategy to prioritize in your communication strategies.

Brand Awareness vs. Fundraising

When considering big-picture marketing, looking at your organization’s strategic goals is the best place to start. All marketing efforts should ladder up to achieve these big-picture goals and initiatives. It’s not marketing’s job to solely plan your organization’s strategic goals (though marketing leaders should have a stake in strategic planning). Still, it is the marketing department’s job to help achieve them—and having a detailed plan is always a great place to start.

Take a moment to inventory these big-picture objectives. Do you want current donors to donate more regularly and in higher amounts? Or do you want to see more young people engaging with your organization? Is recruiting volunteers the top priority? Or are you trying to get one of your programs or services out into the community? Whatever these goals might be for your organization, either brand awareness or fundraising campaigns will help you get there.

Brand awareness campaigns look to the future. They aim to increase public recognition of your nonprofit, your work, and the issues you and your constituents care about. They are an investment, and most of your results won’t be as cut-and-dry as dollars raised.

Instead of dollars raised, you’ll look at metrics like:

  • Website/app/email engagement data

  • Form submissions like newsletter growth or other content download growth

  • Event attendance

  • Social engagement data

But why does anyone outside of marketing care about these metrics? Because positioning your marketing efforts to be awareness-focused ensures long-term brand health.

Successful awareness campaigns ensure you have a healthy pipeline of engaged people who you can steward into donors and advocates of your cause.

In an ideal world, every nonprofit would have the capacity to run both awareness and fundraising (and every other kind of) campaign in a beautifully orchestrated plan, but we know that’s not feasible for most. You can’t be everything to everyone, and understanding where your efforts are best suited concerning your strategic goals will pave the way for more successful results. If your resources are strapped (and they likely are if you’re a small nonprofit), we recommend focusing on one strategy as a starting point.

Fundraising Campaigns

We know we’re preaching to the choir here—donations are often needed and equally hard to get. Fundraising campaigns aim to spearhead this problem. We know you’ve likely run a fundraising campaign before. And that can look different for every nonprofit. Some are geared towards crowdfunding, others toward grant applications, and others targeting major gifts and corporate partnerships. Some are long capital campaigns spanning months. While others are short-term, urgent requests for dollars. The refreshing part of fundraising campaigns is that their metrics have easily measurable results. Put plainly, you know you did well when the money comes in.

If your strategic goals are centered around increasing funds—whether that’s through events, program growth, or meeting your annual fundraising goals, then a fundraising campaign is likely in the cards for you. And we’d guess that you already knew that, though.

Grow Your Brand

We’re a bit of research buffs ourselves at Mighty Citizen, so we always encourage organizations to start any campaign—especially awareness campaigns with research. Why? Because research kills opinions. The good news? Research doesn’t have to be very expensive.

First, start with your existing donors. Who are they? What are their demographics? What are their psychographics? What do they care about? More importantly, what about folks in your database who aren’t donors? Why aren’t they donors? Knowing who and who not to target can help grow awareness quickly.

So, for example, you’ve analyzed your current donors and see that most are middle-aged African Americans. This is great data, but you want to learn more, so you decide to send out an annual donor survey asking psychographic questions like interests and opinions. You find out that your middle-aged African women donors also typically have children and like attending church. You can use this newfound psychographic data and the initial demographic data to target new donors who are more likely to engage with your nonprofit.

Once you’ve gathered your research and understood who to target, you can move towards testing new audiences and gathering new information. By targeting folks likely to donate and expanding reach to see who is interested, you can build awareness and reach new, previously unengaged audiences.

And remember…messaging still matters.

Yep, messaging still matters when planning awareness campaigns. While the intent is not to raise dollars, it is meant to provoke thought. Invite them in. Surprise them, shock them even. There’s a lot of content everywhere, and it’s your job to get them to stop and look.

Check out some awareness campaigns we worked on with Humanity & Inclusion:

Best Practices for Brand Awareness Campaigns

  • Do your research. Decide who you will target and how.

  • Set metrics for what success looks like.

  • Surprise them with unique (even provocative, if it fits) content.

  • Create a unified experience—ensure all campaign materials both align with your brand and have similar imagery throughout.

Resources for Your Brand Awareness Campaign

We know convincing leadership to invest in an awareness campaign can be an uphill battle. We get it. When results are directly tied to funds, it’s hard to justify why (and if) you need an awareness campaign. Take the time to build your campaign strategy. Understand the “why” behind it. And report metrics that your leadership cares about. They may not care about the click-through rate (CTR) on an email, but they do care about what their donor base will look like in 5-10 years. Awareness campaigns allow us to project into the future and plan for sustainability and scalability.

Grow Your Fundraising

Fundraising campaigns work best when they’re targeted at people you know will donate, so start with your existing base of donors. A personalized approach is always best, too—i.e. reaching out through email instead of social media.

And remember, again…messaging matters.

Say you’re an organization that advocates climate protection and environmental advocacy. You send out an email with the subject line: “Global warming is real” and its body contains stats about our current atmospheric CO2, and with a “Donate now” call-to-action (CTA), you probably won’t get many hits.


You defined your cause, demonstrated why it matters, and told the reader what you wanted them to do. Isn’t that enough?

Unfortunately, it’s not. Your job is to make the messaging matter to your audience. Make it personal, make it immediate, and make it urgent. Show them why they need to donate, don’t just inform them. Tell them what the consequences will be if they don’t contribute.

Instead of “Global warming is real,” writing with action and urgency evokes stronger emotions. “Ducks are dying. What you can do.”

Best Practices for Securing the Gift

  • Relate it back to your audience.

  • Always (and we mean always) use an active voice.

  • Show impact photos—before/after, what success looks like, etc.

  • Provide easy CTAs.

  • Make your donation UX seamless, automated, and quick.

Resources for Your Next Fundraising Campaign

What’s Next?

Building your brand and raising funds both take time, effort, and resources. Don’t quite know where to start? Give us a shout! We’d love to talk about your next big campaign.

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