bigstock-Businessman-holds-up-five-blan-16554350I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about “raising awareness” and what that really means for nonprofit communicators as I prepare to present How to Raise Awareness for Your Cause on a Budget, a brand-new webinar  for CharityHowTo. (Join us Feb 19 or Feb  26).

One of the most common challenges that the “raise awareness” assignment presents is what to actually write or say to people. I see many nonprofits default to talking about themselves by spitting out some version of their mission statement. Or they throw out a bunch of stats that, without any sort of context or existing interest in an issue, fall flat.

No awareness is raised because you haven’t presented anything remotely relevant for people to hold on to. You may get some polite nods, but that’s about it.

This is especially hard when the ultimate goal is to raise money, but you feel like you have to raise awareness before you can ask for donations.

So how can you structure your messaging to raise awareness, when you don’t have any other specific guidance about calls to action?

Here are five suggestions to get you thinking . . . Play around with these ideas and see where they take you. Notice how they all focus on what the person can do as their awareness is being raised.

1. Learn the Signs

Let people know what to watch for in their own lives. Autism Speaks has done a great job with their “learn the signs” awareness campaigns.

2. Pledge to Do Something Specific

Ask people to agree (ideally in a public way) to take some simple step in the right direction.  The Humane Society of the United States frequently uses pledges as part of their awareness campaigns.  One of my favorites (and I believe one of their most successful on Facebook) is asking people to pledge to take their pets with them during a disaster evacuation.

3. Know How to Help Others

Let people know what they can do to help others they may encounter, or what to do in specific emergency situations. For example, the American Heart Association has a huge awareness campaign around Hands-Only CPR because so many people are freaked out about doing mouth-to-mouth on a stranger.

4. Tell Leaders to Act

Ask individuals to tell their elected officials or other policymakers or leaders to do something.  Obvioulsy, this most often works for nonprofits with advocacy agendas, but you can also structure it as a more general expression of your values as a voter or resident. Take a look at all of the petitions on and Care2’s Petition Site for examples.

5. Spread the Word

I really think this works best as an add-on to the other four above, but if you can’t get any of those to work for you, then simply ask people to do something specific to share your message with others, which could include changing their profile picture in social media, for example. Human Rights Campaign does this very effectively (remember their red logo everywhere when the Supreme Court was considering two marriage equality cases?) Now they are asking supporters to do something similar with the Love Conquers Hate campaign during the Olympics.

 What’s been at the core of your messaging as you tried to raise awareness on your cause? Share in the comments and let’s grow this list of suggestions beyond the five here!

P.S. We really do try hard to publish Monday-Friday except for major holidays, but yesterday, I just had to take a snow day! I hope you and yours are safe and warm.

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