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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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Disconnecting the Dots: “Visibility” and Fundraising Success
Tom Ahern

June, 2005

It happens all the time.

A board member, asked to fundraise, laments, "I told my friend about our organization, and he said he'd never heard of us! If only we had more visibility in the community, it would be so much easier to raise money!"

And now the idea is on the table: Let's launch a "visibility campaign." Get some press coverage. Produce TV and radio Public Service Announcements. Maybe even put some posters up on buses.

That way, the reasoning goes, when I call my friends to press them for gifts, they'll already know how great we are. Even better, the community at large will know how great we are and gifts will spontaneously erupt!

It makes perfect sense…to novices. But it doesn't work, for a couple of reasons.

The first is simply this: you shouldn't be pressing your friends for gifts. That's cold calling. And nobody likes it, on either end. Effective solicitors only ask people who have already been identified as interested in the cause.

The second reason is even more compelling: your organization's attempts at "increased visibility" will most likely produce no additional charitable revenue, certainly not in the short term. What your attempts WILL do for sure is eat up a lot of staff time and possibly money.

We know of one case where an addiction recovery program spends $4,500 each month to retain a prestigious local PR firm. The goal: "increased community awareness." Translation: signs on bus shelters and maybe some press releases. Cherished hope: that charitable support will increase once those bus messages are in circulation. The sad, expensive truth is it won't. In fact, it can't.

Tom Ahern is recognized as one of North America's leading authorities on how to make nonprofit communications consistently effective. He speaks frequently in the U.S. and Canada on reader psychology, direct mail principles, good (and not very good) graphic design as applied to fundraising and nonprofit branding. He is a writer and president of Ahern Communications, Ink., a consultancy specializing in capital campaign materials and other fundraising communications. He has won three prestigious Gold Quill awards from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). His offices are in Rhode Island and France.

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