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To Get Our Name Out There

Resource Center - Foundation

By Derrick Feldmann

eWire contributing writer Derrick Feldmann shares advice and perspective on how to raise awareness of your nonprofit organization by the good work your organization does, not by the efforts it makes to simply "get attention."

(Oct. 6, 2009) I sat in the client's board meeting, trying hard to play the "fly on the wall," listening and absorbing everything but not commenting on what I heard. All through the meeting, I wrote feverishly, filling pages of paper with comments and cues from the board members and staff.

And, sure enough, before long, I heard those six magic words: "To get our name out there."

My colleagues and I often hear this phrase in such "fly on the wall" sessions. Then we usually see almost everyone in the room nod with approval and, without comment or question, move on to discuss other matters. And, in so doing, they often give validation to activities that offer no real return. 

Recently, when an organization used that phrase to justify a program that, to us, seemed off-mission and ineffective, we decided to put their theory to the test. We pulled analytics from the organization's website to see if it was getting the traffic its board and staff suggested. We analyzed impressions from public relations efforts  and media coverage to see if the organization was, indeed, gaining any marketplace "traction" as a result of the program. 

Through our analysis we discovered that, not only did the organization receive little to no mentions as a result of the program, but the organization spent so much of its financial and human resources on the program that core work was being abandoned. In other words, the return on investment from the program was negative and the organization was losing opportunities by focusing on it. 

We weren't surprised. In case after case, we see organizations operating programs, holding events and undertaking other activities for the sole purposes of "awareness raising." And in case after case, we see that the public failed to respond the way the organization expected.

So what should organizations do to "get their name out there?"  Effective organizations do it by dedicating time to the following:

Lead with Impact. Organizations that discuss impact, tell stories, highlight people and let their work speak for itself "get their name out there" in a way that re-engages past and current donors, and ignites new donor motivations.

Focus on the cause. Organizations that spend time raising the awareness of the cause or issue they address in the community are the ones that truly do "get their name out there."  They build awareness through programs, partnering with other organizations not to highlight themselves, but to shed light on the importance of issues affecting their community. 

Let others spread the good news. Effective communicators turn to the people affected by an issue - the ones who receive services, and individuals who encounter the work of the organization - to spread the good news.  Through word of mouth, technology, and other peer-to-peer strategies, those people will tell others why the organization is relevant and important. 

Show expertise. Organizations can get attention by talking, writing and performing activities that showcase the organization and its people as experts.  They spend time talking about research in the field, unmet needs and models not only of their work but of others', too.  They compare and contrast information in a way that sends a message to those listening, prodding them to think, "The next time we need help on this issue, we know who to call."

How can you avoid the "to get our name out there" pitfall? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. If we succeed in getting our name out there, what will success mean?
  2. How can we spread the word through the people we serve?
  3. Given our resources, what is more important: doing this activity to get our name out there, or spending time developing meaningful relationships with the people we serve and groups we work with?

Don't focus on getting attention; generate attention by elevating the cause you address and the people you serve. People like to hear stories about people overcoming challenges; they don't enjoy reading press releases highlighting the number of people you have in your office, the size of your headquarters building, or the biggest grant you ever received. That might "get your name out there," but it won't make people pay attention.

Derrick Feldmann is CEO of Achieve LLC. Achieve is a consulting firm that serves small and mid-sized nonprofits and organizations with new or emerging development programs (

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