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What is Attention-Focused Fundraising?

As communication methods have evolved, so must the practice of fundraising. Before you can tell anyone how great you are or the importance of your organization's mission, AND well before you can ask them for money - you need to get their ATTENTION.


Fundraising is now about the supply and demand of donor attention, where ATTENTION is the commodity and donor time is the currency nonprofits need to survive. I call this concept Attention-Focused Fundraising.


The nonprofit sector is in a donor retention crisis right now, losing almost 50% of all donors AND 80% of first-time donors EACH YEAR! Fundraisers need to adjust how they communicate to donors to avoid coming off as deserving or entitled to someone's time or money. Attention-Focused Fundraising is designed to win donor attention, but more importantly improve donor retention and engagement.


The three biggest mistakes I see nonprofits make today concerns how they communicate to the public and their donors: (1) Too often this communication happens through "push messages," meaning they only have the interest of the nonprofit in mind. (2) Treat social media ONLY as a distribution channel. (3) Are too transaction heavy – over promote events, raffle, auction, and funding campaigns.

This communication style comes from so many in nonprofit sector believing that their mission and programs are so good and necessary that they "deserve" our attention, time, and money REGARDLESS of a relationship, established trust, or transparency. Far too many development officers, board members, and executive directors share this belief, and when put into practice the fundraising effort does not yield the expected or desired result. 


I recommend nonprofits deploy the following four strategies with only ONE goal in mind - to provide value to your audience. This will allow you to build donor trust and promote transparency, but most of all win donor attention:


  1. Act like a media pro. We already do this in our personal lives, we take pictures and videos of everything, thousands of them. Research proves pictures, info-graphics, and video content are read and shared significantly more than content without them. We live in a world were we all have our smart phones and tablets with us at all times, so we have the ability to take photos and videos of our work, programs, and events. It is always good practice to test the produced content - to see what wording, pictures, and video resonates best with your audience.

  2. Have a mobile strategy. Research tells us that people are spending more time on mobile phones than any other device and that the attention on mobile is split between apps and social media sites. Texting and messaging apps have become preferred methods of communication for many, but very few nonprofits utilize either. Mobile devices are the one thing we give so much of our attention to without even thinking about it, in other words - lets start aligning our personal actions with our at work strategies. 

  3. Create attention grabbing content. Like; videos, colorful graphics, info-graphics, GIFs, and memes, making sure to test to see which ones get the most engagement from your audience. Individualize your content to each platform by knowing the CONTEXT of each, because what works on Facebook, won't work in an email, on Instagram, or Twitter. Finally, document your journey more than just showcasing a final product. Documenting through photos and video is a very transparent and authentic form of storytelling, done well it can really draw donors into your organization.

  4. Create a community around your content. Do this by engaging your audience, listening for when/how you can provide value, and stewarding ALL donor levels and volunteers. This will build the trust and the social equity you need with your audience before asking them to give their time or money.

We know where the attention is, all the data points to mobile devices, then nonprofits need to make every effort to have (or increase) a presence there. Here are three steps to get things started: 

  1. Make sure your website is optimized for mobile use (more than 60% of nonprofit websites are not!)

  2. Do the research (ASK), which social platforms have your audience's attention and then go add value there.

  3. Conduct a platform audit: Stop treating social media ONLY as a distribution channel

In a 24/7, 365 information overloaded world, winning donor attention is a must in order to achieve fundraising success and I truly believe that Attention-Focused Fundraising is the winning strategy to make that happen. 

Ian - bio photo.jpg

"Developing the concept of Attention-Focused Fundraising came from my dissatisfaction with prospect research, low donor retention, and poor donor engagement. I noticed donors turning away from traditional communication methods and focusing their attention on mobile devices, emerging digital media outlets and social platforms. I knew a better approach was needed in order to win back donor attention."                                                           - Ian Adair

How does the top marketing expert in the world value attention?

"Marketing is a contest for people's attention." - Seth Godin

"Marketing is a contest for people's attention." - Seth Godin

"Marketing is a contest for people's attention." - Seth Godin

How do the top marketing experts in the world value attention?

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