Make Yours Top Of Mind

In April, Grey Matter Research released the findings of a survey that asked a representative segment of the public what charities they could name. Bad news is, unless your cause is in the first percent of the first percent of the first percent, your charity wasn’t one of them. But of the small number that were, most were active cause marketers.

Opinion researchers call this “unaided recall.” That is, they don’t give respondents a list of charities to choose from or prompt respondents with suggested names. 

The top finisher was the Red Cross with 20% of respondents able to name it. Number two with 11% was the Salvation Army. No other nonprofit garnered even 5% in unaided recall, but eight got between 2 and 4% of the “vote”: United Way, Goodwill Industries, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, ASPCA, American Cancer Society, YMCA, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.



“Scores of individual organizations were named by just one or two people out of over a thousand in the study,” says the press release from Grey Matter. Grey Matter Research, based in Phoenix, specializes in public opinion research about causes and churches.

But what about your donors, you say. They know all about you, right? Well, kinda.

“People who have actually given to a non-profit organization (other than a local place of worship) in the past year and those who have not are not widely different in their brand awareness,” says the release. “Donors are more likely to be able to name a non-profit (93% to 72%), but like non-donors they are most aware of a small number of major brands.”

And, to be fair, there may be some self-selection bias herein. Someone in Tyler, Texas, who supports the East Texas Crisis Center, which is a women’s shelter, may think that the question was about big charities, not smaller local ones like the ETCC. 

The top 10 are all big organizations with tons of active outreach. The smallest of them in terms of revenue, the ASPCA, raised $188 million in 2011. Several, including the ASPCA, the Red Cross and YMCA, are more than 125 years old! Susan G. Komen for the Cure, at just 31, is the junior member of the group.

Many of these organizations are woven into the fabric of American life; at Christmastime the Salvation Army kettle is ubiquitous. Komen owns October. The United Way has ads in every televised NFL game.

With the possible exception of the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, each of them could be characterized with just one or two words: Habitat = “housing;” Komen = “breast cancer;” ASPCA = “animal protection,” etc.

Can your charity do the same? 

In other words, your charity wasn’t named because it’s too young, too small, can’t claim hold of a word or two in people’s minds, and because you don’t spend enough time in front of enough people.

Cause marketing can help on some of these fronts. Every single one of the 10 charities named by at least 2% of respondents has done cause marketing or is currently an active cause marketer. Indeed Komen, the youngest of the most-frequently named 10 charities, arguably got there thanks to its cause marketing. 

But if you want your cause to be top of mind and you're not already on the top 10, you've got your work cut out for you.

Start by figuring out what one or two words you can own in people's minds. Then reinforce that “ownership” at every turn.

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