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Why People Can't Remember Your Cause

Grey Matter Research just 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.

The top finisher was the Red Cross with 20 percent of respondents naming it. Number two with 11 percent was the Salvation Army. No other nonprofit garnered even five percent in unaided recall, but eight got between 2 and 4 percent 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.

But what about your donors, they know about you, right? “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.”

The top ten 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! Komen, 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 is 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.

In other words, your charity wasn’t named because it’s too new, 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. But if you want your cause to be top of mind and you're not already on the top ten, 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.


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In other words, you’ll want to hold back some of the promotion’s budget to continue to activate the effort until the very end.

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