Whether virtual or in real life (IRL), awareness campaigns or fundraising campaigns for nonprofits take a lot of work. In fact, it’s often a full-time job for at least one to three months prior to the event.

And then, you barely have time to bask in the success of this year’s event before you start working on the next one.

Breaking even is good. But it’s no surprise that you and your funders also want to make sure that, after all your hard work, your awareness campaign actually raises awareness. Not to mention reaching or even exceeding your monetary goals if you are running a fundraising campaign.

I’ve been working with nonprofit leaders for over 25 years, and I’ve helped put together a whole bunch of awareness campaigns in that time. So, to help you with successful fundraising in 2020, I thought I’d walk you through the seven steps that will help you get your message out (with real-life examples!):

Step 1: Get a bird’s-eye view

Running a virtual fundraising campaign?

An online summit?

A real-life awareness event?

What type of event you are planning doesn’t matter. It all starts with Step 1: Getting a bird’s-eye view of your campaign.

Essentially, this means coming up with a well-thought-out theme for your virtual fundraising ideas, events, or awareness campaigns, along with measurable goals so you can measure success.

This will ultimately give you the bird’s-eye view of the campaign. Then, you’ll be able to draw your visuals and create your key messages from that theme.

Let’s look at an example.

We recently worked with The Canadian Skin Patient Alliance to create an awareness campaign focused on reducing the stigma that comes with skin conditions.

After brainstorming with the client, we came up with a couple of ideas. Eventually, we narrowed down the theme to “Shed the Shame.” With this overarching theme established, we then started to look into different audiences and what “shedding the shame” meant for them.

In other words, what stories could we connect to this theme?

Step 2: Define your campaign purpose

The key to this step is to actually write down your campaign’s purpose. Not in terms of how much money you want to raise or how many people you want to reach but to communicate your why. Writing it down makes it official and easy to remember for everyone involved. It’ll be your elevator pitch for why people should attend your awareness or fundraising event. People always ask “what’s in it for me” and also, “how can my donation help to make an impact” and “why should I care”, so the more specific and transparent you are the better.

Once you have defined the purpose of your campaign, go ahead and create longer key messages.

Actually, this should be split in two parts…

First, write a short-form explanation of your campaign purpose.

Second, write a long-form explanation.

The short-form explanation will be used on posters, social media, and similar advertising channels. The long form is for your website, for press releases, and other, longer marketing pieces.

This is an example of the short version for the campaign mentioned above: “The Shed the Shame campaign is dedicated to creating awareness of the social, emotional and mental health impacts of Atopic Dermatitis (AD). It is hoped that all Canadians will have a better awareness of all the effects of AD and can be more sensitive toward and connected to individuals with AD.”

Writing your key message down is also a great way to ensure the campaign is aligned with your non-profit’s overall vision and mission.

Step 3: Brainstorm audiences

Your theme is locked down. You’ve settled on your campaign purpose.

Now’s the time to determine your audience.

Going back to The Canadian Skin Patient Alliance awareness campaign example, we’ll show you how to do just that.

For the “Shed the Shame” campaign, we determined that our key audiences were parents of children with atopic dermatitis (a type of skin eczema), as well as youth who are directly affected by the condition.

With these audiences in mind, we created two personas (fictional characters who represent target audiences).

  1. Person 1 was a 30-year-old mom with a toddler with atopic dermatitis.
  2. Person 2 was a 16-year-old teenage boy with atopic dermatitis.

The next step was to imagine these personas’ lives, including:

  • What problems they face
  • How their lives are affected by atopic dermatitis
  • What atopic dermatitis means for them

As Rachael Manion, ED Director of the Canadian Skin Patient Alliance, said, “The process of figuring out who our audience was helped us make sure that the messages we were putting out there were staying consistent and coherent. There is so much information to share and so many people to share it with that we may have ended up with messages coming across differently.”

When thinking about audiences, go a step further and brainstorm possible strategic partners that can help you to promote your campaign. More info on this to come in Step 7.

Step 4: Create stories

Storytelling can move mountains. And it’s critical to successful awareness campaigns.


Stories enable you to connect how you can help your audience with what they need. It makes your message real. Over 90% of our day-to-day decisions are based on emotions, and using storytelling for the campaign creates an emotional connection and empathy.

And this is where awareness campaigns for nonprofits get fun!

In this step, we’re still being guided by the theme.

In the “Shed the Shame” example, we brainstormed ideas of how a teenager’s life would be affected by atopic dermatitis. We decided to write stories, debunk myths, and ask questions for the campaign.

Some of the ideas we came up with included:

  • Dating
  • Swimming with friends
  • Constantly being exhausted due to lack of sleep a never-ending itch

Once you’ve come up with story ideas that will resonate with your audience, it’s time to create content. That can mean writing blogs, posters, social media posts, ad banners, videos, and interviews. It’s always good to splinter your content to save time and capacity, meaning you write a longer paragraph for Facebook or Instagram and then use snippets of that for Twitter.

Keep the 5 pillar-framework of successful content in mind here: If you only push content related to your campaign, your audience will get sick of it. Make sure to mix in some authoritative, educational, and motivational content as well. When it comes to execution, it’s best practice to run a paid campaign in addition to organic posts.

Step 5: Create visuals

The online world is noisy. Strong visuals will make your awareness campaign stand out.

Start by creating an overarching graphic that fits into the theme. Define your fonts and colours. Canva is a great tool to do just that. When looking into images, make sure to use the same style and ensure the design works for all media, including different social media channels and Eventbrite.

Your design must look professional. I can’t stress this enough.


  1. If your visuals look professional and consistent, people will recognize your content and connect it to your brand.
  2. You want people to attend your fundraiser or event. You want them to donate. Good and consistent design builds trust. And when people trust you, they’ll be more likely to give.

Step 6: Create an event page

Make it as easy as possible for people to learn about and find your event. You want to create a hub of information and link from different sources to it. As the website is still your main source of information, you want to create a new page just for that purpose. If you run a fundraising campaign then you want your donation form included on that specific page as well to make it easy for people to give. Any time you promote the event, link to that page so people can find out more, sign up, and don’t get lost while looking around for other information.

In addition to creating that landing page for the event, it’s still good practice to create an event on Facebook and Eventbrite. Just make sure you don’t confuse people with your message if they need to buy tickets for your event.

Step 7: Cross-promote your campaign

This is when you’ll create a marketing plan to promote your awareness event or campaign. Think of all the channels you can use to spread the campaign.

You might consider the following:

  • Email newsletter
  • Email blast
  • Social media
  • Your website
  • Email signatures
  • Eventbrite
  • Your blog

Share the designs you’ve created on all those channels and link back to the event page. Something that works extremely well but is not utilized a lot is the power of strategic partnerships. Once you have brainstormed possible strategic partners (Step 3) for your event, make it easy for them to share your campaign so you can reach a larger audience. A super simple trick for that is to create graphics that they can use on their website or own newsletter to link to your event. The easier you make it for them, the more likely they will support you.

You can find more examples and case studies about recent awareness campaigns here.

Awareness campaigns for nonprofits are key to successful fundraising in 2020. Use these proven seven steps to ensure your campaign raises as much awareness as possible!

About the Author

Kerstin Heuer is the co-founder of Non-Profit Today and creator of the 5 Pillar Social Media Content System. Since 2008, she has used the trifecta of branding, marketing, and design to help nonprofits communicate the heart of their organization, connect with their audiences, and achieve their missions. With over 25 years of industry experience and lessons learned from work on 500+ non-profit projects, Kerstin is skilled in collaborating with NPOs to make sure they have a clear message and the traction they need to spread it. Connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at kerstin@non-profit.today.

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