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Traditionally we think about acquisition taking place when the first gift is made. That’s why most fundraisers have been trained to be hyper-focused on the “conversion phase” of the funnel. Their goal is to answer the question: What is going to get donors to make the gift?

But what if the first impression and decision to support are actually being made much earlier in the funnel?

A recent study from COHORT3 on donor decision-making found that 94 percent of prospects choose their preferred charity in the Awareness stage (rather than lower in the funnel in the Consideration or Conversion stages). In fact, findings revealed once a donor moved beyond Awareness into Consideration, the influence of the charity through ads or promotions in getting them to donate is actually quite low. At that point, influence is primarily driven by friends, family, or on their own.

This data tells us something pretty mind-blowing: Donors are actually making up their minds based on perceptions they have before an organization invites them to take action.

What Earlier Donor Decision-Making Means for Fundraisers

If the first impression is now made much earlier in the donor life cycle than previously thought, what does this information mean for fundraisers developing acquisition campaigns? A few things…

  1. Marketing and fundraising need to work closer together

If you’re on the development side of the house, you need to make sure you’re in close partnership with your marketing and communications department. They are ones responsible for driving awareness and brand-related communications in those crucial early stages. From a fundraising perspective, you need to be thinking: What do we need to do to make sure we infuse in those awareness messages to educate potential future donors about our organization so they make the decision to give down the line?

  1. Communicating your “unique value” is more important than ever

Ask yourself: What can you do that no other organization does better than you? Maybe it’s a unique program you have to serve your mission. Maybe it’s the mission itself. Maybe it’s the donation experience that you have down to a really good science. Whatever it is, take it, and run with it.

Your organization needs to be proactive in clearly communicating your unique value from the get-go, across all aspects of your brand. With for-profit companies, this type of thinking is common. They tell consumers what a product does that no other products on the market can do. This phone has the longest battery life, the fastest performance, takes studio-quality pictures. Nonprofits need to apply this line of thinking to their communications.

  1. Your organization should not be afraid to take a stand

Organizations need to own their unique positions, and also be comfortable taking a stand for who they are and who they are not. The work you do to define your unique position should be leveraged to show how you rise above the noise in a crowded market. This can be uncomfortable and somewhat scary for some organizations because you risk alienating some people. But alienating those whose values and passions don’t align with your mission isn’t going to hurt you.

Awareness Is When Your Organization Has the Most Influence

Remember: When you’re big conversion moment comes with a donor, their mind may already be made up. Make sure you are putting in the time, effort, and strategy to lay the groundwork in the Awareness stage to ensure a positive outcome that will keep moving them down the funnel.

Find out how you can alter your approach to acquisition to better meet the needs and behaviors of today’s donors—download First Impressions of Acquisition now.