Published: 15 July 2011

Making the most of awareness weeks

Awareness weeks are a much over-used tactic by charities keen to focus fundraising, campaigning and communications efforts across their organisation, but how effective are they and what can be done to improve their chances of success?

Start by asking yourselves a fundamental question. What can an awareness week do to deliver against our organisational strategic objectives? If the answer is nothing, consider ditching the week in favour of a more targeted campaign. Equally, if you approach it each year with something akin to ‘aaggh it’s national blah week again in 6 months, what theme shall we pluck from thin air that will keep the CEO happy and work for a few teams?’ then it’s probably time to let it go.

If however, you have a clear organisational strategy in place and an awareness week has the potential to satisfy a fair few aspects of this then proceed with enthusiasm, a little caution and a well-coordinated plan. Here are a few pointers to get you started.

Project management

  • Establish a project group and start detailed planning 12-18 months ahead.
  • If resources allow, bring in a dedicated Awareness Week lead on a part-time basis, building in more time as the week approaches.
  • Complete a detailed strategic plan with KPIs and a risk register for each composite activity.
  • Ensure effective consultation from the outset includes opportunities for all staff and volunteers to contribute. Set up a volunteer reference group for your service users or customers and build in sufficient time to pass main recommendations by the group for feedback.
  • Get buy-in early on from senior managers and make sure they give relevant staff in their teams the time to dedicate to the week so it is seen as a strategic priority rather than an add-on.

External communications

  • Choose a theme in line with the charity’s strategic priorities for the year and don’t be afraid to re-use last year’s if you think it still has ‘legs’. You may be bored of it but the chances are the public won’t remember.
  • Consider the media potential of any theme discussed and work into the plan the generation of new research/data or findings to support the story for maximum reach. The media won’t care that it’s ‘blah week’ but they will run a good story.
  • Set up a media sub-group to coordinate promotional activity across distinct geographical boundaries.
  • Set up benchmarking before and after your week to more effectively measure public awareness.
  • Think strategically about the week’s audiences and what collateral they would respond best to before you produce it. Test it out if possible beforehand.
  • Put fundraising at the heart of the week and ensure there is a visible call to action/appeal that is central to all related communications. 
  • Secure celebrity support and time at least six months in advance and as part of a wider engagement strategy.
  • If you decide to establish a microsite or new online method of communication, consider the long-term engagement strategy for new audiences acquired through activities like this and the implications for resourcing this additional work beyond the week.

Internal communications and employee engagement

  • Devise an internal communications plan and calendar of contact to ensure all staff, volunteers and trustees are regularly informed about progress and know where their responsibilities lie for communicating information on, where relevant.
  • Consider establishing awareness week champions both at grass roots level and from your online community – task them with generating peer interest and support. Offer an incentive.

Finally and most importantly

  • Give staff, volunteers, user groups, supporters and the public something inspirational to get behind. This will make the week much more enjoyable to be involved with and ultimately more successful.

Lisa Mangan, media trainer and consultant, Freelance