Making Your Nonprofit Stand Out in an Attention Economy

Making Your Nonprofit Stand Out in an Attention Economy

November 19, 2015 by Angela E. White, CFRE

Do you feel like there are thousands of messages vying for your attention on a daily basis? You are not alone, and researchers call this the attention economy. The attention economy treats our attention as a scarce commodity and characterizes attention transactions in the same realm as financial transactions. In a Fortune article, the principle of the attention economy is “Where the attention goes, the money goes.”

Lest you think that the attention economy is new to our world of social media and multiple communications channels, you may be surprised to know that this concept was first articulated in 1971 by Herbert A. Simon. However, since the days of Simon’s first articulation of this concept, we have seen a transformational change from traditional media outlets to numerous online outlets and 24/7 communications via Facebook posts, blogs, Twitter feeds, podcasts, RSS feeds, YouTube accounts, Instagram posts, etc.

In the midst of the growing attention economy, capturing a person’s attention is the first stage in acquiring new donors, members, sponsors, clients, and volunteers. Thus, how do nonprofits compete for attention to their message in the scarcity of the attention economy? One way to capture a greater share of the attention economy is to position your nonprofit as the best resource possible for your community through these three key steps:

  1. Decide what type of resource you want to be. For example, are you the go-to player for breaking news or research in your area of expertise? Or, are you a reliable community convener on a certain topic? What defines you as a resource and then shapes the type of information you share to break through the attention economy?
  2. Define how you will provide the resources to capture a greater share of the attention economy. For example, will you use your website as an information aggregator? Or, will you push out content through popular social media outlets such as Facebook, twitter, etc.?
  3. Evaluate the usefulness of your resources. It will be important to watch for new information, keep data and sources current, and acknowledge changes in the marketplace so that you do not lose relevancy in the attention economy.

We have a choice where our attention is spent, and we decide what is relevant to us for the investment of our scarce resource – time. Think about how your message breaks through the attention economy to acquire new key stakeholders for your nonprofit.