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Attention Economics | Break Through the Noise to Get Your Message Heard

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

Illustration with woman talking into megaphone

Have you heard of attention economics? Simply put, it is a school of thought focused on the scarcity of human attention. Catching someone’s attention is a real challenge because in paying attention to one thing, another is neglected.  

Nowhere is attention economics more observable than on any social media platform where you have mere seconds to capture a person’s attention—never mind keeping it. 

In this context, how can a person, nonprofit, or cause engage an audience amidst all this noise? Continue reading to learn what you can do to be seen and heard.

The pandemic effect

If you work for a nonprofit—or are interested in working for one—it’s critical to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the attention economy of nonprofits. Since social media and crowdfunding platforms have become digital mainstays, nonprofits have been struggling to figure out how best to engage with their audience. Last year, the Forbes Nonprofit Council reported that a key 2020 trend would be the growing attention economy and how nonprofits can remain competitive—where “competitive” is defined by participation by followers and supporters.

And the pandemic has amplified this challenge. In Catchafire’s survey to understand the pandemic effect, 72% of respondents reported seeking advice on “alternative, digital fundraising strategies.” This is largely due to the post-COVID-19 collapse of the in-person event industry: 74% of respondents had to cancel in-person fundraisers and 86% had to cancel awareness-raising events. With nonprofits unable to interact with followers and supporters in-person, there is concern as to how they will be able to honor their mission under this “new normal.”

What about you?

Now that you have a basic understanding of what nonprofits are facing, you may be wondering how you, as a nonprofit jobseeker or employee, fit into this paradigm. 

You likely have already experienced the effects of the attention economy. With the constant flow of information and updates scrolling on screens, it can be overwhelming to think of ways to share and interact with like-minded people, admired organizations, or potential employers. This pressure mounts when you want to use your voice to support a specific nonprofit. 

Because attention economics is focused on the scarcity of attention, you need to focus on how to generously share your value to capture that attention.  

8 ways to be seen and heard

Whether you are a jobseeker or employee, don’t think of yourself as a representative of an organization. This may seem counterintuitive if you want to help a specific nonprofit, but look at the bigger picture. Think of yourself as a representative of a specific cause. This gives you the creative freedom to take inspired action. 

Here are eight ways to capture the attention of old and new supporters:

  • Share social media posts. If you already use social media, this is the easiest way to show your support. Share posts from a particular nonprofit or share any content that is related to your cause. 
  • Pay attention to what people are talking about. What are the hot topics of conversation in real life, on the news, or on your favorite sitcom? Even seemingly unrelated content can inspire you to make new connections to your cause, which can help you make it more accessible to the people you interact with. 
  • Track hashtags. In the same vein as the previous point, pay attention to what people are saying online. Which hashtags are relevant to your cause? Keep an eye on those and see if you can add to the conversation. 
  • Craft an email for family and friends. Draft an email about the cause you support and, if it’s appropriate, an organization you want to highlight that also supports that cause. Have a clear call to action—such as a donation request. Don’t forget to ask them to forward your email to people in their networks. 
  • Start blogging or vlogging. If you are passionate about a cause, you likely have a lot to say about it. One of the best ways to tap into the attention economy is to consistently create content. This will not only be elevating awareness about a good cause, but it can also elevate your status as an expert. 
  • Seek out organizations. Pay special attention to nonprofits that are popular and seem to have large, engaged audiences. What are they doing well? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel—figure out how you can replicate and tailor their efforts to fit your cause and goals. 
  • Look at a press kit. Visit the “for the press” or “press inquiries” section of various organization websites. There may even be a press kit you can access that will give you ideas on how to talk about your cause—and how to engage with that specific organization.
  • Ask for guidance. You know that saying, “You’ll never know unless you ask”? That applies here too! Reach out to someone at a nonprofit you are interested in—or to several nonprofits—and ask what they want people to pay more attention to when it comes to your cause. 

Don’t do this

For all the ways you can figure out how to capture someone’s attention for your cause, keep in mind these two things:

  • Don’t be a passive follower. Don’t just “heart” or “like” articles, blog posts, and social media posts. If something is compelling to you, share it—or, better yet, comment on it.
  • Don’t act as a representative of your employer without permission. If you are employed by a nonprofit that supports your cause, put a disclaimer on any content you publish that you are not a spokesperson for your organization and all opinions are your own. 

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Want to help a great organization break through all the noise? Check out available positions now.

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.

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