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When we think of awareness in a business context, many of us think of mass marketing or general brand awareness. In other words, massive dollars spent on advertising targeting a broad audience resulting in low conversion rates and minimal return on investment. While you may not remember the last advertisement you saw, I bet you remember wearing pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, donating blood for World Blood Donor Day, or registering as an organ donor during National Donate Life Month. 

That’s because cause-based awareness campaigns connect personal stories with scalable actions, making participants feel connected and powerful. 

At Cure SMA, we’ve been developing new ideas and coordinating new activities for SMA Awareness Month since its inception in 1996. Cure SMA is a nonprofit organization that supports individuals with spinal muscular atrophy, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord and impacts the muscles used for activities like breathing, eating, crawling, and walking. Cure SMA funds and directs comprehensive research that drives breakthroughs in treatment and advances access to high-quality care for individuals with SMA.

SMA Awareness Month represents an opportunity for all members of the SMA community, from affected adults and children to parents, caregivers, clinicians, researchers, and industry partners to shine a much-needed spotlight on this rare disease and the needs of the SMA community. 

If you’d like to create or enhance a nonprofit awareness day, week, or month campaign, here are four practical, actionable steps to get you started:

1. Offer a Variety of Ways to Get Involved

Since an awareness campaign represents an opportunity to recognize everyone in your community, everyone should feel invited and welcomed to participate. One way to make it easy to participate is by organizing and calendaring all your activities for your community. Cure SMA began by laying out all the events and activities planned for the month and then developing a downloadable, clickable calendar, creating an ‘at a glance’ view of SMA Awareness Month for staff and participants. 

Next, we categorized each activity based on the type of action required, including:

  • Engage – social media engagement and storytelling
  • Give – individual giving and fundraising opportunities
  • Advocate – advocacy actions
  • Honor – candle lighting memorials and building and monument lighting ceremonies

2. Reduce Barriers to Participation

The first step in reducing barriers to participation is recognizing where or why they may exist. For Cure SMA, we give a great deal of thought to logistical barriers that may prevent members of our community with mobility challenges from attending. Even when an event venue is ADA-compliant, there is typically more accessibility work to do when we arrive at a location, like clearing tree branches from the walking path in advance of a recent Walk-n-Roll event. 

In addition to barriers that limit entry physically, there are additional barriers like lack of time, funds, or lack of experience or familiarity with an organization and its awareness activities. That’s why at Cure SMA, the awareness month activities ranged from simple, sharable social media banners and infographics to matched donation corporate and individual giving campaigns and countless other activities in between, truly offering something for everyone.

3. Elevate Voices within Your Community

At Cure SMA, we hope to lead the way to a world where everyone impacted by spinal muscular atrophy is empowered to lead independent, successful, and fulfilling lives and strive to create a community where everybody is heard and feels welcomed. We view ourselves as a platform for voices within the SMA community, which is why for the first time this year, we developed an SMA Awareness Month social media ambassador program. 

We identified a group of eight individuals with varying backgrounds and levels of experience with Cure SMA to take over our social media activities throughout the month. They shared challenges like traveling via airplane in a wheelchair and triumphs like appearing on the local news to talk about SMA. 

4. Create Opportunities to Take Action

Awareness campaigns invite us to take things personally, and when we care, we want to take action and see results. While SMA Awareness Month featured a variety of ways to get involved, we also worked diligently to streamline the ‘asks’ associated with the campaign. 

We created several short-term, time-bound opportunities to participate like a donation match weekend and a ceremonial candle lighting evening marketed to a general audience as well as highly targeted, in-person local events tied to specific, geographically based audiences, giving everyone an opportunity to show up, engage, and take action. As Ekhart Tolle said, “Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”

Amy Thomasson
Post by Amy Thomasson
September 6, 2022
Amy Thomasson, CAE is a strategist, content creator, and storyteller with extensive experience in marketing and communications, membership development, and volunteer management. She has worked in a variety of business environments ranging from the Fortune 500 to professional associations. Amy serves as Vice President, Marketing and Communications at Cure SMA, a nonprofit organization creating breakthroughs for individuals with spinal muscular atrophy. Amy is also a speaker and author who has partnered with ASAE, Association Forum, Sidecar, and standalone associations to deliver engaging content. Amy is a recipient of Association Forum Forty Under 40® Award and the Daily Herald Business Ledger’s Influential Women in Business Award.