Fundraising in an attention economy

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it” – Herb Simon, 1971 [emphasis added] Talk about poverty of attention! There are hardly even words to describe the sheer “wealth of information” that exists in 2010 compared to the information available when Simon wrote this in 1971. Think about your own life. How much information do you consume today compared with even five years ago? How many emails, tweets, blogs, videos, pictures, news feeds, radio shows, TiVo’d television shows, magazines, and books do you consume. It’s mind-bending – and headache-inducing! We are attention poor as a culture. Attention is a commodity. There is even an entire field around the economics of attention. So what’s a fundraiser to do? A few things:

  • Recognize that attention is precious. The first step is to acknowledge the importance of your constituents’ attention. There is a reason we use the phrase “pay attention.”

  • Demonstrate relevance. Consumers today demand relevance in every communication they receive from companies. In turn these same consumers are your constituents, and they won’t stand for irrelevant messaging from you.

  • Integrate messaging. It has been shown that in the presence of a multitude of options, people will gravitate towards the message repeated most often (in addition to seeking peer input). This is just one of many reasons to ensure that your messaging is integrated.

  • Offer choice. If attention is precious, recognize that not every message you have or channel you communicate in is something every person cares about. Allow constituents to choose the types and frequency of communication they receive.

  • Engage in conversation. Social media has enabled organizations to engage in conversation with constituents at a deeper level than ever before. Seek opportunities to engage meaningfully with constituents.

What else do you think is important to do in an attention economy?