School of fish a coral reef

Increase Your Visibility with Public Displays of Affection

Show the World What You Got

Imagine your mission front and center in your area’s premier retirement home, offering a chance for you to interact regularly with 400 up-scale seniors.  This article explores an innovative idea that one nonprofit uses to increase its visibility and practical ways to apply it to your nonprofit. (For ideas on how to increase your board members’ visibility, check out 12 Ways to Enhance Your Board Member’s Experience and Help Your Nonprofit.)

Early on Sunday morning, I visited The Glenridge, “an exclusive, life-long-learning senior retirement facility.” As I walked into the main entrance, I was delighted to climb a stairwell placed around a cylindrical story-and-a-half aquarium. A sign indicated that the aquarium was associated with the nonprofit Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.

I met Dr. Kumar Mahadevan, President and CEO of Mote. He told me the backstory about the fish swimming blithely in their aquarium, as people used the stairwell. A Mote donor funded the aquarium’s capital costs. The Glenridge supports its operations. Similar Mote aquariums are located in another senior housing facility, the main public library, the hospital’s pediatric wing, and the Sarasota airport.

Bring the Idea to Your Nonprofit 

Have you already dismissed this idea because you don’t have an aquarium? If yes, think again. This idea presents visibility opportunities for more nonprofits than just aquariums. Mote’s campaign demonstrates just one way to increase your reach into the homes of potential donors.

What is the underlying concept behind this innovative idea? Remind prospective donors about your work at sites where they live or congregate. Bigger picture, Mote’s idea demonstrates a way to add value to people’s lives, and this visibility invites support.

Your nonprofit, like Mote, have significant mission stories to tell. Displaying your mission in places where prospective donors congregate or live might provide you a new opportunity to tell your story and reach new people.

Mote’s campaign involved three steps:

  • Find a place to provide mission services or display a mission reminder.
  • Create a partnership to pay for the upfront and ongoing costs.
  • Develop an engagement plan with prospective donors to build upon the visibility.

Why Might Your Nonprofit Build on This Idea?

Mote’s presence in public places and housing sites promotes its mission of today’s research for tomorrow’s oceans. It helps people get closer to the marine research programs the lab undertakes. The aquarium at The Glenridge supports the development of individual donors. Sharing a visual reminder of your work in an upscale senior facility satisfies two of the three key individual donors’ “musts:” (See 7 Drivers of Nonprofit Fundraising Success for more on donors and fundraising.)

  1.  Mote gets seen by people with means.
  2.  Mote provides a connection opportunity.

Let’s Play.

How Might You Use this Idea to Increase Your Nonprofit’s Visibility?

When it comes to revenue generation and doing your mission, you don’t want to be a best-kept secret.  Increasing your visibility needs to always be on your agenda. Below you will find adaptations of  Mote’s approach for other nonprofits, continuing with the retirement facility scenario. You can also imagine how your nonprofit might gain visibility.

Performing Arts

Display costumes and props for a forthcoming production. Or, use today’s equivalent of a jukebox. Offer recordings from your orchestra’s performance.

To develop relationships: Offer actor or musician talks or special performances such as on-site rehearsals. Provide a residents-only backstage tour.

Social Service

Exhibit a tool, such as a food collection barrel. Provide background information about the tool and how it serves the community. Add a rotating digital photo frame to tell a client’s story.

To develop relationships: Offer an afternoon program that introduces a client the nonprofit helped. For instance, one Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate asks a Big and Little to share their journey.


Display pictures and sound recordings, such as the surf or birds songs.

To develop relationships: Offer lectures that include a tactile element, such as the five most interesting objects found at your arboretum. Arrange on-site tours that accommodate any residents with special needs.

Visual Arts

Share a new piece of sculpture or, for digital artists, new tools of the trade.

To develop relationships: Offer an artist-led hands-on opportunity. Invite your children’s group is to create art with the residents.


Display pictures of animals needing adoptions.

To develop relationships: Bring animals to pet and share your work. Invite them to support your work and to help find homes with their friends and relatives.


Exhibit pictures of your school’s newest buildings. Offer recorded lectures for community broadcast by special website access.

To develop relationships: Invite your scholarship students to share their stories. Provide on-site guest lecturers about current events.

“Public Displays of Affection” Ideas

Ideas that you might use to adapt Mote’s aquariums are plentiful. You can also imagine how your nonprofit might gain visibility at your local hospital, airport, or other public areas. Your challenge will be selecting ones that provide double or even mega-whammy to support your goals. The ideas you choose need to provide practical value so that you’re motivated to follow up on them as needed.  So, choose your ideas with care.

This post’s innovative idea reaches seniors, builds relationships, and stirs passions for a cause to create new donors. Once you find an idea to create a presence with seniors with means and pay for it, don’t stop there. Develop relationships and passion with them and grow your community. You can increase your visibility and your donations.

For more about connecting with donors, read:

14 Ways to Form Donor Relationships in 10 Minutes or Less

For more answers, check out this Nonprofit  CEO Library.

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