When Fundraising is Your Marketing Goal – And Not

Want love or moneyI’m really interested in how nonprofits approach marketing differently (especially content marketing) based on how closely aligned their goals are to fundraising for their organizations versus more community engagement or brand building goals. So, I decided to splice and dice some of the data from the 2013 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report, based on the top goals.

I took a closer look at organizations whose communications strategies were focused on both acquiring new donors and retaining current donors (fundraising communicators) versus organizations that selected all three of these goals at their top choices: engaging our community, general brand awareness, and thought leadership/positioning as an expert (community/brand builders).

I wanted to see if those communicators explicitly focused on fundraising goals approached the job differently than those who had more community or brand-oriented goals.

The “community/brand builders” were more likely to have written plans and to work for larger organizations (60% in this category have organizational budgets over $1 million). They were more likely to identify media relations/PR, blogging, and social media as very important tools.  They were also more likely to say that phone calls/phone banks and paid advertising were their least important tools.  They planned to email more frequently, and were much more likely to rely on and experiment with social media than “fundraising” communicators.

When looking at which types of content “community/brand builders” would spend most of their time on, we see a “content marketing” approach to communications. These organizations are much more likely to be spending their time producing blog posts, webinars or other training content, Twitter updates, infographics, and research reports or white papers than those with fundraising goals. They are also more likely to identify lack of time to produce quality content, producing enough content, producing engaging content, and difficulty integrating communications channels as their biggest challenges.

Conversely, the “fundraising” communicators were much more likely to identify both print marketing and email marketing as very important communications tools, along with phone calls/phone banks and in-person events. They are likely to send direct mail more often, and to take a more conservative approach to social media. For example, they are more likely to say they are experimenting with sites like Twitter and YouTube, which have been more fully adopted already by community/brand builders.

Fundraising communicators are also much more likely to spend their time on print and email fundraising appeals and print and email newsletter articles. They are somewhat more likely to say that budget for direct expenses, lack of clear strategy, and lack of knowledge or training needed to produce content are big challenges.

I don’t know about you, but this explains a lot for me. I talk to thousands of nonprofit communicators every year, and I have picked up a clear divide within the nonprofit marketing field about how people approached the job — but I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t know if it was generational, or age of the organization, or what.  A few months ago, as I was compiling research for my new book, I started thinking that the split might boil down to the extent to which fundraising (especially money-now fundraising) was important to the marketer.  When I see two nonprofit marketing professionals arguing with each other, I now ask about their role within their organizations and how important short-term fundraising goals are to their own success. The answers, depending on their fundraising goals, usually line up with what these survey results show.


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  • I think this is a very important distinction, Kivi. There has always been, in my experience, a divide between marketing/communications folks and fundraising pros. The former typically approach communications in a broader way and often believe that there are important goals for their messages and content that are as least as important as securing a donation. Fundraisers tend to see everything through the fundraising lens, and are in danger of shortchanging other kinds of messages. I’ve always thought a blend of both types would be ideal.

    • Ultimately, I think the blend is very healthy. I do see people caught in the middle of this all the time though. They are hired to “deal with” all the communications work the fundraisers don’t want to do (like social media, traditional media relations) but then are given fundraising goals, so it can be very confusing and hard to sort out for people new to the job.

  • I shared this article with our key leadership – I have never thought of it in this way, but you articulate this dynamic so well. I think our organization is in the middle of shifting from a fundraising mindset to community/brand building but we have a lot to learn.

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  • Claire Axelrad

    Like Joanne, I’m an advocate of getting rid of organizational silos. Especially the silos that divide development and marketing. Frankly, those two words are synonyms in my book (and fundraising is a subset of development; much as sales is a subset of marketing). For nonprofits, it’s essential we all get on the same page. Equally essential, it’s time to recognize that the digital revolution has changed the business landscape. We can no longer do business the way we did it five years ago. Those that persist in the old ways will fall behind. Most of us don’t cater to just one generation. Our donors and potential donors are everywhere, using multiple communication channels. We have to be where they are. We no longer own our brands. The public does. They’re two-thirds of the way down the path towards engagement before we even know they exist. It’s a brave new world.

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  • Tina Cincotti

    Thanks so much for this Kivi. I really appreciate how you’ve articulated this dynamic. It’s a very helpful analysis to have when trying to move organizations down a more integrated path. Thanks again!

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