I participate in numerous social media groups for nonprofit communicators, and several times a year, someone wants to debate the difference between marketing and communications. Sometimes words like public relations or outreach are also thrown in the mix.
Many of these debates center on which words should be included in someone’s job title or team name. As organizations grow, we also sometimes see battles about which executives or staff teams will control the various aspects of marketing and communications work, which also leads to parsing the definitions as the work is divided.
The practical reality is that both words, marketing and communications, are used interchangeably in the nonprofit sector. Communications director, manager, or coordinator is a much more common job title than marketing director, manager, or coordinator. However, those communications directors are almost always doing what I consider both marketing and communications work.
When asked to define the differences between marketing and communications, I tend to simplify the conversation by saying that marketing is the more strategic form of this work, and communications is the more tactical form.
Marketing is about the value exchange. You have to know who you are talking to, what messages will resonate with them, and the best ways to deliver those messages. Those are strategic choices. Communications, on the other hand, is all of the content you create and your plan to distribute that content so that you can maintain relationships with the people consuming that content. Every nonprofit needs both.
Again, in practice, both words are used interchangeably in the nonprofit sector. If you are speaking with someone who insists the terms are different, I encourage you to explore their definitions in the context of your conversation, so you fully understand the implications of those word choices.