Marketing is Not Fundraising

Monday, March 21, 2016
Guest Writers
Fundraising
Marketing Communications
Human Resources
Marlene Oliveira

Nonprofit marketing communications does not equal fundraising. But many organizations lump the two together and this is a problem; because it holds nonprofits back.

Please note: I’m in no way questioning the value of fundraising itself. And yes, many fundraisers are, and need to be, excellent communicators. And strong fundraising must include strong communications. AND marketing communications and fundraising need to work closely together.

However, if you’re responsible for marketing communications for a nonprofit organization, your work extends beyond helping to reach fundraising goals. 

“In our organizations, we are all working towards a common goal of making life better for our beneficiaries. Yet sadly, too often, there is a systemic lack of respect and understanding of the strengths and skills that distinctive professions have to offer to the whole of our organizations,” says Colleen Mulholland, President & CEO, Burlington Community Foundation.

“Just as fundraising takes on many different shapes and forms from major gifts and planned giving, direct mail and door-to-door campaigns, to corporate social responsibility and point-of-purchase programs so too does marketing and communications.”

Nonprofit marketing communications: a wide range of responsibilities and goals

Here is just a sampling of nonprofit marketing communications responsibilities:

  • Promotion of programs and events
  • Social marketing/behaviour change communications
  • Community engagement/building
  • Volunteer recruitment
  • Brand development and management
  • Raising the profile of your nonprofit and keeping it relevant/top of mind
  • Serving your community by providing information/education/content

Yes, your audiences include donors but that’s just one segment. You also need to communicate with the communities you serve, volunteers, foundations or government funders, board members, employees, influencers or experts in your space, policy makers, members and other stakeholders.

“From brand management, internal/external communications, crisis/issues management, media relations, through to compelling donor-centric storytelling – distinctive and effective marketing and communications is a critical part of an organization’s success in reaching and educating the constituents it serves, and ultimately in fulfilling its mission,” Mulholland explains.

Marketing communications is being treated as a fund development tactic

Though the importance and role of marketing communications should be obvious, it’s clearly often forgotten. Or worse, it’s known and ignored, or simply not prioritized.

I see this when I meet nonprofit communicators who are only allowed professional development if it’s fundraising-related. Or when I meet the only communicator at a nonprofit, who is actually a “development coordinator”. You can see it in the lack of professional associations, conferences or networking opportunities for nonprofit communicators (part of my motivation for creating the Nonprofit MarCommunity).

I also see this attitude in the support and advice available for nonprofits. For example, I came across this statement in a post about nonprofit blogging: “If you do blogging, and you do it well, here’s what it all adds up to. It adds up to loyal supporters. The most important reason you’re going to blog.”

Advice like this assumes that all nonprofits have a single, common blogging – and communication – goal and audience.

Nonprofits have so many reasons to communicate. So much information to share, policy change to affect, programs to fill. So much good work is happening and the reality is, just because you’ve built it, does not mean they’ll come! These offerings need to be supported by strong marketing communications in order to succeed.

Why is this misconception a problem?

Marketing communications needs to be recognized as a valued and necessary part of moving an organization toward fulfilling its mission. Without this recognition and value, marketing communications in the sector will continue to be viewed as a luxury, frill, expense/overhead or even a “bad word” – which holds nonprofits back.

I spent six years as an in-house nonprofit communicator at a very large organization and I was lucky. Marketing communications had a seat at the senior management table and was a distinct department. We had our own budget – including room for professional development.

But since leaving that role and in my eight years of supporting and working with hundreds of diverse nonprofits as a consultant, trainer and blogger, I have learned that my experience was very much the exception. And back at my former employer, marketing communications has been absorbed back into fund development – back to how things looked more than 15 years ago. 

But some nonprofits are demonstrating what can be made possible when communications is truly valued for its role. Markus Stadelmann-Elder, Communications Director at Maytree explains:

“As a senior communications professional, I’m expected to keep the organization’s main objectives in mind. I can be an advisor to everyone – and make sure that everyone’s voice gets heard. I can listen to all project managers and make sure that their projects fit the organization’s mission, that their messages don’t contradict one another, and that they may even support one another.

Without communications at the most senior management table, this ‘neutral’ view would be missing.”

Benefits of strong nonprofit marketing communications capacity

A strong, empowered marketing communications professional or team can bring specialized skills to your organization. For example:

  • Research skills, including market research, evaluation and competitive analysis; all of which inform smarter, strategic decisions across the organization
  • Deep knowledge of audience segmentation and creative concept development to help your organization to differentiate itself and capture attention
  • Strong understanding of channel management and effectiveness: to truly allocate marketing communications dollars wisely

In his article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, The Case for Communications, Sean Gibbons, Executive Director of the Communications Network indicated that organizations that excel at communications are “stronger, smarter and vastly more effective.”

What can nonprofit organizations do to maximize the potential of marketing communications?

Shift your thinking! 

Consider whether your organization needs to evolve the role of marketing communications. Empower your marketing communications team members to play a bigger role than making a flyer for a program or “doing social media”. Support their professional development – essential, because marketing communications today is always changing.

Bring a marketing communications presence to senior-level conversations and give it a place in senior management teams. “With a direct line to the president,” adds Stadelmann-Elder, “I’m expected to identify what messages work best with key audiences, to work with all staff to shape those messages that they become their own yet follow the main ones, and identify opportunities to have those messages heard.”

It should be obvious that there is more to modern nonprofit marketing communications than fundraising. Don’t underestimate nonprofit communications, nonprofit communicators and the powerful role they can play to affect change. As Gibbons says in his article:

“At their core, foundations and nonprofits are in the business of developing and advancing big, bold ideas. If you want your ideas to take hold and win, you need to communicate and communicate well. It’s not an option anymore – it’s a necessity.”

As a sector let’s improve our attitude toward this important field and see its potential unlocked for more nonprofit organizations – starting with yours.

 

About the Author

Marlene OliveiraMarlene Oliveira is a copywriter and communications consultant at moflow and founder of the Nonprofit MarCommunity. Marlene specializes in helping nonprofits to produce better content and has worked in the sector since 1999. Marlene’s approach is to work with clients and community members, tapping into the knowledge and wisdom they already possess, to help their communications ‘flow’.

Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.

Back to Blog Retour au blogue

Comments

Submitted by Katherine Moffat on
Thanks for this Marlene. If most nonprofits could realize that their cause and their ask is non-existent without the clear communication of their reason for being, they would recognize the importance of pure marketing communications functions. The very fact that there is so much competition out there for mind share raises the importance of doing communications right and reaching the target. Only when audiences feel engaged by the message and the cause will fundraising come into the picture.

Submitted by Marlene Oliveira on
I'm glad this post resonated with you, Katherine. And I agree with you!

Submitted by Lee Jones on
Thank you for the blog Marlene. It has inspired me to write a blog clarifying that marketing is not volunteer engagement. Too often these days positions within nonprofits are being combined. The latest incarnation is marketing and volunteer engagement (and/or fundraising) being touted as community engagement.

Submitted by Marlene Oliveira on
Hi Lee - you're welcome and thank you for sharing that insight. I didn't realize that marketing and volunteer engagement were also being lumped together!

Add new comment

Our National Partners

  • agora foundation
  • great west life
  • investors group
  • J.W. McConnell Family Foundation
  • Lawson Foundation
  • Muttart Foundation
  • Ontario Trillium Foundation
  • RBC Foundation
  • Suncor
  • TD Bank
  • Telus

Learn more about our National Partners and other supporters.

Charitable Registration Number: 119218790 RR0001