How to Completely Change Nonprofit Fundraising, Marketing – Part 1
For some time now, I’ve been saying fundraising has changed more in the past five to 10 years than in the previous 50. It’s due to the digital revolution that fundamentally has changed business as usual—for everyone.
Change is inevitable, yet change is hard. And nonprofits seem to have a more difficult time embracing change than their for-profit counterparts. Perhaps it’s due to the way social-benefit organizations are structured.
They’re run by board members who have day jobs, and the business of nonprofit management and/or fundraising and marketing is usually neither their first priority nor area of expertise. So they may be slower to see the writing on the wall than the staff who work daily for the cause.
Nonprofits also tend to place great value on consensus decision-making.
While it’s important to get everyone on the same page, sometimes it’s more effective to lead folks there than to ask them to get there on their own—especially when they don’t know where they’re going! And this can happen a lot when the pace of change is as fast as it is today.
There’s one place it’s become crystal clear that change can’t wait.
Fundraising, marketing, sales, website, social media—these cannot be separate departments any longer. Frankly, they should never have been separated. Nor can nonprofits afford to have fundraising staff and program staff operating at cross purposes.
It’s time to eliminate silos
That’s if nonprofits want to be effective in creating awareness of and building support for their causes—and if they want to stop the hemorrhaging of donors that’s led to unsustainable levels of donor attrition.
I’ve been a broken record for years on the essential need to integrate marketing and fundraising.
It’s funny, because I’m sure that’s what the word "development" was intended to do. You know, "developing resources to sustain the organization’s mission." Or, as I often explained it to folks, "developing a photo of the mission that’s so compelling others want to jump into the picture."
Sadly, often the glue that should be holding marketing and fundraising together just isn’t very sticky.
Absent strong, visionary leadership and a values-based organizational culture of philanthropy, people get in the way. People hear the word "development" and think "fundraising." They think fundraising and react "oh, money." And money is still one of the biggest taboos that exists in our society. No one wants to be a part of that end of the business.
So fundraising gets put over in a corner—the one where all the "money-grubbers" hang out. And marketing gets put in another corner. And sometimes they go a few rounds in the ring. And that becomes "business as usual."
And business becomes dysfunctional.
Communication is confusing. Money is left on the table. Staff and volunteers become unhappy, because too much is a battle over territory and messaging. Donors become unhappy, because their needs aren’t considered a priority.
I’m happy to report that others are joining me in leading the discussion forward to a post-digital revolution era—one that truly represents a sea change in how nonprofits do business. In "Time to Change the Way You Communicate With Donors: From Multichannel to Omnichannel Communications", Margaret Battistelli Gardner, former editor of Fundraising Success (now NonProfit PRO) wrote eloquently on the one area of nonprofit management where this change is most pronounced.
The way forward is omnichannel communications
Conceptually it’s different than multichannel. The way I see it, it boils down to this: Marketing and fundraising are not different. Some folks say the two are like peanut butter and jelly. They go together. I say “no.” They’re the same thing. Margaret and I agree. She said: "Like it or not, fundraising is marketing." They’re both about communication. They’re both about values.
The two functions are bound at the hip. They’re symbiotic. One bolsters the other and vice-versa. They live together; they die alone. An intentional, overarching integration is required. The digital revolution has led to a blurring of boundaries.
"Business as usual" no longer makes sense. Not when everyone has the ability to communicate with anybody, through multiple channels, right at their fingertips. Information no longer is "power." You can't squirrel it away and dole it out at your will, because everyone has access to it. It's why, some years ago, I wrote an article entitled "Occupy Philanthropy."
You must democratize communications in your organization. Your constituents only know one you. They don’t care which department your message emanates from. If they get an email from your volunteer department on Monday, then one from your marketing department on Wednesday and one from your development department on Friday, who knows which one they’ll choose to open. So your important messages better be included everywhere.
'Marketing,' 'fundraising' and 'sales'—think of them as synonyms
In the context of nonprofit communications, that’s exactly what they are. They all have the same goal—to influence and persuade folks to do something positive to make the world a better place.
One of my favorite books is Daniel Pink’s "To Sell Is Human". His premise is that we’re all in "sales" on a daily basis. Whether it’s simply trying to get your kids up and out the door in the morning or persuading your boss to give you a raise, you’re constantly coaxing people to induce a specific desired behavior.
And this is exactly what marketing and fundraising is all about.
As Margaret noted: "Where consumer marketers are selling a product or a service, nonprofit marketers are selling opportunity—the opportunity to change the world; the opportunity to leave a legacy; the opportunity to hedge our bets on the karmic scale."
People are searching for meaning in their lives—something they can only achieve through you. Everyone at your nonprofit wears the hat of "philanthropy facilitator." When it comes to donor-facing contacts and connectors, the more your donor can have, the merrier!
And this is where omnichannel marketing enters into the picture.
How can you raise money for your cause if no one knows about the good work you’re doing?
Everything you do and say builds awareness for everything that comes after. It affects how people will feel and what they will do next. If marketing communications doesn’t set the table for fundraising, then no one will eat. And your nonprofit will starve.
You’ve got to integrate all online and offline communications functions across your entire organization.
- Offline bolsters online, and vice-versa.
- Program bolsters marketing, and vice-versa.
- What your receptionist says when she answers the phone bolsters fundraising.
And on and on throughout the depth and breadth of your organization.
You’ve got to allow for the fact that people today get information from different channels.
The kicker is that you often have no idea what their preferences may be. Some may open tweets from your Twitter feed. Others may check in on Facebook. Others will open emails only. Still others will only pay attention to what’s in their actual mailboxes. So you can’t even rely on a particular communications channel.
In part two of this article, we’ll get practical about what you can do fundamentally to change how you’re doing your marketing and fundraising so that all your communications—online and offline—are about shared, valued outcomes.
In the meantime, I’d love to know what you think. Are you struggling with how you integrate marketing and fundraising?
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.