| 5 min read

Fundraising & Marketing: Capabilities, Not Identities

There are many things I love about working with non-profits. There are also some things that can be a bit frustrating at times. One of these frustrations for many people is the tendency to build walls and silos, something that seems almost endemic in non-profits. A great example of this lies in fundraising and marketing. 

The reality is that fundraising is a capability, not an identity. The same is true for marketing. These are both occupations and skills. The latter seems to be forgotten from time to time. In this blog, I’ll explore how viewing fundraising and marketing as transferable skills – instead of identities – can greatly help strengthen your non-profit. 

The Tendency for Boxes

We like to place things into boxes. This is only natural. After all, it is how our brains work. We observe things and then categorize them into schemas that help us understand. When taking this psychological perspective, it probably isn’t surprising that organizations create walls and silos when not being intentional to avoid this. 

We can see this often in both fundraising and marketing. A non-profit organization will employ marketers and fundraisers. In turn, these people often take a strong level of ownership over “what is mine” versus “what is yours.” This is understandable and means that people have pride in their work. However, it also hurts organizational performance. 

Marketing techniques like storytelling and infographics help strengthen relationships

The reality is that fundraising and marketing overlap a lot in terms of tasks. Let’s take a look at where some of this overlap exists:

  • Marketing engages the public in terms of things like how they can volunteer or assist an organization. This can include a small financial commitment option as well. 
  • Fundraising focuses on building relationships with donors. Marketing techniques such as storytelling and infographics can help strengthen these relationships. 
  • Fundraising operates in terms of dollars and the number of donations. However, successful fundraising often integrates marketing techniques to help show the impact of those donations.

As you can see, there are many overlaps between these two areas. 

Viewing Marketing and Fundraising as Capabilities

In a world filled with discussion of the importance of transferable skills, we often forget that marketing and fundraising are – at their core – simply a collection of skill sets. I hadn’t even fully realized how we had gotten this all mixed up inside the nonprofit sector until Noah Barnett, VP of marketing at Feathr, started to talk to me about the fact that marketing and fundraising are capabilities that often get confused for identities. But marketing skills do not have to be the realm of marketers and fundraising skills do not have to solely be the realm of fundraisers. 

For example, below is a short list of some of the core skills of a good marketer that can translate into powerful skills within fundraising. You’ll note that all of these can be learned and developed. 

  • Communication
  • Storytelling
  • Attention to detail
  • Writing
  • Creativity

This is just a small list, but it is easy to see how these capabilities can enhance the function of fundraising. However, this effect goes both ways. Below are some common skills of a good fundraiser that can be an asset to marketing:

  • Active listening
  • Empathy
  • Adaptability
  • Relationship building

In fact, there are many skills that constantly overlap between the two areas. Some of the most important include the ability to see the big picture, concern for others, and analytical skills. It simply makes sense that more of the core skills between these two areas can be leveraged to augment performance. Viewing these skills as interdisciplinary capabilities can help the overall organization thrive. 

Active Listening is one of the common skills of a good fundraiser

The Essential Nature of Blending Marketing & Fundraising

Recognizing that marketing and fundraising are capabilities rather than separate identities, the next question is how they can better be blended. This is perhaps a particularly critical question with many economists predicting an extending recession on the way. 

In the non-profit sphere, marketing is often the first area to receive cuts during a downturn in funding. This is often due to a perception that marketing is not tied to revenue despite the fact that it is directly linked to fundraising. 

We can chalk a lot of this up to recency bias. This is a phenomenon from psychology where our brains have a tendency to give greater significance to a recent event regardless of if this is true or not. Thus, the decision maker may view fundraising as the last step in a long process of raising money rather than seeing the extent of the value of marketing. 

Corporations don’t often have this problem. After all, it is well known that it takes an average of 6-8 points of contact in order to generate a first sale. Corporations realize that marketing is critical for generating revenue. 

How Can We Better Blend Marketing & Fundraising to Support Mission?

There are many ways that fundraising can utilize marketing capabilities to succeed. In fact, there are far too many to discuss thoroughly here. However, here are some basic ways to use these capabilities to strengthen your non-profit’s mission.

Understand Your Audience

Audience analysis is a core skill of marketers. This can help pay off with fundraising too. Conduct research on potential donors. Store these data points in a spreadsheet. Seek commonalities in your donor base for large-scale outreach and focus on individual data points for one-on-one relationship building. 

Communicate Key Messages

Donors want to know that their contributions are making a difference. A key way to do this is to tell the story of how your organization (and their money) is helping the community. This helps them feel as if their donation is generating value. Storytelling is a great way to help a one-time donor become a frequent contributor. 

Find New Ways for Engagement

Engagement is at the center of marketing’s goals. After all, this area focuses on communicating through a wide variety of channels. Taking a page from this book can help fundraising excel with donor management as well. Adopting a multi-channel approach can help fundraising find new ways to reach potential donors while strengthening brand recognition with existing donors. While there are likely a few key times a year that you’ll ask for money, marketing capabilities can help drive engagement the rest of the year. 

Keep Mission and Branding Consistent

Your organization’s mission and branding should be consistently reflected across all communications. This is something that marketing understands. With fundraising, ask yourself if your outreach efforts adequately reflect your mission and branding. Small steps towards consistency can help the organization overall. 

Measure Donor Engagement

Fundraising is used to measure things like cost per dollar raised, average gift size, lifetime value, etc. However, there are more metrics that can be used to measure donor engagement, helping determine if you are active including marketing capabilities in your fundraising approach. Things like events attended, social media engagement, email open rates (not just for asks), and patterns of giving can help strengthen your understanding of donor engagement. Find the metrics that matter to you.

Fundraising metrics such as cost per dollar raised, average gift size, and lifetime value are used to measure the effectiveness of fundraising campaigns.

Final Thoughts

Fundraising and marketing are capabilities, not identities. These are skills that can be learned and leveraged in both disciplines. When fundraising understands the value of marketing and takes active steps to include it, they will be able to meet goals and further the organization’s reach at much greater levels than simply sticking to their discipline’s traditional tactics. 

Not every nonprofit organization currently has all the desired marketing capabilities. For those needing to increase these, Feathr.co is a great option. They have helped over 1,000 non-profits drive donations, recruit volunteers, and activate communities. 

For more of my favorite fundraising tips and tricks, check out my Resource page! Here, you can find relevant articles, webinars, quizzes, etc. about fundraising in the nonprofit sector. In addition, you can subscribe to What the Fundraising for ongoing conversations about how you can fundamentally change the way you lead and fundraise. And to learn how to raise more from the right funders using the Power Partners Formula, you are always welcome to join one of my free Masterclasses at malloryerickson.com/free.

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