There are strong similarities between nonprofit fundraising and marketing, especially in the basic skills and insights both require. I have worked in both worlds and, over the years, I’ve observed these connections task by task, pitch by pitch.
The more I see these connections, the more I recognize that there are bigger principles at work. I come back to these principles often, sometimes to remind myself, other times to relearn them with new eyes, but always so I can better serve my clients. My goal in sharing these principles is to spark a dialogue, so please, share your thoughts in the comments.
Among these four similarities, seasoned professionals in marketing or fundraising will readily see the business features or maxims they live by. My aim is to illustrate what the two worlds have in common. Career changers between fundraising and marketing take heed.
Marketing and fundraising are strategically and tactically very similar because both involve:
Sophisticated buyers or stakeholders. Whether you are approaching someone in the C-suite or a program officer at a major foundation, they may know as much as you do or more about your practice or subject matter area. Approaching them will be a dialogue—a sustained one. Information will flow two ways.
Large quantities of information. This follows from the item I just mentioned: the need to deal with sophisticated stakeholders. But dwelling in information for its own sake is a trap. One’s expertise or mission rarely speaks for itself. Precisely because the person on the other side of the table knows the domain you operate in, it’s incumbent on you to tell them why they should choose you or your organization in particular to carry out the mission at hand instead of someone else. To sift and extract the gold, that is, from the rich subsoil of information we all have recourse to these days. And to make sure they see it at the top of the page.
Building long term relationships. Every point of contact with the client or stakeholder, every proposal or meeting or introductory phone call, is part of a process of establishing a lasting relationship. The aim is to build trust and familiarity that will win repeat or added business, or continuing support and engagement.
Effective prior planning and teamwork. Given all the challenges in managing deep and fruitful partnerships with stakeholders, no single person on the seller or grant seeker side can be fully responsible for all of the tasks. And no single person is always right or perfectly informed about the best approach to each situation or prospect. This means that there has to be a prior investment in creating the rules and expectations about who contributes what before pursuing contract work or grants. Good process makes for good product.
There are obvious differences in the precise ways each type of organization generates or manages income. My point is that the two types of organizations and related specialties should not be seen as opposed or alien to one another. In each case, you are asking your client or funder to initiate a long-term partnership and make an investment that will have a positive ripple effect, whether in the client’s business growth or in the sphere of public goods and services.
My own background is in foundation and institutional giving, and in marketing communications for law and consulting firms. Still, there are insights here for all fundraisers and marketers alike.