How (Good) Marketing and Branding Can Save Your Fundraising

7 min read

A few years ago, Gail Perry caused quite a stir when she published her post “Why Marketing and Branding Can Kill Your Fundraising.” She later changed the title, adding the word “(bad)” and clarified that she wasn’t demonizing all marketing––just bad marketing–– but not until she had riled up quite a few communications and marketing folks who disagreed with her take.

Here’s the thing. I don’t disagree with Gail that bad marketing and branding can harm your fundraising. Bad marketing and branding can harm every aspect of your organization. It’s that important. What I do take issue with is making bad marketing the scapegoat for the real problem: an unhealthy relationship between fundraising and development. A post about the myriad of ways in which good marketing can advance fundraising (when the two functions are properly aligned) is long overdue. This is that post, and here are just a few of those ways.

How can marketing help with fundraising?

Marketing can support fundraising in the nonprofit sector by:

  • Conducting research that allows you to base fundraising on data and insights
  • Informing donor-centered messaging
  • Ensuring your brand is recognized
  • Gathering and telling stories
  • Making fundraising a multi-channel journey
  • Fostering relationships and encouraging ongoing engagement
  • Sharing data

Allow me to elaborate.

Marketing Can Conduct Research that Allows You to Base Fundraising on Data and Insights

Research is a cornerstone of the marketing function. We marketers love to conduct surveys, focus groups, interviews and even ethnographic studies that help us get in the minds of our stakeholders and understand what makes them tick. Fundraising can benefit from this research in a variety of ways. Marketing research can inform the selection of donor segments, the targeting of digital ads and the nuances of fundraising messaging. Marketers have to be willing to share it, and fundraisers have to be receptive to using it. Even better, marketers and fundraisers should have constructive conversations about the types of research, data and insights needed to inform smarter fundraising campaigns, and work together to conduct it.

Marketing Can Inform Donor-Centered Messaging That Also Acknowledges the Other Audiences Your Organization Serves

One of the primary complaints Gail makes about marketing in her post is that it is NOT donor-centered. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There is nothing more important to a (good) marketer than being stakeholder-centered, and at many organizations, donors are one of the most important stakeholders to revolve messaging around. Good marketing involves developing a set of master key messages around which the entire organization can rally, and then modifying those key messages for each stakeholder group the organization communicates with: donors, clients, patrons, members, volunteers, ticket purchasers, etc. The problem arises when a nonprofit acts as if it exists only to fundraise. This can lead the organization to communicate with all its stakeholders as if they were donors, or worse, it can lead to messaging that focuses on how great the organization is rather than emphasizing the things stakeholders really care about, like the impact they can make by getting involved. Marketing is responsible for helping fundraising develop donor-centered messaging that is consistent with, or at least not in conflict with, the messaging other types of stakeholders receive.

Marketing Can Ensure Your Brand Is Recognized Every Time You Make an Ask

Donor fatigue is a real problem, and it’s getting worse all the time; 83.3% of nonprofits cite it as a primary concern. Overcoming it requires a true partnership between marketing and fundraising, in which marketing is responsible for building a strong, recognizable and most importantly resonant brand and fundraising is responsible for properly timing their asks and stewarding donors. Even the smartest fundraising campaigns won’t stand out in a sea of clutter if your brand is not known, trusted and recognized the moment a potential donor opens their mailbox or scrolls through their Twitter feed.

Marketing Can Gather and Tell Stories

Effective fundraising requires both data and stories. While data often come easily to fundraising professionals, stories typically do not. Fortunately, for most nonprofit marketers, storytelling is second nature. An effective nonprofit marketing department is one that has structures and systems in place for gathering powerful stories of impact and turning them into compelling narratives. By tapping into these stories in campaigns and communications, fundraising can both save itself a lot of work, and ensure the stories donors hear are consistent with those being told to other audiences.

Marketing Can Make Fundraising a Multi-Channel Journey

Your marketing function is responsible for staying on the pulse of the ever-evolving media environment and building strategies that ensure audiences are reached when and where they’re paying attention––whether that’s a local newspaper or a Reddit feed. When marketing and fundraising align their efforts, marketing can help fundraising find new ways to engage with current donors and prospective donors across a much more diverse range of channels and at every point in their journey.

Marketing Can Foster Relationships and Encourage Ongoing Engagement

Many fundraising departments organize their efforts around campaigns (stewardship, Giving Tuesday, end-of-year), and that makes sense. There are key times during the year where you’re most likely to see engagement from donors, and you need to focus your limited resources on making the most of those opportunities. But what happens to your existing donors and potential donors the rest of the year? That’s where marketing should come in. Marketers are always communicating with an organization’s stakeholders, whether through social media posts, newsletters or events. When marketing and fundraising align their efforts, marketing can work more donor touchpoints into their strategy to build relationships with people who give and foster ongoing engagement between asks.

Marketing Can Share Data

Marketing and fundraising are both data-heavy functions at nonprofit organizations, and the amount of data each is collecting has grown exponentially over the last few years. Unfortunately, the pace at which the two functions are sharing data has not kept up with the pace at which they’re collecting it. That needs to change. Marketing needs to share data on things like who is engaging on social media, who is visiting your website and what they’re doing once they get there with fundraising. In return, fundraising needs to share data with marketing about who is giving and why. Ideally, this information shouldn’t be segregated into two (or more) separate tools, but rather collected through one heavy-hitting piece of technology that both marketing and fundraising utilize.

Good marketing can enhance fundraising in so many ways, but for that to happen, a few things need to be true:

1) We need to get rid of the silos that exist between marketing and fundraising. We need to find a way for these two important functions to align their efforts and work together seamlessly.


2) We need to foster alignment without making marketing a function of fundraising. As so many commenters on Gail’s post smartly pointed out, nonprofits have a wide variety of audiences to communicate with and a wide variety of goals to advance in addition to fundraising. Slotting marketing in as a function to be overseen by or managed by fundraising limits the role marketing can play, and thereby limits the impact an organization will be able to make on its mission.

3) We need to stop pointing fingers and being so darn territorial. I think the marketing-fundraising finger pointing got its start in the corporate world. If you’ve ever worked for a for-profit, you’ve probably experienced situations where marketing pointed its finger at sales for not closing enough of the leads marketing delivered, and sales pointed its fingers at marketing for failing to deliver quality leads in the first place. It happens all the time, but let’s be better than that. Let’s realize that marketing and fundraising are complementary functions, each of which can strengthen the other. Let’s stop blaming the department we’re not in for our shortcomings, and instead work together to find solutions to our joint problems.

One of the things we’re most excited about at Prosper Strategies right now is a new offering focused on fostering marketing-fundraising alignment at nonprofit organizations. We’ll share more soon, but for now, I’d love to know: is this something you’d find value in?

And I’d love to hear from you: do you think good marketing and branding can foster better fundraising? How else have you seen these two functions work together to do great things?

Want more?
Learn more about the bigger role marketing can and should play in advancing nonprofit missions? Read our Nonprofit Marketing Manifesto.

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