Why Marketing and Fundraising are Not the Same

4 min read

At many nonprofits, marketing, communications and development are thought of as one in the same, and managed under a single department. At Prosper Strategies, we don’t recommend this, because these two functions are certainly not one in the same. That’s because marketing is much more than a tool for fundraising and development.

Of course, you can’t fundraise without marketing and communications, but fundraising is only one aspect of an organization’s success that marketing and communications can contribute to. While these functions are interdependent on one another, if you’re thinking that marketing only exists to advance fundraising, you’re thinking too small. 

Of course, you can’t fundraise without marketing and communications, but fundraising is only one aspect of an organization’s success that marketing and communications can contribute to. Click To Tweet

Here’s how we define and differentiate each of these important functions as they relate to the nonprofit sector:

  • Marketing comprises the activities, touchpoints and messages that motivate stakeholders to take actions that advance a nonprofit’s mission and create sustainable social change.
  • Fundraising is the process of soliciting financial support for an organization by building, strengthening and sustaining relationships with individual donors, foundations, corporations and other supporters who are aligned with the organization’s mission and goals.

Let’s take a closer look at why marketing and fundraising should exist as separate functions at your organization.

Marketing and communications comprises every touchpoint with every stakeholder.

Marketing and communications serve a larger purpose than shepherding potential donors through their relationship with your organization. Your marketing function is also necessary for raising general awareness about your organization, recruiting volunteers, and building relationships with other organizations and companies as well as the people you serve and the community you operate within. 

Not everyone your organization comes in contact with is a potential donor. That’s why we often consider it a mistake to treat marketing solely as a device to advance fundraising, and why it’s often a mistake for marketing and fundraising to exist as a single role at a nonprofit. 

Fundraising and development builds, strengthens and secures relationships with financial supports.

In addition to the diversity of audiences marketing is meant to address, another major difference between marketing and fundraising is the nature of the goals you have to meet. Of course, your organization will have long-term development goals, but there are also hard dollar amounts that most organizations have to make sure they hit in the short term to stay on track. 

That’s why it’s so important to develop and maintain relationships through marketing outside of fundraising. When it’s time for a major push, like an end-of-year fundraising campaign, your development team should be able to build on existing relationships with people who know about and are interested in your organization.

After a relationship developed through marketing has reached the point of donating, your donors should return to the marketing/storytelling phase of their communications with you. That way, they can stay engaged and be nurtured into donating once again. When it’s time for fundraising to work its magic, you donors will be ready and eager to give.

But wait: how are marketing and fundraising similar?

So, we’ve laid out why marketing and fundraising are different, but how are they similar?

The answer to this question is easy: Both marketing and fundraising should operate based on your organization’s overall strategic plan.

Everything marketing and fundraising do should be tied to specific goals that serve your organization’s overall mission and vision. Your strategic plan will inform your fundraising plan, and both will inform your marketing plan. This ensures clear alignment between marketing and fundraising, even when they operate as separate functions. 

As CauseVox put it, “The donor engagement lifecycle has components of marketing (recruit/inspire, learn, engage) and fundraising (ask, thank, repeat).” So even though we should always think of marketing and fundraising as separate entities, they’re part of the same circle of life, and each donor follows a cyclical journey through both functions. 

Are you ready for your marketing to do more than fundraise?

Expand your approach to marketing so you can fulfill your true potential for impact. Read about how you can make that happen at your organization in our Nonprofit Marketing Manifesto.

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