Every non-profit, no matter its size, either has a marketing and communications department (MarCom) or a marketing-communications function. And it’s built on the idea that something more is needed to communicate with the public than what comes out of the fundraising programs.

Jeff and I agree with this, to a point. And that point is that something more is needed. In our opinion, here’s what that is. The MarCom scope of work should be limited to building and maintaining the brand – that would be Public Relations. It should not be producing fundraising materials: direct mail, proposals, annual reports, newsletters, websites, social media, etc. – this work should be done by the fundraising department/division.

Think about it this way. Separate from regulatory publics that some non-profits would need to influence through public relations materials and efforts, what other public is there? The donating public. Individuals and institutions of all types who can give resources (money, services and in-kind hard goods). That’s it.

So, when it comes to communicating with the public at large, there are two agendas:

  1. Build, enhance and maintain the brand – these are the MarCom folks, and
  2. Secure resources – these are the fundraising folks.

Nothing more.

But this is where things go wrong in many non-profits. Non-fundraising personnel are hired to “do” MarCom activities, and those activities include producing electronic and printed media that are then pushed on the fundraising folks to use, including mid-level, major and planned gift front-line fundraisers.

That might be OK if those MarCom persons were (a) experienced in fundraising and (b) reporting up to the fundraising leader. But usually they aren’t. They report to a very good MarCom person, with a ton of experience in communications and public relations, and hardly any experience in fundraising. And this type of person doesn’t usually understand the donor pipeline and the type of messaging needed to acquire, cultivate and retain donors.

What they do know is how to build and enhance the brand and produce good looking, well written and highly produced communication product.

The problem is that this product is practically useless for the front-line fundraiser. Why? Because, in fundraising, the focus is on solving societal problems and reporting back on the difference a donor made through their giving. It’s about talking to the donor or the prospective donor about what they care about, as it relates to what the organization is doing. It’s never about all the attributes of the organization.

I know, there often is a fine line here, but for the most part, MarCom product does not work for fundraising – which is the MarCom dilemma for mid, major and planned giving folks. And, way too much money is spent on MarCom functions in an organization – budget which would be better used in acquiring, cultivating and retaining donors.

What can you do if you’re in this situation? Well, if you’re a leader, take the following steps:

  1. Make sure MarCom reports up to a talented and experienced fundraising professional.
  2. Make sure the MarCom personnel, in addition to having MarCom experience, have proven fundraising experience.
  3. When vetting people to hire in MarCom, check very carefully their view and operating philosophy on fundraising.
    • Are they donor-driven?
    • Do they understand that fundraising messaging is about addressing a societal problem, and therefore all copy and images need to support that goal?
    • Do they understand that communication vehicles, including the website and social media, should be biased towards presenting societal problems to solve, and not how great the organization is?
    • Do they understand and accept that every societal problem statement to the general public should be an opportunity to acquire a donor, and that functional provisions need to be made to make that happen?
    • Do they understand and accept that every communication piece, electronic or printed, is an opportunity to come on board as a new donor, or to give, if it’s an existing donor? This means that there are opportunities to give in every piece, some soft?
    • Do they understand the importance of continually telling the donor, via MarCom materials, that their giving is making a difference?

All of these points are so important in your hiring of MarCom people: creatives, strategists, planners, etc. Ignore this at your peril.

And if you’re a mid, major or planned giving front-line fundraiser, remember this: you do NOT need to use MarCom-produced material in your work with your caseload donors. Only use it if it meets your criteria and objectives.

To be clear, Jeff and I really do like the MarCom function in a non-profit. We just think it needs to be disciplined and directed by an experienced fundraising professional who will make sure that all of its content not only builds and enhances the brand but also accomplishes the fundraising objectives of the mid, major and planned giving front-line fundraiser.

Remember, when you think about what matters in a non-profit, it boils down to this: the main objective is to find and align like-minded people and institutions to the organization and, together, address the societal need your non-profit exists to solve. Nothing more. (Tweet it!) Keep that in mind.