The Shocking Truth about Marketing and Development for Nonprofit

It's also Development

It’s also Development

They’re the same thing.

Let me repeat, to make sure you heard this correctly: they’re the SAME thing.

No, this isn’t some trick.   They really serve the same function. Which is why they shouldn’t exist in separate silos within your organization. Do you want to know why?

On the subject of marketing, allow me to quote the inimitable Hugh MacLeod :

“We are a species of ideas. And the ideas that spread, win. And marketing is just the art of getting ideas to spread. Sure, selling bathroom deodorant via daytime TV commercials is marketing. But so was Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. So was The Declaration Of Independence. “

That’s marketing.

On the subject of development, let me channel the doyenne of fundraising, Kay Sprinkel Grace, who often calls fundraisers “pragmatic dreamers.” Here’s what she has to say:

Development is “the process of uncovering shared values.” It is about cultivating meaningful relationships and then providing opportunities for people to invest in areas that are important to them.

That’s development.

Do you have a dream… a vision… values… a mission you want to spread?

Of course you do!

But… are you putting your best foot forward to achieve this? And what about your right and left hands? Do they know what each other is doing? Are both oars pulling the same boat?

Let me tell you a tale of marketing and development misalignment. When I worked at a music conservatory, the message from development was “Help us assure the world always has music – invest in a future musician with a scholarship.” The message from marketing was “We have more free and low-cost concerts than anyplace else in the City.”

Marketing’s message was along the lines of “just come here for free stuff ; music can be had for pennies.”  Entertaining, cheap, trivial. That actually worked against the vision of communicating that training the musicians of tomorrow is worth a thoughtful  investment because of the significance of music in our lives.  Meaningful, expensive, essential.

Think about your organization’s messaging. Is it consistent? Is marketing giving your fundraising initiatives the lift they need to succeed?

Do you integrate development and marketing? Or does your development department have to beg and cajole the marketing staff to help them out whenever needs arise?

How can you raise money for your cause if no one knows about the good work you’re doing?

If you want to make life easier for yourself, I implore you to align these two functions.  Integrate your departments. Understand that from the outside looking in, you are ONE organization.  No one cares which department crafted which message. What folks do care about is when they are bombarded by too many different messages — from different departments — with different calls to action.  It’s confusing. What are they supposed to do first! What’s your top priority for their time, interest and money?

Development is to fundraising as marketing is to sales.

Development and marketing spread ideas in order to create the preconditions to fundraising and sales. They share the same responsibility for making relationship- building and communications decisions. Where responsibility is shared, authority must be shared as well. As I noted in my previous post on persuading your board and E.D. they’re one and the same:

Development and marketing have the same two basic decisions to make:  (1) which “product” to offer, and (2) which channel(s) to message in.  Put another way, the right product must be offered in the right way to the right customer. If marketing and development are targeting the same constituents (and there is always significant overlap), yet each choose a different product or channel, we’re already in trouble. Development and marketing efforts must have coherence. Yet too often no one has authority (or too many people share authority); the result is anarchy.

The point is that you can’t separate who you are from your relationship with your constituents. 

This is why NPOs have strived to create an organization-wide culture of philanthropy, understanding that the way the phone is answered has a lot to do with ultimately creating and sustaining donor investment.  Now, people are saying that everything we do is marketing, and that everyone in our organization is a marketer.  The only way these theses can both be true is if development and marketing are…. drum roll please… the same thing!

Let’s face the music folks. Effective communications  — for fundraising or sales or whatever you call it —  deliver on your brand promise and always reflect your organizational identity. This ensures messaging is believable and memorable, helping you to build trust among new constituents (be they purchasers or contributors) and loyalty among constituents you already have.

That’s what marketing and development are all about.

United we stand. Divided we fall. Tell us how you’re making marketing and development align in your organization? If not, what holds you back?

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Image: Hugh MacLeod, Gaping Void

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About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. […] It’s beyond time to change the way you’ve traditionally done fundraising and marketing. In silos. In segments. In ‘low touch’ at the bottom and ‘high touch’ at the top strategies. Boundaries are blurring. You’ve got to integrate all online and offline communications functions across your entire organization. Marketing and development are the same thing. […]

  2. […] and marketing must be seamlessly integrated. They cannot be separate silos any longer. Staff with responsibilities in these areas must speak the same language.  Responsibilities must […]

  3. […] preceding is a cross post from November 11, 2013 by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE. Claire was named Outstanding Fundraising […]

  4. […] folks say the two are like peanut butter and jelly. They go together. I say “no.” They’re the same thing. Margaret and I agree. She said: “Like it or not, fundraising is marketing.” […]

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