What I wish I knew about marketing when I was a fundraiser

I spent 4 years working in fundraising at a large nationwide nonprofit. Starting on the major donor side, I researched potential donors for development directors. Eventually I switched to running our mass communications department (general donor communications).

At that nonprofit, we separated marketing and fundraising into two different categories. Marketing was in charge of social media, blogging, paid search, and our website; fundraising was in charge of communicating with our donors, asking them to give via mail, email, radio, telephone, and online giving. There was some obvious overlap here, but there are also commonly overlooked similarities.

The reality is that if you want your nonprofit to succeed, you need to treat marketing as fundraising and fundraising as marketing.

You can’t separate the two. Yes, fundraising is typically referred to as sales. But I would propose that fundraising (on a mass scale – more than talking to donors one-on-one) is more “smarketing” – a combination of sales and marketing. Everything you do should be based on increasing donations to grow your nonprofit.

Using business-y things for nonprofit-y things

After working at this nonprofit, I got my masters degree in marketing. How I wish I knew the things I learned in business school when I was a fundraiser!

The biggest takeaway? Successful nonprofits use marketing techniques of the business world to improve their fundraising.

There’s not much difference between creating a website that converts for donations and building a website that converts for leads. Think World Vision, charity:water, St. Jude’s. These organizations are heavy hitters when it comes to bringing in online donations. Their websites convert extremely well – meaning someone who comes to their site is very likely to convert from a viewer to a donor.

Marketers also rely heavily on data to make decisions. The mantra of marketing is to hit people with the right message at the right time. The best way to accomplish that is to use their database. They look at revenue trends, the lifetime value of customers, and retention rates.

Sound familiar? It should!

Replace revenue and customers with giving and donors, and you’re looking at the same graphs. As fundraisers, you should always be using your data to help you make marketing decisions.

For the next few weeks we’re going to walk you through a 101 series on Marketing for Fundraisers. We’ll share with you topics that for-profit businesses use to grow, but we’ll translate all that business jargon into nonprofit lingo. It’ll be like the Cliff’s Notes of business-hacks. (Not that I would know what Cliff’s Notes is…I always finished my reading 😉 )

Here are the topics we’ll cover:

  • The Customer Journey – what it means for nonprofits
  • Content Marketing – what it is, and how to do it as a nonprofit
  • A|B Testing – why you should test everything, plus examples
  • Landing pages, donation pages, and their differences (plus an intro to Google)
  • Marketing email – how to make them more successful

I know from experience that, as a fundraiser, you wear many different hats. You may not have the time or resources to research and stay up-to-date on the best marketing practices. At my nonprofit job, I didn’t even know that I was supposed to be researching some of these things, let alone where to start.

That’s why we’ve created this series – to give you all the resources you need to grow your organization. And we’ll give you actual tips and how-to’s so you can start using this information right away.

Stay tuned for our first blog post on breaking down the Customer Journey and what that means for nonprofits.


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