Marketers gallop to the rescue of hapless fundraisers

Like The Agitator, I also said Yikes when I say this article in the New York Times: To Sell Themselves to Donors, Nonprofits Are Turning to the Pros.

It’s that same old story: benighted, ignorant fundraisers (the non-pros) are rescued by the pros from commercial marketing. Then the story makes it clear what kind of advice the pros have for us:

  • …nonprofits [should] more clearly explain their purpose in simple but powerful ways that connect emotionally with the public.
  • Use storytelling ability — along with the sophisticated use of data to identify donors and maintain a digital connection with them.

Oh, thank you, knights in shining armor! We had no idea! I’m surprised it didn’t include:

  • Be sure to apply ink to the paper to insure that your message will be visible.

No doubt there are fundraisers who know absolutely nothing about connecting with people and motivating behavior. For them, any insight from the broader marketing is helpful.

But fundraising is a profession, and most fundraisers are professionals. What we do is related to commercial marketing, but it’s not exactly the same thing.

I suppose I should be grateful that the great advice the pros gave us via the Times was at least harmless. In real life, marketers are prone to telling fundraisers things like these:

  • Ignore the fact that your donors are largely older women and instead create messaging aimed at much younger and cooler people.
  • Don’t communicate about what you actually do. Create clever abstractions to make sure you never give the impression that donors can make something specific happen.
  • Wordplay is far more persuasive than being clear and literal.

The painful truth is, arrogant saviors from the marketing world do as much harm as good when they play in the fundraising space.

And really, it’s our own fault when we call them in and give them carte blanche without commonsense oversight.

It’s time for fundraisers to act like professionals. (And to actually be professionals.) We don’t need marketing saviors. We need to get our own act together.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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