I recently came across a blogpost from Nonprofit Marcommunity advising nonprofits to elevate the role of marketing and communications in their organization so that its importance is level with fundraising. As a fundraiser, it was an interesting and thought-provoking post…probably because I don’t work in an organization where marcomm is treated like a service role to fundraising. In many ways, it’s actually quite the reverse where fundraising often takes a backseat to brand and communications.
This can present some frustrating challenges within both departments.
So I get it. When either marcomm or fundraising are elevated over the other, it not only generates tension inside the organization, but likely presents a fractured image to donors, supporters, and the public.
What’s the key to striking the right balance between these two important functions? Maybe it’s not a question of balance but something different. More on that below.
Let’s start with the core purposes of marcomm and fundraising in the nonprofit organization (and forgive this digital fundraiser for any bias and using a very broad brush here). Marcomm is responsible for brand strategy. Fundraising is responsible for revenue development.
Looking through this lens, it’s kind of easy to see where there could be some potential friction. This is particularly true if there’s the appearance of an imbalance of power. This leads to fear and antagonism.
If Brand Strategy sits on top, then fundraising likely has to adhere to strict rules around voice, design, imagery, and even grammar (sidenote: nonprofits are not newsrooms and fundraising isn’t reporting…stop insisting on blind adherence to AP style usage). The imbalance can negatively impact the ability of development professionals to use their best strategies and tactics to motivate donors to give. It can squash innovation and force creative fundraisers into small prescribed boxes where how something “looks” is more important than if something “works.”
On the other hand, if Revenue Development sits on top, then marcomm likely has to struggle to be seen as more than service managers and (ineffectual) advocates for how the public views the nonprofit. The imbalance can negatively impact the ability of marketing and communication professionals to present the organization’s unified voice and brand. And when budget goals are in jeopardy, marcomm doesn’t have the necessary leverage to keep fundraising from making bad long-term brand decisions based on getting some quick money through the door.
Bottom line: both brand and revenue are important and impact each other. So how does an organization deal with this delicate balancing act?
Perhaps it’s better to reframe the question. Rather than trying to balance, how can a nonprofit integrate fundraising and marcomm so each works to augment the other?
Responsibility for revenue development and brand strategy must be shared. Even as I write this, it seems so logical, so obvious. Yet, so few nonprofits actually commit to this in a meaningful way where the two departments are accountable for both money and message. Some of this is due to siloed organizational structure, budget controls, and yes, even job security. But these are just excuses for sticking with tired, antiquated modes of thinking. And it’s far past time for our nonprofits to have the guts to address stupid systems and fear of change.
Here’s what I’d like to propose:
Marcomm – Make your department accountable for revenue. Here in the digital space, marcomm has a huge part to play, but generating likes in social media, writing magazine articles, and producing press releases doesn’t necessarily equate to meeting revenue goals. Please don’t infer that I’m saying these things are unimportant…but ask how they contribute to the financial health of the organization? Funding the mission is everyone’s job.
Fundraisers – We’re not off the hook. Our department needs to be accountable to the health of the brand. That means no intentionally shady business just to meet the quarterly budget goal. We’re better than that. And if you find that your marcomm folks don’t quite understand how to pin their actions to revenue-generating results, then it’s our job to advise and consult. Managing the brand is everyone’s job.
What do you think? I know every nonprofit is structured differently and plays by different political rules. Am I alone in seeing the marcomm/fundraising tension this way? I would really love to hear your personal insights into this organizational dynamic.