Friends of the firm offer their opinions on what makes philanthropic marketing distinctive and effective — and essential for nonprofits to thrive.

Effective communication is the cornerstone of development success.

“Many organizations look for an easy route to fundraising success, when more rigorous attention to message and communications is the really pivotal thing they need.  If you can communicate effectively up front about who you are as an organization, you can avoid wasting time on pie-in-the-sky prospects and focus on those who are genuinely attracted to your mission.”

Andrew W. Hibel, Founder and President, The Advise Us Foundation

A case for support must reflect your past and position your future.

“Every one of our clients wants the case for support to unlock the heart and spirit of giving, and they need a document that is a reflection of their past but also positions them for the future.  We often explain that getting there is a process – and often a challenging one, because they may not know what their future is yet, and because they frequently struggle to get outside of themselves.  They often need help in fine tuning areas of focus, and in finding a common thread that can run throughout the document and inspire readers to say ‘I want to be a part of this.’  They need succinct, compelling language that gets at the boldness of what they’re trying to do but is also validated by fact.  Balancing the emotional and rational can be a real challenge.”

Brenda Asare, CEO, The Alford Group

Case statements’ practical value ripples through an organization.

“I admit I wasn’t sure we needed some long document to capture why people should support us.  But I soon found myself returning to our case statement over and over and pulling various parts to use in letters, speeches, presentations, new partnership pitches – the impact went well beyond development. Having an agreed-upon point of view made all our communications easier, sharper and more focused.  It also brought consistency, because now our whole team is saying the same things.”

Susan Tomlinson Schmidt, MPA, CNP, President, Nonprofit Leadership Alliance

Donors want to prove their life matters; your messaging opens that door.

“Philanthropic communications is a lot more than mere ‘packaging.’  It’s a way of connecting the organization to donors in a way they find personally meaningful.  It’s about benefit to the donor—how does the gift commitment advance their own social interests or position them in a way that they regard as appropriate and inspiring? How do they step up to be part of a big and exciting initiative that can help to change the world? Everyone wants to leave a legacy, to prove that their life matters. That legacy can be family, business, community, or cause—or all together. Philanthropic communications are about knitting the fabric of that collective impact through a vision of hope and progress.”

Rob Moore, CEO, Lipman Hearne

Organizations don’t have needs…donors do.

“Institutions often make the mistake of talking about financial need.  Your solicitation letter might tell me that your agency is struggling since your state government gutted its funding – but what does that have to do with me?   Organizations must ground their communications in the idea that they don’t have needs, donors do – the need to make a difference. That’s the starting point for all your communications.”

Edith Falk, Principal, Falk Consulting LLC

Marketers struggle to explain philanthropic need – it’s a different mindset.

“Marketing generalists tend not to understand philanthropy.  For example, the marketing folks at a nonprofit retirement community might show a Gucci-wearing, BMW-driving widow in their collateral, because ‘that’s the kind of resident we want to attract.’  But that image is not helpful to philanthropy.  The marketers are very challenged to explain why that same place has philanthropic needs – it is a whole different mindset.”

Maree Bullock, Vice President, The Alford Group

Message is more than fluff; it’s fuel.

“Having the right message is key:  it doesn’t just give volunteers the words to say, it gives them the confidence and drive they need to make the ask.”

Jamie Phillippe, Vice President of Development and Donor Services, Chicago Community Trust

Marketing is broadcast, philanthropy is personal.

“Major gift philanthropy is a relationship game, unlike the mass appeal of marketing.  Raising real money requires a personal touch, and volunteers are the main deliverers of the message — they have to own it, so it has to be designed to reflect their interests and values.  I think only someone who is altruistic themselves can write convincingly for those with a passionate, philanthropic mindset.”

Jeanne Rattenbury, Director of Donor Communications, Alzheimers Association

Donors don’t just want the plan…they want the vision.

When it comes to scintillating reading, strategic plans are one step above bylaws.  Translating them in terms that are compelling to donors takes a special skill and a lot of work.”

Clyde Watkins, Senior Partner, Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt, LLC

From exec to board member, everyone is clamoring to say it right.

“Fundraising is all about the message.  If we’re to be successful, we have to move prospects to think, move them to act.  Volunteers are the most persuasive fundraisers, but for most of them the nonprofit context is a little mystical.  Nonprofit communication is specialized, and not something that most people are familiar and comfortable with in their day to day, especially if they have to explain “here’s why you should give” in their own words.  From the executive director to the board member, everyone is clamoring to say it right.  

Joe Skvara, Principal, JS Consulting

Marketing is a transaction; philanthropy is an intimate, meaningful experience.

“Do fundraisers need specialized communications support?  Yes, because the marketing department speaks a different language.  No matter the organization, marketing is focused on driving tuition or putting people in seats, promoting this package or that incentive – it’s transactional, and it’s all about what you get for your money.  Philanthropy is not about t-shirts, mugs or keychains, it’s about connecting donors to our organization through an increasingly intimate, meaningful experience. Philanthropy needs its own communication cycle, with communications that understand and speak to donors’ motivations for giving.”

Marina Krejci, Chief Development Officer, Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Motivate action for the good of others.

“Every fundraiser is trying to connect people with mission in such a way that they are moved to take action for the good of others.  There’s no formula for creating an effective philanthropic communication – but I definitely know it when I see it.

Cynthia Halverson, President, LSS Foundation, Inc

Your message is not mere packaging; for proof, ask a board member…

“Nonprofit leaders should not discount communications as mere packaging or ‘window dressing.’  Interestingly, board members often get it even more readily than staff.  They are looking at the organization from the outside-in and are sensitive — in a way that insiders might not be – to how important it is to be able to tell the story in the right way.”

Maree Bullock, Vice President, The Alford Group

Pro bono?  Say no-no…

“I was the chief marketing officer of a large human service agency and ended up firing every big marketing firm in town.  They just couldn’t make the shift to understanding the nonprofit stakeholder.  Whether someone buys Colgate or Crest doesn’t help me with their charitable giving motivators.  Creating the right marketing team for your organization is essential, and it doesn’t always mean you can find the team you need at one firm.  And, when your board member proposes pro bono services, just say no, thank you!  Discourage this as much as you are able, because your mission is worth investing in!”

Barbara Clark-Galupi, Prinicipal Consultant, Creative !mpact

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