Time to Change the Way You Communicate With Donors: From Multichannel to Omnichannel Communications

Margaret Battistelli Gardner

Margaret Battistelli Gardner

We all know that fundraising is changing.

And the way we talk with with our donors is changing like wildfire.

So many new communications tools are out there — offering more possibilities than I can hardly imagine.

How do you bring all these new tools together under one message and one umbrella?

How can you be as effective as you possibly can?

Get ready for a NEW buzzword: “omnichannel.”

I asked someone who really knows the game to explain all of this to us.

So today we have a guest post from my buddy Margaret Battistelli Gardner, editor of the DMAW’s member publication, Marketing AdVents, and former editor of Nonprofit Pro (formerly FundRaising Success).

Margaret was at the helm of Fundraising Success for 11 years.

In all that time, she watched fundraising change considerably — especially in light of how Internet and digital capabilities were evolving.

But also she saw changes in the way nonprofits communicated with their supporters.

In today’s guest post, she talks about the evolution from multichannel to omnichannel fundraising — or, rather, MARKETING — and how nonprofits can make the transition.

Here is Margaret’s take on what omnichannel marketing can do for you:

I first read the term “omnichannel marketing” in a 2012 article about Compassion & Choices, a Denver-based organization missioned to “improve care and expand choice at the end of life.”

A few months later, I got to chat with Dennis Lonergan, president of Eidolon Communications and a pioneer in the use of omnichannel vs. multichannel.

Symbiosis — as important in fundraising as in nature

Symbiosis — as important in fundraising as in nature

Omnichannel: the land where ALL messages are coordinated and integrated.

He described omnichannel as “the coordination and integration of fundraising and marketing messages, each on their own, as well as to bolster the other.

Omnichannel includes fundraising as well as everything else.

It also includes marketing and advocacy messages, delivered in paid media, earned media and direct marketing.”

Where multichannel fundraising requires an organization to reach out to supporters in a variety of ways — direct mail, email, online, social media, phone, etc. — omnichannel marketing goes deeper.

A symbiotic relationship between marketing, communications and fundraising?

It requires nothing short of a symbiotic relationship between marketing/communications and fundraising.

And that makes sense because, like it or not, fundraising IS marketing.

Where consumer marketers are selling a product or a service, nonprofit marketers are selling opportunity — the opportunity to change the world; the opportunity to leave a legacy; the opportunity to hedge our bets on the karmic scale.

3 Tips to Transition to Omnichannel Marketing: Break Down the Silos!

How to make it happen: 

1. Bring (ALL) the right people to the table.


Be sure that every department that has a stake in messaging — and go ahead, try to name one that doesn’t — is present at meetings when messaging is being discussed.

The program folks are on the ground, working with the constituents, solving the problems.

They have the stories that will move donors to action.

The fundraisers take those stories and present them in ways that will touch hearts most deeply.

The marketing and PR people move those stories beyond the fundraising function and out into the media and general public.

We're gonna need a bigger table

We’re gonna need a bigger table

2. Stop segmenting your supporters.

People support your organization in myriad ways — from writing a check, to biking 50 miles, to knocking on doors, to writing to Congress, etc.

And you probably have a variety of staff members figuring out the best way to engage “their” people.

This increases the chance that one segment will be getting a wildly different kind of messaging than another.

No matter how people (and donors) choose to help, they are all there for one important reason: to further your mission and support your good work.

That’s the common denominator, and that is the message, ultimately, each one should get.

Tip: Focus messaging on the large, common goal of WHY supporters come to you rather than the variety of WAYS they come to you.

3. Incorporate fundraising into every aspect of the organization.

I know this is a challenging idea!

Because the status quo seems to be that program work is what the organization does — with development and communications in place to support program.

Supporters want to know your organizations ducks are, well, you know...

Supporters want to know your organization’s ducks are, well, you know…

In the omnichannel model, fundraising has a greater profile within the organization and is seen as necessary partner.

As a result, external relations teams will develop a better understanding of the delicate issue of cultivation, and the development team will recognize its value to the organization’s broader goals.

Dennis calls this approach “selling the whole magazine instead of just subscriptions to it.”

Tip: At a meeting, have members of one department try to formulate ideas from the other departments’ point of view.

Either everyone will appreciate the common goal and agree that it makes sense to coordinate efforts, or everyone will see that they are all on different pages — in which case, some serious discussions need to take place.

Bottom Line

Donors WANT to give, but they want to give to organizations who appear organized.

Mixed or conflicting messages, out-of-sync campaigns… all have the potential to erode your donors’ confidence and trust in you.

You can avoid this when all departments of our organization work together in an all-hands-on deck (read: omnichannel) way.