How (Bad) Marketing and Branding can Kill Your Fundraising

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WHY do you have marketing, communications and branding for your organization? announce bullhorn

It’s important to ask these questions:

  • WHY does marketing exist?
  • What is the purpose of our newsletter?
  • What is the purpose of our website?
  • What is our branding supposed to do for us?

Too often I see that marketing, branding and communications vehicles go down the wrong street. They take on a life of their own – in the wrong direction!

(Note from Gail: I have edited the title of this post to include the word “bad” – I did this in order to clarify what I was trying to say in this post that created such controversy.)

They forget WHAT they are supposed to be accomplishing for the organization.

They become fancy and self-indulgent priorities for the organization, and no thought goes into WHY we are doing this. And WHY are we spending so very much money – for WHAT?

Marketing needs to be a function of fundraising, and not the other way around.

Marketing and all your organizational communications need to SERVE fundraising.

And what is your fundraising message about? It’s about the good work you do in the world. It’s about WHY your work is so important.  It’s about the people you serve and how you are changing lives.

And this also should be the message of your newsletter – your branding – your communications and your website. Any direction away from this – is in my opinion, a wasted effort and a terribly wasted opportunity.

The Trouble with Marketing

Take a look at what fundraising guru John Lepp at the Agents for Good agency had to say about marketing in his post “The Problem with Marketing.”

He says that marketing is all about the organization’s identity: me me, me:

The problem with marketing is that it is run by marketers—people who believe that the needs of their charity come before those of the people the charity requires in order to function. (Yes, I’m talking about donors here. Surprise!)

Their logo, their impressive branding style guide created by a fancy advertising agency, their mission statement, their marketing and communications department—these all take priority over the act of talking with other loving humans.

Commercial-style branding is all about itself – not about the donor.

Some marketing takes your organization the WRONG WAY.

By focusing internally on your own organization you are wasting scarce resources on blowing your own horn, and you are missing the boat.

Traditional marketing and branding often focus internally: “How great we are. What a terrific track record we have. And by the way here is a picture of our board chair and our CEO who are such cool, smart people. ” (wrong!)

“Marketing” is NOT donor-centered.

Don’t just take my word. Take a look at what leading fundraising strategists have been saying for years:

Jeff Brooks: How to Kill Your Fundraising? His answer: Investing in branding.

Sean Triner: Two Great Ways to Destroy Your Fundraising: He says that

“Branding is not about big ads, prescriptive fonts and cool logos – it is about how the charity behaves; what it feels like to be helped by them, to help them and to be thanked by them.

Brand is not about how a charity ‘looks’ . . .  it is about how people experience that charity.

The best branded charities tell fantastic stories brilliantly and use fundraising advertising activities (like online, direct mail, phone calls, direct response TV and events) to position themselves.  Good fundraising is good branding.

Communications/marketing/branding MUST integrate and align with fundraising strategy.

If you are going to spend all that money – make sure that the investment and the effort actually serve your organization.

I see too many expensive, self-promoting newsletters from nonprofits that are focused internally – new staff, new board members, what we are up to.

Ask yourself this: Who gets the newsletter? Your donors? What do THEY want to read about?

Your newsletter can be a phenomenal fundraising tool – a profit center, even. But most nonprofits are wasting the opportunity by blathering on about themselves.

Separate silos of marketing and fundraising will hurt you.

When you have separate departments for marketing/communications and fundraising – you have two groups of people who will have sometimes opposing goals.

If marketing is to talk about how great your organization is, and fundraising is trying to talk about how great the donors and the work is, then you have a problem.

I’m going to let my friend John Lepp have the last word in this post:

Marketing has become the bubble wrap that many charities surround themselves with, all in the name of professionalism and profit.

It has very little to do with the work we, as fundraisers and charities, MUST do.

BOTTOM LINE: Do You Agree?  Or Not?

Leave me a comment and let me know!