The Fundraising and Marketing Rift, and How To Fix It

Survey shows differing opinions between not-for-profit fundraisers and marketers.


“I’m working on an article about Development departments and Communications departments at nonprofits and how they view each other.”

The woman I’m speaking with begins laughing right away. It’s a problem she’s all too familiar with.

Her name is Nana Eyeson-Akiwowo. Nana is a seasoned nonprofit professional, with experience on both sides of that age-old conflict. We’re struggling to hear each other over the din of conversations going on around us at a nonprofit networking event, but I can see in her reaction how familiar she is with situation.

“Marketing and Communications is an integral piece of development,” Nana, who currently works as the Development Marketing Manager for DKMS, says. “When your messaging is off, development’s job is more difficult.”



The Need for Cooperation

Nana’s not alone in that sentiment. While conflict between marketing and fundraising seems to be something that many in the sector have experienced at some point in their careers, both parties overwhelmingly agree with one thing:

Marketing and Communications is vital to fundraising success.

This goes beyond anecdotal evidence. In a survey of nearly 300 nonprofit professionals, 86% reported that the Marketing and Communications team was vital to their organization’s development efforts. Compare that to the paltry 6% who disagreed, and there’s a pretty clear consensus that these departments need each other to survive and thrive.


But while an overwhelming majority state that marketing is vital to fundraising success, a much smaller (though still a majority) contingent report that the working relationship between these two departments is strong at their organization.



Positive views of the working relationship were held by 56% of respondents. Marketers rated this relationship more positively overall, and executive leadership rated it lower in general (50% of respondents, although this constituted a much smaller sample size).

Though the role of each department has been the subject of debate, most agree that each department is dependant on the other.

“To me, they go hand-in-hand,” says Michelle Caplan, Director of Marketing & Communications at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern & Central Alberta. “We can’t raise enough funds through marketing alone, and the development team can’t raise enough awareness without the support of the marketing department.”

Beyond just supporting each other’s ability to function, development and marketing directors agree that good marketing makes the job of a development officer easier.


Stephanie Venti, Director of Development at The Preuss School UCSD, brings in her marketing team to help with all stages of the giving life cycle, from cultivation to stewardship.

“Our Marketing and Communications team is an essential partner in being able to articulate our mission. Beyond the cultivation and solicitation stage, I partner with our marketing team to ensure that we properly steward our donors. We want to help them understand the impact they’ve made through their giving. I couldn’t get that done without the communications team’s help.”

But despite a strong need for cooperation, marketing and development often find themselves facing barriers with teamwork.


The Root of Frustrations

The problem in aligning these two departments doesn’t lie in a lack of respect; each group seems to know that they need each other and serve the same mission.

But we start to see rifts forming when each group is asked if the other is doing enough to help their department’s efforts.

62.3% of fundraisers stated that they feel Marketing and Communications needs to do more to help with fundraising efforts, while only 12% disagreed. Compare this to Marketing and Communications workers, where 57% of respondents disagreed or took a neutral stance on this issue (43% agreed or strongly agreed).


But cooperation is a two-way street. When asked if Fundraising departments need to do more to help marketing, the script gets flipped (albeit less dramatically).


52% of nonprofit marketers stated that fundraisers need to do more to help them, while only 43% of fundraisers said the same.

It should be noted that the differences in these opinions between the groups is hardly vast. Each group seems to be acutely aware that their own department could be doing more to bridge gaps.

But just how do we bridge these gaps?


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Breaking Down Silos

Sometimes the biggest barriers to communication and teamwork are literal barriers.

“Geography of the teams can be a problem,” says Wilda Wong, a not-for-profit communications professional with over 10 years of experience. “At a previous position, the Development department sat on the first floor, while Marketing and Communications was on the third.”

By not occupying the same physical space, the two teams didn’t get a chance to participate in Pull_Quote_2the same level of planning and cooperation. “On-the-fly” conversations were nonexistent, and all interaction was limited to formal, planned meetings.

This can have a serious impact on creativity and efficiency.

“Proximity matters! We worked together on projects, but we weren’t in the same bullpen, the same meetings, and we weren’t next to each other to brainstorm.”

Silos often come from the top down as well. Without leadership setting the tone or emphasizing organization-wide goals, teams can lose focus of the bigger picture.

“I feel like everyone is just focused on their departmental goals and KPI’s, and that causes them to lose site of organizational goals,” posits Nana from DKMS. “I think every Development department should have a monthly check-up or have a member from their team attend marketing and communications meetings. That way, they can talk about what they’re working on and what’s working.”

Survey data reflected this focus on departmental goals in a modest way. Fundraisers were more likely than marketers to feel that donors should be the primary focus of marketing efforts (39% for fundraisers versus just 27% for marketers). That’s not unexpected. Afterall, it’s a fundraiser’s job to care deeply about their donor base.

But being hyper-focused on departmental goals is certainly not only a nonprofit problem; businesses across the country struggle with the same issue. Without buy-in from leadership, it’s unlikely that this kind of cross-department teamwork will happen on its own.

“If there’s no top-down buy-in to have people collaborating, it won’t happen. There has to be a culture and process set-up to get everyone working together for the greater good,” says Stephanie from The Preuss School UCSD.

Pull_Quote_3-1Breaking barriers goes beyond communicating more openly. Even when Marketing and Fundraising come together, it’s often an afterthought and too late in the process to make a deep impact.

“More planning, and sooner,” says Cullen McGough, Director of Marketing & Communications for the Maine Cancer Foundation. “As Marketing and Communications folks, we need to force more lead time into campaigns so the deliverable elements can be ‘great’ and not just ‘ready.’”

“You can’t produce high quality collateral in a week,” adds Villa of Hope’s Gerianne Puskas. “Fundraisers need to have an understanding of how long it takes to get something done.”

Just how long?

“If someone is putting on an event and wants help from the marketing team, we need to be pulled into the conversation a year in advance to build relationships and cross-promote,” recommends Wilda Wong. “Sometimes we’re just told ‘Hey, can you promote this thing coming up next month?’”

Just as fundraisers spend months or even years building relationships to secure gifts, Marketing and Communications teams need time to build partnerships, plan and execute a strategy, and do something of quality.


A Client-Centered Approach to Marketing and Fundraising Harmony

For nonprofit marketers familiar with the agency world, it can be helpful to view the Development department as your clients, and approach the relationship from a client-centered vantage point.

“How can we remove barriers to make the client’s life easier? That’s what the perspective should be when Marketing and Communications works with Development,” advises Stephanie. “Given aggressive metrics for fundraisers, the thought of another internal meeting can be daunting. But when you frame the meeting as client-centered and as a way to remove action items from your plate and ultimately get out the door to meet your metrics, it makes partnering more attractive.”

Most fundraisers and marketers alike came into the not-for-profit sector for the same reason: to work at a place that was making a positive impact in the world around them. Each department (and the various roles within them) is vital to the success of that mission.

“Having an opportunity to work together on these key projects that impact lives is essential,” says Stephanie.

“One can’t be successful without the other.”

What are your experiences as a nonprofit marketer or fundraiser? Let us know in the comments! 

Story by Andrew Littlefield, graphics by Giselle Camino