Why communications is more than fundraising

Not long ago, I followed tweets from a gathering of fundraisers in Toronto. A tweet that resonated said simply enough, “Communications =  Fundraising.” I disagree.

Without the context of the session from which this tweet originated, it is difficult for me to be sure what this means but I read it as saying that all communications by social profits is about fundraising. If that is what was intended, I think that nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, I can make the argument that all communications has fundraising implications. I also strongly believe that fundraising should be integrated as much as possible in an organization’s mix of communications efforts. In fact, I’m normally the person advocating that happens and seeking opportunities to make it happen. But fundraising = communications? Sorry, no.

Communications needs go beyond fundraising

Nonprofits, charities, arts and cultural organizations–the full social profit sector–have communications needs beyond fundraising. I’ll go even further and say they have communications needs that are critical to fulfilling their mission that at best only indirectly have any connection to fundraising.

The Waterloo Region Early Learning Coalition is one of my current clients. They are a group of community organizations that provide child care and who are concerned about the local school boards’ plans to implement an extended day for kids four to seven years old. They are concerned about how this decision will affect all families of young children because of the consequences to the overall child care network. There is no ask in the information provided to parents nor the media. For example, see the Parent handout and the FAQ. Nor should there be. It would be inappropriate though I’m sure they all do fundraising.

Marketing to meet business imperatives

Another example is marketing in its purest form. When I was at the YMCA, there was a very real need to market memberships and camps. There was a business imperative that needed to be fulfilled if the Y wanted to run these programs and through these programs fulfill its mission of helping give people a place to grow and belong. We integrated fundraising into these materials because the Y helps make its programs available to people struggling financially but for most people the programs needed to be sold on the merits of “what is in it for me.” Funds may help to establish a camp for example but you still needed campers paying market rates.

Advocacy by marketing issues

When I worked at the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto, I was Communications and Issue Marketing Coordinator–a position that was not part of the fundraising department but part of the research department. Though a bit of a mouthful, the title was deliberately picked because they wanted to put as much emphasis on addressing the issues that contributed to hunger as to raising funds and food to feed hungry people.

This duality that was reflected in its mission: “Our immediate goal is to feed hungry people. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for food banks.” Half of Daily Bread’s mission is to put itself out of business, not to raise funds or food.

A great example is a 2005 report called Rebuilding Lives. While I can’t take credit for the research or writing, I am responsible for the desktop publishing so that the report would look professional and interesting while also being easy to understand. For example, I included some charts that looked like tax returns to show how the different models explored worked.

The purpose of this report was to build the case for an Ontario Child Benefit–a reform eventually implemented by the Province of Ontario with a program of the same name.

Another issue that I helped to move forward while with Daily Bread was that too many immigrants were using food banks despite the fact that the vast majority had skills and education that they had difficulty using in their adopted country. We helped to highlight that we needed to do a better job of helping newcomers to Canada be able to make a positive contribution to our economy and improve their lives. We had a related fundraising component as part of one spring food drive but it was not a must to sell a solution towards the elimination of hunger.

In short, the marketing of issues or ideas was critical to Daily Bread’s work. This type of advocacy is common to many social profits and is THE reason for communicating. Fundraising, except for possibly raising funds to do the advocacy, is secondary and only indirectly connected.

Communications is more than fundraising

Unfortunately, many social profits put all their funds toward quality fundraising materials while the rest of their communications takes a back seat. Communications is critical for any mission-driven organization to achieve its vision. Fundraising is a key piece of the puzzle but so is communications–and it needs to be used to do more than just secure gifts. Make sure all of your communications materials be the best that they need to be to achieve your mission or objectives.

In a future post, I’ll explore in greater detail why these organizations should put greater value in their full range of communications efforts. In the meantime, take a look at how we can help you to meet your communications needs.