By Maayan Jaffe
Marketing and fundraising are two halves of a whole and when they don’t operate that way, explains fundraiser and consultant Janet Levine, the outcomes are less than they could be.
Levine, a Los Angeles-based fund development consultant, recalls the pattern that emerged from her years working in advanced higher education: “Working together enabled us to create a powerful approach – for example, we wrote press releases on key stories; those stories were re-purposed into newsletter article; shared with our board members to help them be more effective messengers for us and served the focus of our direct mail appeals.”
The need for telling stories and repetition of those stories in the marketplace has become ever more important to fund development in 2015, says Levine, because “you have to get through all the noise.”
To do this, she says, organizations need to both explore new communication tools, of course. But before that, they need to bridge the gap between development and marketing.
In Washington, D.C. that is exactly what’s happening at the Jewish Federation. Chief Marketing Officer Stacye Zeisler and Chief Development Officer Avital Ingber have been working together for the past five years, modernizing the way the organization’s fundraising (and programming) occurs. For starters, both women report directly to Chief Executive Officer Steven A. Rakitt and share responsibility for honing in on the right messaging for the organization.
“It used to be that if the CDO wanted something, you did it for them and they told you if they liked it or not,” says Zeisler. “It is fulfilling to be in an organization where marketing can be at the table and we are playing the role we do.”
Ingber and Zeisler have built teams that partner on everything from big picture branding to the minutia of a single direct mail or lay leader speech. It sounds tedious, at first, but what it has done is moved marketing from a reactive production shop to a strategic ally in the Federation’s continued success.
Most recently, as the Washington Federation moved from its older, more traditional office space to a new facility, Ingber led a team in establishing a “colab lab,” an open-office structure that fosters greater communication between departments.
“It looks like Google,” says Ingber. “We have very low, open offices with marketing and fundraising colleagues sitting together in that open floor plan. There are glass offices and everyone is often standing around, talking and brainstorming. We have couches that serve as collaboration pods and that all helps marketing and FRD [financial resource development] to work together.”
At the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, JDC, despite its lead fundraiser and its lead marketer living and working half-way around the world from each other, that same synergy is occurring as the organization continues to evolve its brand and donor communication tactics.
Eliot Goldstein, executive director of global resource development, says he leans on CMO Graham Cannon to soften the marketplace before he approaches donors about a particular gift. For example, JDC is in the midst of raising funds for its emergency relief and humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, an issue Goldstein says, “May not be at the top of the agenda for many North American Jews.”
Cannon’s team has made special efforts through media relations and its own online campaigns to raise the profile of the issue. As the various tactics come together to create buzz, a more receptive environment is created for the development team. Now, when solicitors approach donors they are not starting from square one, but rather the conversation is changed from one of education to “a compelling dialogue, with a sense of urgency about this meaningful and inspirational opportunity to change lives.”
Levine says having that plan of how to use the marketing tactics being employed to convert them to gifts is key to the successful amalgamation of marketing and fundraising. She says she is seeing many smaller nonprofits, with the excitement of new media, move from donor relations to more “transactional fundraising” – and she’s cautious about it.
The Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) ice bucket challenge is an example of transactional fundraising – at least in its first stage, she notes. People got into the social media excitement and perhaps made a first-time gift. But those gifts are unsustainable unless ALS has a follow up plan for using the tremendous organizational publicity the campaign generated to follow up with and build relationships with those donors.
“It’s a wonderful starting point, social media,” says Levine. “But it is not sustainable if you don’t have a plan. You’ll be constantly reinventing the wheel.”
Derek Gale, the new director of financial resource development at the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City expressed similar sentiments. Coming to his role one year ago from the marketing field, he has employed many new tactics in hopes of reaching the next generation of federation donors. In 2014, Gale led efforts to use a Super Sunday hashtag, “#SuperSundayKC,” to help get information about the call day out into the community.
“We asked people to help us by putting the message out there,” says Gale, whose efforts turned into a fundraising success.
“We went to someone in a demographic that we thought would appreciate these efforts and asked him to provide money for every hashtag social media post – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – up to a certain number of dollars. The goal was up to $500, so we hoped for 500 posts so that we could maximize this individual’s generosity,” Gale explains.
However, when an older donor heard about this and loved it, he said he wanted to be a part of it, too. He agreed that if the Federation hit 500 posts, he would contribute $500, too, and then double the total. In the end, 600 hashtag posts led to $2,000 and a lot of excitement.
“SuperSundayKC was trending that day,” says Gale, whose advice to other marketing-fundraising professionals is to not be afraid to innovate. While he says some ideas fail and in the scheme of things $2,000 will not make or break the Federation campaign, “it was incredible brand awareness of the day and a chance for people to find out more about what we do and what they could be a part of.”
Cannon, who joined the JDC in 2010, has similar ideas. He has reimagined JDC’s online presence, including its global website and social media platforms, its messaging across marketing collateral, media, and advertising outlets, and has pioneered the group’s use of real-time video to enhance JDC¹s relevance. He says that whereas 20 or 30 years ago the biggest cost for an organization would have been the cost of marketing distribution, today these online tools can – and are – revolutionizing the way we communicate.
“Today we can reach constituents round the clock at no or low cost,” Cannon says.
And, your constituents can reach new constituents for you, without even knowing it. If someone likes or shares a social media post, it keeps the message moving, reaching more people that ever thought imaginable. Further, he says, because the messages are being passed on by friends or colleagues, its more believable. It changes the message from white noise advertising to a peer communication.
Cannon says the JDC is just starting to see its online content convert to actual dollars and that as new media tools improve their ability to seamlessly and securely accept donations on behalf of an organization, he believes those donations will increase.
“It’s a business of creating content and a science of distributing that content,” says Cannon, noting that the nonprofit world is changing and the amalgamation of marketing and fundraising is one of the important ways.
Says Cannon: “I think the nonprofit world is looking more like the corporate world, where sales and marketing are in direct connection.”
Maayan Jaffe is senior writer/editor for Netsmart (ntst.com) and a Kansas-based freelance writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter, @MaayanJaffe.