In my practice, I have come to make several nomenclature distinctions. These are oversimplified, to be sure, but they serve to help ensure my clients and I are talking about the same things.

Communications is the process of transmitting information between a source and an audience. The daily weather, hours of operation, views of particular candidates, closing a land deal, how many, and how much are all examples of this type of information sharing. Every piece of information disseminated by an organization counts as “communications” regardless of media.

Branding relates to an organization’s reputation, which in turn relates to how well people understand what the organization does and how they feel about it. When someone sees something that came from you – a trail sign, a newsletter, an email – does it reinforce what they thought about you, or does it further confuse them? From a fundraising perspective, one of the most important aspects of branding is how successful you look. Organizations that are clearly operating on a shoestring barely making budget every year, or who make sloppy mistakes trying to move too fast because they’re overloaded (think even grammar and spelling), do not convey the sustainability and permanence that might attract very large gifts. “How can I tell you’ll be around in ten years?

A small but important part of branding is visual identity. Visual Identity is the logo, the typeface, the color schemes, the types of photos and graphics, and even the layout of your communications pieces. Visual Identity answers this question: Can someone easily tell that any two communications pieces came from the same organization? The stronger the conformance with visual identity, the stronger the positive branding impact.

Marketing implies an embedded call to action. Organizations typically want audiences to donate (money, real property, real estate), volunteer (time, expertise, advice), or support a particular issue by voting (a bond measure, for example). The “ask” makes it marketing. I think of marketing as bringing new people into the tent, and fundraising as how an organization relates to those already there.

Revenue includes the totality of income sources, including merchandise sales, interest and dividends, income from endowment, and so on. Note that a revenue plan might include federal and/or state grants, whereas a fundraising plan would not (agency grants are not charitably given).

Fundraising will include everything an organization does to raise money charitably, typically from individuals, foundations, and corporations. Fundraising plans might include bake sales, auctions, raffles, sponsored runs or bike events, membership recruitment and renewal, special appeals, social media campaigns, major gift cultivation, and even capital campaigns.

In my consulting, I use Development, Fund Development, and Advancement interchangeably. These terms imply deliberate and strategic cultivation and solicitation of individual gift decision-makers.

So how can you use this information? As a practical matter, most smaller organizations need a Marketing Plan and a Fundraising Plan. The Marketing Plan should include elements of branding and especially visual identity, but the effort and resources should be very strongly focused on bringing new people under the tent. The Fundraising Plan should start with a fundraising goal and detail appropriate strategies for achieving it.


Comments, thoughts, questions?

David Allen
Development for Conservation


Photo: Grandon Harris, courtesy Bayfield Regional Conservancy

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