16 April 2024


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


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 when we use the same words. And that’s not always the case! I’m sharing them here with you, not necessarily because I think I’m right about all this, but rather because making sure we’re all talking about the same things is important.

By all means, feel free to chime in.


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. All of the information disseminated by an organization to its various audiences counts as “communications” regardless of media.

Communications becomes strategic, when there exists long-term intentional purpose – to “move” people from one level of understanding to another. To identify with a specific watershed, perhaps, or to see the value in land and water conservation.

Outreach and Communications are closely related, except that Outreach more often relates to communicating with specific defined audiences, such as young adults, birders, or people living in a specific community. Outreach is targeted communications. But I also associate “outreach” with an invitation for some active engagement – hiking, or paddling, or attending an event.

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?

Especially in conservation work, branding also relates to how privileged, how white, and how old the world sees you. When people look at your communications materials – at the pictures in the materials – can they relate? Do they see people in the pictures who look like them – or at least their close friends?

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? It can feel unnecessarily stifling, but if people can tell it came from you even without reading it, that alone has significant communications value.

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. Marketing often gets confused with fundraising, but the two are very different. I think of marketing as bringing new people into the tent, and fundraising as how an organization relates to those already there. Marketing only rarely produces net positive income.

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 fee-for-service and not charitably given).

Fundraising will include everything an organization does to raise money from individuals, foundations, and corporations. Fundraising plans might include bake sales, auctions, raffles, sponsored runs or bike events – items that are more transactional and might not be fully tax-deductible. But they are primarily focused on “gifts” – membership, special appeals, social media campaigns, major gift cultivation, capital campaigns, and even planned giving.

Donor Development is about targeting specific appeals to specific individuals. In my consulting, I use Major Gift Development, Donor Development, and Advancement interchangeably. We should probably add Donor Relations to that list. These terms imply deliberate and strategic cultivation and solicitation of individual gift decision-makers. (And I am beginning to like Donor Relations as the name for a Board committee better than Fundraising or Development.


So how can you use this information?

Well first of all, we need to be setting aside time to be intentional. Who are we targeting? What are we asking them to do? Does each activity have a purpose? A goal? Or are we just “spewing”? How are we measuring the results? Can we carry the same messaging across different communications channels and over a longer period of time for compounding effect?

Second, we need to make sure these activities are appropriately funded. If we expect outreach or marketing events to raise money, we need to make sure our existing members and donors are invited. And we need to make sure we include enough funding to properly measure and evaluate the results.

Also – take some time to consider the messenger. If all of our communication essentially boils down to us talking about ourselves, that has limited value. But when we strategically incorporate other voices – Board directors, volunteers, event participants, donors, and so on – we multiply the communications value. How much it gets multiplied depends on the messenger.

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 – all from existing members and donors.

Last, I would not and do not recommend including too many of these activities in the same committee. Outreach and Fundraising committees are almost always just Outreach committees in effect. Let Outreach be just Outreach, and move your Fundraising committee more in the direction of Donor Relations.


Love to hear your thoughts.


Cheers and Have a Good Week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


Photo by Robbi Drake courtesy Pixabay



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1 Comment
  • David L
    Posted at 08:30h, 16 April

    I am going to “borrow” these definitions for our organization. In terms of putting the ideas to work, I especially feel: “Outreach and Fundraising committees are almost always just Outreach committees in effect.” I think it’s often true at the staff level, too. If someone is in charge of communications and development, one area will always be neglected.