Nonprofits face the dual challenge of working to fulfill their mission and simultaneously communicating their impact to a generous funding base so they can continue their work. When revenue is up, a common question that many hiring managers face is whether they should prioritize hiring additional program staff, communications professionals to message those programs or development staff to ensure the programs stay funded. This dilemma becomes even more acute when revenue is down, often resulting in the organization simply throwing more fundraisers at the problem, without a clear focus on donor-centric messaging that drives greater revenue. I’ve seen this problem firsthand while working on the inside of conservation-focused nonprofits. More often than not, it was the donor communications team that got the short end of the stick.
I began a new chapter in my career as a consultant when I joined Neimand Collaborative. Our goal in adding my philanthropy skillset to this well-respected branding and communications firm was simple: we want to provide our clients the tools to work with and communicate to their donors more effectively. Traditionally, the most common opportunity to obtain the donor feedback needed for effective messaging comes in the form of a formal Feasibility Study for a campaign. Building on Neimand Collaborative’s unique research and communications experience, we can support our clients in creating not only the case for support in the context of a campaign, but other donor-centric communication strategies and deliverables as well.
I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for over 25 years, serving in both program and philanthropy team leadership roles, developing organizational strategic plans, fundraising plans and even building out full-scale fundraising programs. I’ve worked at major conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and The Wilderness Society. In all of those roles, perfecting the art of seamlessly integrating fundraising and communications was key to success.
Here’s what I learned: a nonprofit needs to establish a culture of donor-centric messaging early so it isn’t forced to choose between the why of the work and the how of delivering it.
It has to develop the ability to sustain itself and the work—and it needs to create a culture of collaboration between marketing, communications, program and fundraising staff to get there. At the end of the day, the big win is to succeed at creating a culture of philanthropy across all internal departments and key external volunteer leader champions as the organization talks about its impact.
While a fundraising consultant can help a nonprofit engage in strategic philanthropic planning and fundraising, marketing and communications consultants create the strategic communications and collateral materials needed to bring the donors to the table.
Housing all three of these skillsets in the same place creates a seamless process and a more powerful product. Hiring multiple teams gets expensive—and inefficient. The client loses valuable time and money getting another team up to speed when different consultants could have been collaborating from the start. Working with a cross-functional team makes the team stronger, better prepared to tackle diverse challenges and ultimately armed with the resources to deliver the best result.
Let’s face it, most organizations are very inwardly focused—and everyone needs help looking outwards as they look within themselves for direction. Staff have endless meetings to strategize internally about the future of their particular program or project. Their attention tends to focus on peers in the field and the groups they serve rather than the actual funder communities that are essential to their successful outcomes. They frame their work in terms of their urgent needs, what they know and believe is the most pressing program to fund at the time and why their new approach is better than anyone else’s. They might be aware of the need to talk to an individual funder or two, but more often than not, it’s in the context of the next solicitation, and not necessarily tied to feedback about the way that the organization is talking about their opportunities and impact to other prospective funders. Bringing in a communications professional’s perspective on value provides a broader focus and the message discipline to make the program’s impact align with the donor’s desire to provide funding. Most importantly, this process will allow the nonprofit the ability to talk about their impact from the donor’s perspective—focusing on what the donor cares about most, what the organization actually achieved with their money and how the donor is special to the organization’s mission success.
Neimand Collaborative believes that all the experts across departments should work together from the start. We help our clients articulate their value coherently across the organization—from marketing to development to communications—by establishing a consistent donor-centric mindset and overarching message. This approach helps everyone sing from the same songbook and still feel heard.
There are so many great nonprofits doing visionary, necessary work. To continue delivering on their promise, those organizations need quality program work, but they also have to invest in their ability to strategically articulate impact of that work to the right audiences. By linking fundraising know-how with strong skillsets aligned with marketing and communications, we aim to arm our clients with the right tools to succeed.