Every fundraiser needs a John the Baptist

The doorway by which I found my way into fundraising was marked “public relations.” More years ago than I like to admit, I was the director of PR for a small, church-related college in Kansas – a role that made me part of a three-person development team. There was the director of development, the director of alumni relations, and me.

Like nature, I abhor a vacuum and as I saw holes in the program. I stepped in. When foundation proposals needed to be written, I wrote. The annual fund appeal letters, I took them on. And when the college prepared to launch a capital campaign, I prepared the promotional pieces along with training manuals for volunteers. A few years into my six years at Tabor College, I was hooked on development and I’ve not looked back.

That said, I remain a champion of a strong PR program, including the more recent additions of marketing and branding to the expectations of the function. As I’ve said many times over the years, public relations doesn’t raise money, but I wouldn’t want to raise money without it.

newspaper_stack_8757THE VALUE OF A STRONG PREQUEL

You can think of PR (marketing, branding) as the John Baptist of the development world (sans the animal skins and locust and honey), preparing the way for fundraisers. It’s not the messiah, but public relations fulfills an important function by pointing would-be believers to an organization’s message and mission.

When raising money for Houghton College and later Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, I found cold calls much less chilly when a prospect’s interest had been warmed by a steady stream of good news about and from the institution. To be sure, a story or two didn’t send gifts flying in over the transom. But those stories did help get my  toe in more doors.

Which is the point of an article from blogger Sean Triner. He writes:

‘Brand’  is incredibly important for the long term survival of a fundraising charity. Having a great brand helps keep loyal donors, win corporate donations, and means you are more likely to be front of mind when people write their wills.

But branding is not about big ads, prescriptive fonts and cool logos. It is about how the charity behaves; what it feels like to be helped by them, to help them and to be thanked by them. Brand is not about how a charity ‘looks’ it is about how people experience that charity.

The best branded charities tell fantastic stories brilliantly and use fundraising advertising activities (like online, direct mail, phone calls, direct response TV and events) to position themselves. . .   That won’t guarantee success – but getting it wrong is a great way to guarantee failure.

So if you feel like a lone voice crying in the wilderness, make friends with the folks in the PR office. Communication (marketing, branding, public relations) and fundraising go hand in hand.

For more on this topic, see:

Four tactics for taking your message beyond sound bites

Forget the stuff, give ’em information


  1. Rebekah, I really appreciate the John the Baptist analogy. It expresses well the theme we will present next week in the marketing workshop at the Annual Planned Giving Conference of Barnabas Foundation. Thanks for such a great tie-in!

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