Communication and Fundraising, the never ending story…

Published by Julie Verhaar on

The past 2 ½ years I travelled to different countries and met lots of people engaged in a wide range of fundraising activities and campaigns. Despite the obvious differences in ‘couleur locale’, it always struck me that fundraisers are struggling with the same questions and problems, if it is in Japan, Italy or Brazil.

One of these issues coming up over and over again is the cooperation between Fundraising and Communications. More specific digital communication as communication through the website, webvertising, Twitter, social networking, crowdfunding, etc. The digital area offers great new fundraising opportunities with yet unknown potential. If you visit a doctor, buy a new car or want to know what’s happening in the Middle East, the first thing you do is surfing the web. What do you think a potential donor will do…?

Knowing this, it would seem obvious that every communication department is fully prepared to receive these donor prospects. An effective digital communication strategy is in place aimed at attracting and informing prospects in such a way that they are guided to the appropriate webpage where they are one mouse click away from their so-much-wanted donation.

Teamwork is  essentialBut guess what…, harsh reality shows that it takes visitors at least three clicks to make a donation or sign a petition. More than half of the prospects leave after the first click and hardly anyone makes a donation. In addition focus groups, research etc. shows that many people do not know exactly what charities do.

So we are actually driving potential donors away from us. A quite remarkable finding given that donors are the lifeline of charities… And it could have something to do with communication, accessibility and navigation. Are we critical enough on the content and structure of our websites? For instance, the INGO homepages try to communicate EVERYTHING we do EVERYWHERE. Quite confusing for someone who wants to contribute here and now, to invest in a specific program or campaign.

As fundraisers we know by fact that one single, clear message with one ask is the best to create response. Why don’t we practise what we know works? Why are we still trying to communicate ‘we do everything’?

Furthermore we know that people only donate to charities if they trust us. And research shows that one of the critical drivers of trust is transparency. Well, how transparent do you think we look like if our web communication is a jumble of messages, overloading our visitors who – by the way – have money burning in their pockets. It looks like charities keep persisting in old fashioned PUSH strategies while going digital is about (creating) PULL; as most other business sectors are already fully aware of.

Communications and Fundraising should together begin to regard our web visitors as true prospects. Communicate to visitors only this one message necessary to emotionally engage and bind them. To take them on a journey, with the sole purpose to move them to action. Sign a petition, make a donation, become a volunteer, anything but leave.

Moreover I would suggest to make Communication shared accountable for fundraising and campaign results. Where Fundraising would be responsible for income targets and  Communications for the number of website visitors per campaign as well as the conversion rates.

This should lead (if done right) to better communications with prospects, more transparency thus more trust, ending up in more donations.

Finally, I would like to propose a call to action myself, a ‘little’ experiment. Remove all your web pages that have not been visited by at least 500 people in the last 21 days. Then measure the effects during a certain period of time on visitor’s behaviour and conversion rate.

I am looking forward to the results! Let me know.

Julie Verhaar

Julie joined UNICEF International at the end of 2010, from Greenpeace International. Before that she had built up the fundraising unit at the Netherlands Red Cross. She has experience across a wide range of fundraising disciplines and was responsible for a number of innovative cross media campaigns. At UNICEF Julie works to help integrate, develop and support the fundraising activities of UNICEF across the National Committees and Country Offices worldwide. Currently, Julie is based in Geneva.


Christopher Lytle · February 28, 2011 at 16:52

Julie makes a most valid and truly global point. I’ve worked for international/multinational charities as well as local US based orgs and the same situation persists. While there are many important cultural differences, I believe this to be an internal / organizational disposition, the key being the board and senior management having the interest and willingness to truly understand the continuum of organizational development, which includes “fundraising.” Done properly, an organization with a development or institutional advancement disposition understands that fundraising is only a part of the overall experience of the organization do donors and other audiences. The visitor to a website needs and wants an integrated, well orchestrated “experience” which includes consistent messaging and a coherent and easy way to help and donate. Most organizations, particularly new organizations, think “fundraising” and not institutional advancement. Fundraising is something that has to be done but kept separate from the “real” work of the organization. Higher priority goes to media relations, program descriptions and a host of other, competing messaging priorities. Emerging social media makes it a bit more obvious, and the time with a visitor is accelerated. You make your point clearly and easily or they move on just as quickly. Integrated fundraising and communications are essential and always have been, but it’s becoming more obvious. Large, complex institutions seem to get this more than organizations … universities and hospitals are ahead of the curve on the importance of integration and how to operationalize it. Thanks Julie for your comment and suggestions.

Lucia Broms-Thie · April 6, 2011 at 16:19

It’s been a while since this blog has been posted, but my eye was drawn to it by Reinier Spruit’s link to this one. As a communications officer (with experience in the commercial world in merchandising/product management, PR and product marketing and branding) I would say that the importance of pulling communications into fundraising is that it will help you get the positioning right = in line of your actual work. If there is a ”cultural difference” it is much because there can be a gap between the understanding of what your work entails (and what you can promise you will do) and what will bring in the money needed. Fundraisers can sometimes dream up a scenario of what will bring in money, but the reality of the work can be different, or what is feasible and ethically correct. At the same time, thinking that fundraisers can just guess what is possible in fact, is not taking your responsibility in communication. In short, just like with any good relationship, talk and listen to each other. And realize both of you are sometimes asking for the moon.

Sarah Woodard · July 19, 2013 at 19:48

I know it’s been a while since this was posted, but it caught my eye in a Google search. Don’t forget to communicate after the fundraiser is over. Your donors love to know how it went and that their contribution matters!

Uno Online · November 16, 2023 at 04:26

I enjoyed the conversational tone of the article. It feels like the author is speaking directly to the reader, creating a more personal connection.

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