Fundraisers: Stop being oil & water. Be gin & tonic instead

Published by Maeve Strathy on


Imagine this:

You (a fundraiser) go into a meeting with marketing and they have a BIG IDEA. It’s a good one.

And then they say, “You can fundraise with this, right?”


This is not what we would call integration of marketing and fundraising – not at all. Sometimes trying to get marketing and fundraising to work together is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

If your marketing colleagues have been working on a big awareness campaign for the year-end period – maybe they’ve even been working with an external marketing or ad agency – and they come up with a great big idea, wouldn’t it be ideal for your donors and prospective donors if your fundraising efforts could reflect that same big idea?

We would think yes. But how often does it? How often do we have to alter our communications – and perhaps even dilute them – in order to make it work?

Too often.

But that doesn’t mean that integration doesn’t work between marketing and fundraising. It just means we aren’t making it work.

Integration defined

One Voice – a best practice guide to integrated communications (via Paul Vanags article Opinion: Fundraising and Comms Integration: Count Me Out Its Time for FR-EXIT [Fundraising-Exit!]) – defines integration in the following way:

The concept of making all methods of marketing – advertising, direct marketing, public relations, digital engagement, etc. – work in unison across all aspects of an organisation’s activities, rather than in isolation.

What’s important in that definition? Making all methods of marketing work in unison, rather than in isolation.

Working together does not mean working in the same way. It does not mean the big idea has to be used verbatim in fundraising activities. It means they need to work in unison.

Why integrate?

As Paul says in the previously referenced article, “[Integration is] a strategic choice. There’s no question about it. So why would we – or wouldnt we – integrate?

Well, as fundraisers and even marketers for charities, who should be at the centre of our communications (whether awareness- or fundraising-focused)?

The donor.

Donor-focused integration means that all communications engage and inspire donors or prospective donors to be part of the story. That means it has to be a story with a consistent message, problem, solution, offer, and emotion that connects with the donor.

When we think about integration, we must think about the audience.

And if a donor sees the same kind of message across various channels a number of times, it has a psychological effect on them, and their chance of responding is significantly higher.

That is good integration.

What does integration NOT mean?

Integration does not mean that every communication has the exact same message. Above we said, the same kind of message.

If you try to find one single message that will speak to all forms of communication, all channels, and all audiences, you are likely to find what Paul calls “lowest common denominators” and the “loss of meaning” that results.

We couldn’t agree more. But that’s the result of thoughtless and lazy integration, not integration in and of itself.

Integration isn’t about the exact same creative or the exact same message; it’s about unity between them. It’s about a connection between them. Paul talks about the loss that can happen from integration, for example: loss of meaning. This would be a huge loss, to be sure, but again this is when integration is done wrong.

The reverse of that is your organisation continually going out with different and disconnected messages. We believe there’s a greater loss in that.

Oil & water

We think the bigger problem than whether integration works (we think it does) is how marketing and fundraising usually work together. It’s like oil and water; they don’t mix.

Too often, marketing tells fundraising what to do.

Too often, fundraising doesn’t see their role in marketing, and vice versa.

Too often, marketers’ performance and fundraisers’ performance aren’t evaluated on outcomes that relate to one another, thereby silo-ing their departments.

Too often, these departments are already siloed. Their perceptions of one another aren’t reality. They don’t have relationships. They have tensions. They have frustrations. They have barriers.

Sometimes it boils down to leadership. If leaders are doing their job right, they won’t suggest status quo or blindly following dogmas. They’ll encourage deeper, critical thinking, which often manifests in integration.

We think that leadership should encourage integration. When we bring our best thinking, skills, resources – including budgets! – together, we are positioned more strongly for success.

But it must be from the beginning; fundraising cannot be an afterthought. Fundraising must be part of the conversation from the get-go, so that all departments – marketing, fundraising, and beyond – can bring their unique lens to the task at hand: inspiring more awareness of and motivating people to give to your cause.

Case study

Are there examples of this being done right? Yes (but unfortunately, not many).

The Canadian charity, Heart & Stroke, was faced with two issues:

  1. Their brand had never been fully integrated and they had 40+ sub-brands that made their brand – and thereby their reason for being – incredibly unclear.
  2. As a result of the above, combined with other factors, Canadians didnt fully realize the urgency of the cause and the tangible impact Heart & Stroke makes on health care in Canada.

They decided to address these big issues with a big undertaking: a full re-brand.

But they didn’t do it in a silo. They didn’t have marketing and fundraising operating like oil and water. Instead, they worked together and were laser-focused on one thing: Inspiring Canadians to join Heart & Stroke by reappraising the brand and donating to the cause.

In that focus, marketing and fundraising are integrated, they’re on the same level.

As they continued on the re-brand journey, here are some of the things they did to address the two issues named above:

  • They determined their reason for being: Protecting life’s core (as in, the heart).
  • They determined their why – or their purpose: We don’t want you to miss it. (Read: the “big idea”).
  • This laddered down into their how: Saving moments. Funding breakthroughs. Saving lives. ( How they protect life’s core, how they ensure you don’t miss out on life, and what your money goes to.)
  • They asked their existing donors what matters to them to ensure the donor is at the forefront of the re-brand (and not an afterthought).
  • They tested fundraising propositions in focus groups to see what would resonate.
  • They built journey maps that outlined the constituent experience, and clearly outlined where marketing and fundraising fit in along the way.
  • They brought the new brand to life through a monthly donor acquisition campaign; awareness of the cause wasn’t enough for real change – people needed to be able to take action

Marketing and fundraising. Fundraising and marketing. They worked together.

And it did work. The re-brand was followed by a monthly acquisition campaign that was, again, a joint venture for marketing and fundraising.

This campaign acquired 500 percent more monthly donors than they did during the same time period the year previous.

They also garnered millions of media impressions and social interactions, thereby achieving their focus of Canadians reappraising the brand and donating to the cause.

That is what integration done right can do.


In conclusion, integration isnt easy. But it makes things easier for donors. It makes them more a part of your story. It makes them more aware of what you do. It makes them more aware of their part in it. It makes them more inspired. And it makes them more motivated to give.

So, we encourage you to do the harder thing and integrate!

Stop being oil & water. Be a gin & tonic.


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Maeve Strathy

Maeve Strathy is a passionate fundraising professional, focused on inspiring donors to make an impact on the causes they love through philanthropy. Her full-time work is as a Fundraising Strategist with Blakely, providing strategy for charities on integrated direct response campaigns. Previously, she developed the mid-level giving program at Wilfrid Laurier University, and built a young alumni giving program at Trinity College School. Maeve also supports the fundraising efforts of independent arts and culture organizations, namely MYOpera. In her spare time, Maeve likes to work out, watch TV and movies, read, cook, and write for her fundraising and philanthropy-focused blog, www.whatgivesphilanthropy.com.


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