On Second Thought: Is Development Too Good for Marketing?

When we try to explain the marketplace perspective and its application to fundraising, we’re sometimes challenged by those who believe that the high-minded pursuit of philanthropy should not be contaminated by the crass business of marketing.  Is development too good for marketing?

By David S. Goettler, CEO

By David S. Goettler, CEO

From this point of view, marketing is little more than a euphemism for selling, and its practice threatens to cheapen and commercialize fundraising. Philanthropists are more than prospects or customers, and capital campaigns have little in common with advertising or political campaigns. Let’s look at those arguments one at a time:

1. Marketing is just a euphemism for selling.

In fact, marketing is almost the opposite of selling. While the salesmen tries to persuade
customers to take the goods already on his/her shelves, the marketing professional listens to his/her customers and puts on the shelves what they already want.

2.  Marketing practices are incompatible with the practice of philanthropy.

In fact, the marketplace perspective elevates, rather than degrades, the business of fundraising. It reminds us that American philanthropy still relies primarily on the time, talent, and resources contributed by volunteers – and that fundraising professionals serve the volunteers, not the other way around.

3. Philanthropists are more than prospects.

True! Prospect is a term borrowed a long time ago from sales. Though inappropriate to the practice of philanthropy, it is deeply entrenched. Potential donors has been suggested; but until something better comes along we will continue to focus on prospects.

4. Capital campaigns are nothing like advertising campaigns or political campaigns.

For the most part, true; advertising campaigns are commercially motivated, and largely or entirely media-driven. Political campaigns, on the other hand, are still driven primarily by contributions and volunteers, and motivated by the social good.

The critics of marketing are right to remind us that in the world of philanthropy, we are not selling toothpaste. But that’s precisely why the marketplace perspective is the right approach and mindset for those of us engaged in major-gift fund raising.

It reminds us that we must listen to individual donors – and shape our message, and even the substance of our offer, to fit their interests and aspirations, and not our own.


click here for pdf version: FRM67

For more on The Marketplace Perspective, A New Approach to the Development of Institutions access Goettler Series Volume 3