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*Every* Nonprofit Leader Is a Fundraiser and Marketer

*Every* Nonprofit Leader Is a Fundraiser and MarketerI recently happened upon a thought-provoking article: “Note to All Creatives: Marketing is Your Job,” adapted from Ryan Holiday’s Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts. The piece was written with an audience of authors, artists, and start-up entrepreneurs in mind. I firmly believe it applies in spades to nonprofits.

Holiday calls his book a meditation on how to create work that does more than just disappear.

Do you want to create work that does more than just disappear?

If so, you’ve got to sell it. No more hand-wringing while exclaiming “If people only knew what we did, they’d certainly support it.” People are not going to magically know what you do.

You have to tell them.


You can’t delegate the sales function.

Everyone in the organization must own it. As Daniel Pink points out repeatedly in his book To Sell Is Human: “We’re all in sales now.”

On a daily basis, we’re engaged in trying to persuade others. Whether it be trying to get our kid out the door in the morning or our boss to give us a raise, we’re in a constant sales mode.

Yet we erroneously persist in the notion that selling is bad.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

You’re in the business of sales

Yes, you.

All day. Every day.

For nonprofits, that means marketing and fundraising.

No matter your job title, you can’t divorce yourself from the need to move your mission forward. To establish your relevancy. Your necessity. Your raison d’etre.

Every business, nonprofit or otherwise, must continually justify its existence.

Can you articulate what would happen should you cease to exist?

I recently asked a potential client that question. He seemed perplexed. I rephrased:

“Tell me why I should give to you. What will my money accomplish?”

He said: “That’s not my thing. I’m the CEO. If I knew how to phrase the case for support, I wouldn’t need you.”

I responded: “You’re the CEO?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Then, this is your thing,” I replied. “It couldn’t be more your thing. If it’s not your thing, it’s certainly not going to be anyone else’s.”

If not you, then who?

One of the points Holiday makes in his article and book is few people who create businesses set out to become marketers.

Very few of us got into this business because we wanted to have to manage social media accounts or approve an advertising campaign. Writers became writers because they wanted to write. Actors want to act—not spend two weeks on a grueling press tour. The founder wants to be working on their product, not polishing blog posts for some content marketing side hustle.”

Sound familiar?

It’s rare for businesses to succeed without effective marketing and sales.

It’s one of the reasons some of the very best doctors, lawyers, and accountants have fewer clients than the charlatans and quacks who are better sales people. Alas.

Who is going to really sell what you do if not you? Says Holiday: “Nothing has sunk more creative projects than this silly, entitled notion that ‘I’m just the ideas guy.’”

Leaders lead the way.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been told by a CEO, “I’ve hired a couple of development directors, but they never work out,” I’d be rolling in nickels. There’s a very good reason this happens. It’s a failure of leadership.

How hard will anyone else work to promote your services or raise funds for your programs if you’re not walking that talk?

The same holds true for your board members, by the way.

Leaders radiate the mission, by example.

There’s a reason we have so many adages pointing us in this direction.

  • Put your money where your mouth is.
  • Get religion to preach religion.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • As you sow, so shall you reap.
  • Talk is cheap.
  • Walk the talk.
  • Lead by example

Human beings are huge imitators

If you’re able to passionately show and tell why supporting your organization makes sense, others will join you. Because passion is contagious.

You can’t delegate passion.

Everyone who cares enough about your mission to assure it doesn’t disappear must at some point roll up their sleeves and get to work telling people about your work’s importance.

So put this in their job descriptions. Everyone is a marketer. Everyone is a fundraiser. Don’t relegate these essential mission-forward functions to one department or one board committee. If you do, you’ll surely short-change your mission.

Trees fall in the forest all the time

If no one hears about what you do, don’t be surprised when they take no notice.

In today’s information-overloaded marketplace, folks need to hear about you a lot. Across multiple channels. From multiple points of contact.

Sure, you can set up marketing and fundraising departments. And development and marketing committees. But that’s not enough.

Because all your staff and board are trees falling in the forest. When one of them is out at a party and is asked what they do, they become one of your trees. They can call attention to this fact, or not. If they fail to seize the opportunity, it will be lost.

No one will notice.

Trees, like organizations and missions, need someone to speak for them.

As Byrd Leavell, a literary agent, puts it to his clients, “You know what happens if your book gets published and you don’t have any way of getting attention for it? No one buys it.”

Make time for marketing and fundraising

Don’t just make this time for yourself. Make sure everyone in your organization makes this time. This is what’s come to be known as a “culture of philanthropy,” because it’s something everyone has a vested interest in.

Sure, everyone is busy with their “real work.”

Guess what?

There’s no more real work than championing what you do.

[Each project] needs somebody who says, ‘I am going to make this succeed,’ and then goes to work on it.”

—Peter Drucker

Stop skimping on that which is most critical to success.

  • Build your community online
  • Cultivate your influencers
  • Develop one-to-one relationships with people who can move your mission forward
  • Brainstorm ways to call attention to your important work
  • Create personal work plans for every board and staff member that include marketing and fundraising-related tasks

No matter your job description on paper, it’s decidedly your job to persuade people the world would be a poorer place without your organization in it.

What’d I’d like you to see is that this isn’t an obligation. It’s an opportunity. It’s perfectly possible to apply the same amount of creativity and energy into marketing as you put into making.”

Ryan Holiday

*Every* Nonprofit Leader Is a Fundraiser and MarketerClaire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification.

Topics: Fundraising Nonprofit Marketing