Richard Harris explores why charity staff need to upskill in the latest marketing techniques if they want to retain their donors.

TargetMarketing staff at fundraising organisations and charities have a challenge: they have limited staff and resources yet they are expected to be as au fait with the latest marketing techniques as their commercial counterparts.

I’ve met several marketers in the nonprofit sector in this predicament. They often say they’d love to take a course to upskill or go to conferences or events to learn from global experts, but there’s no budget for this kind of staff development. Unlike in the private sector where shareholders aren’t likely to complain about a marketing budget or staff development, donors have strong views about their contributions going to marketing campaigns or to upskill staff!

I get that charities need to use the dollars raised on behalf of the causes they champion, but marketing is an essential function for fundraisers and charities.

Competition demands new skillsets

In many ways, competing for the charity dollar is harder than competing for the commercial dollar. Fundraisers must be exceptional marketers to stand out from the noise and they need to keep on top of the new skillset required, especially around the digital landscape.

Data-driven and digital marketing skills are becoming increasingly essential for all businesses. The ability to capture, interpret and quickly act on data insights is now a competitive advantage. This has created a demand for skilled marketers who have the ability to create and execute data-driven campaigns – hence charities need to ensure their marketing staff are knowledgeable about the practices, processes and platforms required for digital campaigns for the future.

While the older supporter audience might still be happy with receiving a donation request in the mail, digital will be especially important for keeping up with millennials who are all tech-savvy and who are rapidly coming through the pipeline as the future donors. These consumers now have almost unlimited choice in who they will support on the charity front and a strong customer experience will be the key point of differentiation.

In the future, marketers will need to focus on four key skill areas:

1: Data – The ability to understand what data is, how to analyse it, and apply the findings to campaigns.

2: Content – Instead of relying on ‘push’ marketing there is a need to provide more valuable content that will engage donors. Effective content marketing allows charities to engage with customers in a more authentic way and show ongoing value, instead of always “hitting people up” for a donation.

3: Technology – Charities must understand the myriad of technology available to help implement marketing effectiveness. This is a challenge as the technological landscape is shifting.

4: Creativity – This is easier said than done. Using creative elements to differentiate one’s charity and messaging will form an essential part of the mix in future.

A budget-friendly educational option

One of the learning alternatives available for nonprofit staff is the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA), which has revamped its education program this year to focus on these core pillars. Through its IQ program, there are now executive courses, academies and new certificate programs as well as a variety of short courses tailored to the new world of marketing. All are designed to develop specialty skills in the pillar subjects or the newer areas of marketing such as digital or social media.

And in 2016, to assist budget-stretched organisations, ADMA will offer reduced charity membership fees including opportunities to attend events free of charge. This initiative is still being worked out, in consultation with the fundraising and charity sector and potential partners, with more news to come early in the New Year. 

Stronger marketers engage donors

Such memberships and learning opportunities for fundraising organisations help to strengthen the talent of nonprofit marketing teams, so they will be ready for the new world of marketing and working at an acceptable standard.

Charity and fundraising marketing can be such a rewarding career,but the marketing landscape has rapidly changed and will continue to do so for some years. Nonprofit sector marketing staff should not fall behind their corporate peers. Donors will soon be able to tell the difference between those charities that have upskilled their marketing staff and those who haven’t. Where do you want to be?

Richard Harris is Commercial Director at the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA). He has spent 15 years in the data analytics industry, 10 of which were focused in marketing services working with companies such as VEDA and Acxiom Australia.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


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