Know your audiences, your clients, your partners, and your products
Development is more than fundraising because development is about creating relationships with your financial partners and developing each relationship to the point that your financial supporters see themselves as partners in your work. Development done right is finding people with a desire to see positive change and have the financial resources and bringing them together with the professionals who have dedicated their lives to making that change happen.
Development is not fundraising. Development is finding and cultivating partners who will support your work because they see your work as their own.
Audiences are anyone who will see your work or publications and is liable to interact with you directly or indirectly.
Audiences include people who like you, people who hate you, and people you want to like you.
Your audiences are a bigger topic than what fits into the question of development communications and I’d recommend tying your development comms strongly into your program and general public centered communications strategies. This is because what a donor needs to hear could very easily conflict with what a client needs to hear.
Many of these conflicts can be rectified by pre-emptive conversations but even if they can’t be cleared up, you need to know about it. As an example, the conservative-leaning strategy of rallying your donors around the scary idea that all college professors are Communists is a bad move if your clients are all college professors. The same can be said for your partners, for instance saying that Congress needs to be abolished is a hard sell if you frequently partner with Congressmen and their staff.
Point being, talk to your other departments, make it clear that everyone needs to be flexible and collaborate but that you Will Not sell out your clients or partners.
Clients — The people who your nonprofit serves. Donors and financial supporters are not clients because your services aren’t geared towards them. You might have an overlap between partners and clients, but that should only be because those people qualify for both categories for different reasons. IE, a lawyer can also be a donor because she gives to your work, but you shouldn’t try to convert her into a donor just because she receives your services. You aren’t in sales, you’re in development.
Clients really are the purview of programs and the executive leadership, so development should only really ever interact with clients in ways that communicate why they matter to financial partners so that the financial partners understand why your work matters.
You technically can try to convert clients into financial supporters but I’d recommend not doing that unless you have a really good reason to do so. If your clients are all billionaires, sure, go ahead and try to work out a fundraising model for them. But even then, you’ll want to make certain these clients still feel like you’re there to serve their needs.
Partners — Partners really come into two separate types which I like to lump together because of how you want to focus their attention. Those categories are financial partners -or supporters- and your non-financial partners.
Financial partners are all your donors, from the general housefile donors who give $5 dollars a year to all the way to your major donors and grant-making foundations.
Non-financial partners are really closer to your programmatic partners who work with your programs and external relations efforts. You don’t ask them for financial support but they do support your work with expertise, their networks, and through collaboration.
Now, I’ve said that these two types of partners are different but your secondary goal for financial partners should be to help them see themselves as your partners in your work. You want them to feel a sense of ownership and collaboration for your work. This is only partly to keep them as financial supporters as you will want these people to become brand ambassadors, volunteers, and to generally feel that they are a part of your team and not just the lonely aunt you selfishly ask for money and Christmas presents from.
Your major givers and foundations will likely already feel like they are your partners in the non-financial sense because they are actively discussing your projects, your goals, and helping you to set higher ambitions. So, keep doing that with them. And, try to figure out ways to communicate your high-touch communications to your general supporters in a way that makes them feel like a part of your community as well. The volunteer who shows up every month to help fold letters in your direct mail is actively taking a part in your work and you should be sure that they feel like they’re a part of the team, because they are.
Product — This is the category I like to place anyone who is served through your services to your clients. If your clients are doctors, the products are their patients. If your clients are lawyers, your products are their clients and laws, and so forth.
Your supporters will likely care more about the products than your clients, and so one of your supporter communication goals is to help them see how your clients serve the products.
It’s a complicated bit of distinction that I wouldn’t put too much thought into communicating. Supports shouldn’t need to understand these distinctions per se, although major investors will likely appreciate that backend insight, especially if it helps them see how your organization is different.