What fundraisers need to know about development communications

Development communications

Development communications (DevComm) is the distinct discipline used by nonprofits to achieve their fundraising goals.

Development communications shares many common characteristics with other forms of communications but is distinguished by its focus on affecting the behavior of key audiences. In particular, the development communications professional is concerned with supporting “giving behavior,” either making a first gift or continuing to make gifts over time.

When we practice this discipline, we measure success on whether we have encouraged people to do something, give or become a philanthropist—even in a small way.

Over the long haul, we strive to secure donor loyalty and build strong relationships between our organization and our supporters.

Development communications and journalism

Many DevComm professionals begin their careers as journalists. This is understandable because both fields require strong writing, excellent research skills and smart communication ability.

However, in theory, the journalist should not advocate for any one organization or cause. By contrast, that is exactly the role of a development communications professional! Their job is to create an information environment where people feel comfortable contributing time or treasure to a cause.

Development communicators should always be truthful, like journalists, but it is not their job to “tell both sides of the story.” Instead, the role of a development communications professional at a nonprofit is to support the fundraising function of the organization by emphasizing accurate, positive information about their mission and accomplishments.

Creativity of development communications

Serving the fundraising function does not equal tedious, boring work.

Suppose you write a donor profile because they have made a substantial gift to your university. If the lead essentially says, “Rich person gives money to a wealthy university,” who would want to read that (other than the donor and their family)?

On the other hand, what if the lead says, “It was 1999, and the dot-com bubble was bursting. John Doe’s father had lost most of his savings, and John never thought he would make it to college. Then he heard from the University that he was receiving the Excellence Scholarship. So, having sold his virtual reality company to Google for a tidy sum, John wants to give back.”

People give money to people to help other people. Tell a good story about philanthropy (or any other topic) and an audience will gather around to listen. Also, a reader of this mythical article might identify with John and think, “I know what John went through. I did, too, and I can emulate him now that I have some capacity to give.”

Beyond telling a good story, remember that we live in an over-communicated society. It’s hard to get the attention of your key audiences so it’s important to be creative and think outside the box. Some examples of creative communications:

  • Create a YouTube video that might go viral
  • Try Giving Tuesday as a forum for getting your constituency involved
  • Look at other forms of crowdfunding, and see if they might work for you

Don’t be afraid to try new things!

What does development communications have to do with donor stewardship?

Keeping your current donors is as important, if not more important, than acquiring new ones. Therefore, it would be best to have a plan for stewardship of gifts and ongoing donor relations, both of which are essentially communications projects. It all begins with a timely and enthusiastic “thank you” for a gift, large or small. The process continues as you, for example, update your donors about their scholarship gifts are being used, perhaps with profiles of the students who are benefiting from them.

Organizations that want to succeed at development communications need a plan for these tasks and a leader who takes the job seriously.

DevComm is just one part of an organization’s greater communication strategy. Learn how Raise from Gravyty helps you optimize your donor communications through AI-powered enablement tools. Get a demo.

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