Communications and fundraising: a close relationship

12 April 2016

[Editor’s note: A version of this article was originally published at Politics & Ideas. It is based on the Re-thinking funding models course being offered by the On Think Tanks School .]

Fundraising and communications processes are closely linked. Most of the time, we do both things at the same time: we communicate as we raise funds; we raise funds as we communicate (and probably more if we communicate effectively). For instance, what we choose to communicate to charitable donors or local companies about the organisation will be different, since their knowledge of the issues and national context differs.

Want to learn more? Sign-up to our Short Course on Re-thinking funding models for think tanks.

The following table offers examples of how some communication channels and tools that think tanks use can be employed to enrich their fundraising strategies.

Tool / Strategy How to use it?
E-mails Personal or massive e-mails can be sent to current and potential individual donors or local companies to let them know about the organisation and how their contribution can help it achieve its goals. These e-mails should clearly state how to proceed should the recipient want to collaborate.[Note]It is important to note that often think tanks argue that “people in our country do not want to donate to think tanks” but they also rarely ask. While every year the On Think Tanks’ team receives letters from think tanks in developed countries asking for our support rarely do they come from think tanks in developing countries.[/note]
Newsletter A regular and targeted newsletter can be sent to different potential donors to share progress made in different projects or programmes (including achievements in terms of policy influence) in order to encourage them to contribute – again, clearly stating how to move forward. The newsletter is also useful to inform other relevant stakeholders such as peer think tanks, universities, policymakers, etc.
Contact/Donation form through the website Many organisations have a section in their websites specifically aimed at encouraging visitors to make a donation. These sections usually have a persuasive statement about the importance of contributions, such as: ‘Your contribution helps us to improve the quality of public policies in [the country].’ This message should be underpinned by a quick-link to the think tank’s achievements. It is very easy to embed a form requesting contact details or simply offering the possibility to make an online contribution. Check-out our Support Us page.
Annual report Some organisations use Annual Reports to communicate with their donors and the general public. The message is simple: ‘this is how much we can do thanks to your support”. In turn, recipients are encouraged to continue supporting the organisation. It can be done through a video, a short report sent via e-mail or within the newsletter, as well as uploaded to the website. This is a very interesting example by CSTEP from India.
Online campaigns Some organisations launch specific fund-raising campaigns, which may be general or linked to a particular project or goal. The message should be strong and call for action. A way of doing this is by explicitly telling the audience an exact amount of money that needs to be raised before a deadline, with a countdown. Of course the campaign needs to go viral through Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

It is important that all of these tools and any other communications tools aimed at raising funds keep the same format, thus nurturing the organisational identity. Over time, consistency in the organisation’s messages will help to build a solid and recognisable profile.

Lastly, not only communications can serve fundraising purposes, but fundraising opportunities can also serve as ideal opportunities to communicate the think tank’s work. For instance, a fundraising event should be much more than what its name suggests: it can also help to position the organisation among new publics like the private sector (or any other invited audiences), to create new contacts and to communicate its agenda. In addition, a fundraising event might attract potential donors that otherwise would not be prone to funding research at all.

Finally, there can be unexpected practical synergies between a potential donor and the communications function. For example, a software development company helped CIPPEC develop its new website, and On Think Tanks’ new website was developed by Soapbox.