“Marketing Is What Happens When Relationship Fails”

The future of philanthropy belongs to a certain structure of nonprofit, and the shape and goal of that nonprofit structure will forever change the way fundraising is conceived and executed.

It is the most basic of structures:

  • An individual embraces a cause and grows to comprehensive maturity in it
  • The individual gathers around herself a community of practice and trains them to grow to comprehensive maturity in the cause
  • Members of that community of practice gather communities of practice around themselves and train those communities to grow to comprehensive maturity in the cause

Growing to comprehensive maturity in a cause entails learning how to impact that cause both directly and in concert with others seeking to impact the cause. The nonprofit organization is nothing other than everything that occurs after the “and” in the previous sentence, i.e.:

A nonprofit organization is a community of practice acting in concert to impact the cause.

Fundraising, then, is nothing other than the coordinated giving that occurs as a community of practice acts in concert to impact the cause.

Enter Carolyn Hook on her Acronym blog, who was listening to a sermon recently where a pastor opined, “Marketing is what happens when relationship fails”.

That sentiment is eminently sensible in light of this understanding of nonprofits and fundraising. Marketing becomes a (poor) substitute for an individual gathering a community of practice around her as a result of having been a part of a community of practice where she learned to grow to full maturity in a cause that engaged her.

Marketing, in other words, is the price nonprofits pay for having donors instead of cause champions.

Donors are largely inert. They don’t reproduce. Cause champions reproduce by nature because they are taught that such reproduction is essential to achieving that to which the cause aspires.

Carolyn sharpens the question up for us nicely:

How can we form and multiply relationships that matter and inspire members instead of relationships that have a goal of developing and maintaining a membership base in order to generate profit for our organizations?

Starting point:

  1. Read our recent three-part series about sustainable fundraising, starting here.
  2. Thank and disband your donor file. They’re a luxury that will distract you wholesale from creating a community of practice.
  3. Gather around yourself a community of practice whom you train to be as mature in the cause as yourself. (You might find some candidates in that donor file you just disbanded under point 2.)
  4. Train them to gather around themselves a community of practice whom they train to be as mature in the cause as you enabled them to be.
  5. Embrace the reality that your nonprofit is nothing more or other than the vehicle for the shared action of the communities of practice you’ve initiated.

Or, as David Armano advocates in HBR, Fire Your Marketing Manager and Hire A Community Manager.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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3 Responses to “Marketing Is What Happens When Relationship Fails”

  1. EF-
    Thanks for a thought provoking post. In a congregation I served a great deal of time was spent contemplating a community “fund-raiser” to help with costs of a small buidling project.
    As looked at what was planned we saw what the potential revenue that would be generated and the final gain after all the bills were paid off.
    It was humbling for that church council to realize that what we would gain from the whole event, even if it was wildly successful, was less than what we could get from a family with a $40k yearly income tithing on their after tax income.
    There’s great power in helping people realize that regular committed giving makes the greatest lasting difference.
    pax
    John

    • EFoley says:

      John, that’s a TREMENDOUS insight–thanks for sharing that, brother! I’ve never heard it put like that before, and it’s quite enlightening. Sad, but enlightening!(Or challenging, rather…)

  2. Pingback: Church Marketing: Market the Message AND the Community Formed by It | Transformational Giving

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