Fundraising: Is it PR?

      18 Comments on Fundraising: Is it PR?

Jeff Morosoff, Assistant Professor/Public Relations, Hofstra University

Should fundraising be part of the public relations curriculum?

I chaired a roundtable discussion at the New York State Communications Association (NYSCA) Conference in Ellenville, New York this weekend titled “Not-for-Profits: Public Relations Challenges in Reaching Organizational Constituencies.” While there was a lot of good discussion on how resource-challenged not-for-profit organizations can use traditional methods and new technology to communicate effectively, one point we discussed struck me: PR professionals are constantly being called upon to help with–if not run–development (fundraising) campaigns, something we don’t usually teach and often don’t even touch upon within our syllabi. 

Raising money in support of an organization requires much of the same skills that PR practitioners possess. If the purpose of fundraising is to advance the a mission by inspiring publics to take an action, then it is, by that definition, what PR people do. But we may be missing some of the more “sensitive” skills a successful fundraiser must have: knowing how to ask for money, when to ask for money, and how much money to ask for. The Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP) has a certificate program which requires six classes over a couple of semesters to train professionals to do this. I wonder if the techniques of a successful fundraiser warrants a semester’s worth of curriculum within a PR major, or maybe it’s only important enough for a couple of lessons in class. Your thoughts?

A postscript: Special thanks to my fellow roundtable panelists Melissa Connolly, Kali Chan, Debbi Honorof, Michael Harrison, Lauren Katz and Lauren Ciuzio. They brought their brains and their thoughtful guidance to a very lively discussion, and I’m grateful for their time and talents.

18 thoughts on “Fundraising: Is it PR?

  1. Meredith Golden

    I agree with what Nick said. There doesn’t need to be a class about fundraising because fundraising IS public relations. It’s a lot of crossover and would be so repetitive that it would just be unnecessary. Plus, the courses we have teach the skills that everyone in the PR world needs: copywriting, media relations, etc. At one point or another, everyone has to have these skills. Not everyone is going to be involved in fundraising.

  2. Jamie Hagan

    Personally I am interested in Non profit PR and fundraising work so on a personal note i would have enjoyed taking a class focused on that. However I agree with so many above that Fundraising though similar should not be a requirement of a PR practitioner. I think these responsibilities fall onto the PR practitioner because many non for profits are limited in in their staffing and this causes the slack to fall where it can be picked up.

  3. blgilmartin

    As you said if an organizations goal is to motivate donations then fundraising is PR, just as if a companies goal is to get people to engage their company’s social media the PR practitioners would take the lead.

  4. Clarissa Kouri

    I feel that not-for-profit organizations do have a hard time with PR, because they usually try and do everything themselves, which brings a lot of struggles and difficulties. It takes a lot of time, patience, focus, and resources, which a lot of non-for-profit organizations cannot afford. Its very important that if they are able to work with a PR person that individual has fundraising experience. The two main issues for a non-for-profit are their public campaign and fundraising. With out both of these, they wont survive. Given their limited resources PR professional with fundraising knowledge and skills would serve the non-for-profit well.

  5. Nick Schweers

    I don’t believe there needs to be a course on fundraising within the major or that we should even spend more than one class talking about the subject. Using the PR skills we are already learning in class, we can apply those to a fundraiser to help a client. For example, the targets to reach out to, how to reach out to them, and how to get publicity from the campaign or event. Since fundraisers help raise awareness of a cause though, that is all PR right there! It’s just another tactic PR professionals can use when reaching out to the public.

  6. Aqlesia

    I think there is a misconception that fund raising is a PR responsibility. There are obviously many ways that PR can assist in the development of a fundraising campaign, but I do not think it should be a PR professional’s responsibility to carry it out. PR professionals can help with development of the campaign by finding the target audience, which is potential donors, and it can also help to build fund raising messages. However, I think they should act as more of a consultant to the fundraising team than a head to it. That being said, I don’t find it necessary to have a PR course focused on fundraising, or even a few classes on it. This is because the type of areas that PR professionals can assist with (target audiences, key messages, raising awareness of the cause), are already taught to PR students, fundraising is just one of the many situations we can apply these skills to.

  7. alipr107

    I think that the line is very thin between PR and fundraising. My mom just recently went to Boston University to get her certification for fundraising for non-for-profits, and the assignments she did, and the material she learned was much like the material we learn in PR. Although her course was only a few months, her class touched upon social media tools, media framing, campaigns, and case study and research methods. The skill set required to be good at fundraising is a lot a like our skill set as PR professionals. I think that PR and fundraising has a future of merging together some way. Maybe the fundraising will be a new branch of PR down the road. I think that fundraising is a lot like PR in many ways, especially when it comes to trying to get the message out there in the public, without advertising. In my personal opinion, I think that both professionals have become closely related in many ways.

  8. Anna

    I always thought fundraising what a part of PR just because tons of people chose to work with non-profit organizations, so I thought that it just kind of got dragged along with it. It would be beneficial to a lot of students to add fundraising to the curriculum. From my experience, working with my sisters non-profit organization, Kyriakis Retinoblastoma Foundation, I wish I had more tools and knowledge to put into different fundraisers she has annually.

  9. darrahrachman

    I agree with the majority of the posts in that fundraising should most definitely be apart of the PR curriculum offered to students. I think that whether a PR practitioner goes into non-profit or for-profit, it is crucial to understand how a company makes their money, which results in success. While this may be dabbling a bit into the marketing aspect, in my opinion that is okay. Nowadays, the line between marketing and PR is becoming blurred and it is therefore important to have fundraising skills that will enable an individual entering the PR world to be well rounded and prepared. I would have loved to take a specific class to understand how fundraising works.

  10. Chrissy Giglio

    I definitely think that fundraising should be at least touched upon when teaching students about public relations. It was never something that really crossed my mind until I started my current internship at a nonprofit. Essentially what I do everyday is help with fundraising, something that I have no previous experience or knowledge of. The skills I have though from my previous PR work have helped though since the same techniques are generally used. You have to make your client (or organization in this situation) appeal to the specific person or group that you are targeting. Based upon who you’re reaching out to you need to make your message and mission intrigue them. I’m learning a lot by actually working with the development team, but think it’d be great if it was something that was added to the PR curriculum.

  11. AOkPR

    If you think of a donation as an action on behalf of a PR campaign, then fundraising is most definitely a PR tool, and should be a part of the PR curriculum. I do not believe that an entire course needs to be devoted to the art of fundraising, as it does not relate to all branches of public relations. However, I think that a few lessons could be devoted to it. Perhaps it could be a topic in the new PR Tools class that has been added to the PR curriculum for incoming freshman.

  12. Leonora

    I agree with everyone else’s comments, in that fundraising should definitely be incorporated into the PR curriculum. Through some volunteering experiences, I have found that fundraising is crucial, but also one of the greatest challenges facing lesser-known organizations. As Lauren mentioned, knowing how to effectively fundraise would boost any public relations campaign and, in turn, produce greater outcomes – something every practitioner is ultimately trying to achieve. I don’t see how anybody interested in PR, especially the nonprofit field, would not benefit from classes devoted to it. After all, the more skills you have under your belt, the more prepared you will be to take on any variety of future clients!

  13. Thanishap

    I do feel that fundraising should be a part of the curriculum for PR majors. The main reason being that we should be knowledgeable in all aspects relating to the public and we should be prepared for any job. If we possess fundraising skills, it makes students more attractive to potential companies that may hire us. Also the idea that when working for smaller companies, many jobs get delegated that may not be in our job description, fundraising would definitely be closest to public relations and it may be a task that gets delegated to a public relations representative.

  14. samwilbur

    I think this crosses the line into both PR and marketing, as do so many aspects of both industries, but it really does require some expertise. It is much more difficult to sell a cause and raise money and awareness in some cases, than it is to handle regular duties and responsibilities of a PR firm or agency. I think learning to do so, especially for non-profit organizations develops in time–it might not even be something one can teach. I think a good PR person can adapt to many things and that includes doing things that might not be in its job description. A lesson or two in class, however, probably wouldn’t hurt much–especially knowing that there are so many opportunites to be involved with not-for- profit organizations

  15. Aimee Keegan

    As a PR manager who works closely with the fundraising department I definitely think it should be covered in at least 1 class for all PR majors. Especially in the non- profit world we are asked to wear multiple hats and being formally trained would just be another tool in the PR tool kit. I have been thinking of taking that AFP certificate program if only to help me advance. Great blog post tonight Jeff!

  16. Lauren Means

    Although I think fundraising more of a marketing tool, I do believe the concept should be touched upon in a PR curriculum. As a past Girl Scout and high school drama club member, I know how important fundraisers are not only to raise money, but also to raise awareness about a cause.

    Many times, when I sat at a booth for an organization, people who came up to buy something from us would comment on how they never knew such a group existed or that the group was based around that area. Fundraisers are a double opportunity for money and for PR. As such, I think fundraisers are something every PR professional should understand know how to work.

  17. Caela McLoughlin

    I found this post very interesting because I never would have thought of fundraising as a part of PR but now that it has been brought to my attention, it really is. I think that the idea of adding fundraising as a part of the curriculum for college students to learn about. I think that it would give students very useful tools that would benefit them. I, as a student, would have loved to add that in as part of my education because it will not only give us very usefil skills, but broaden our thinking and help us be more effective in our line of work.

  18. Jonathan Welch

    I think that with conditions the way they are, adding fundraising as a feather in your cap can’t hurt one bit. But whether it’s a subset of PR is hard to say. In many cases, capital campaigns and support drives could use PR to circumvent the actual asking of “give me money.”

    On another note, I am curious about the certificate program. How does one get information on it?

    And as always, very nicely written post!


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