William Swanger, a PR veteran in Central Pennsylvania, has an article on PRSA's Public Relations Strategist that sorts through the differences between public relations and fundraising/marketing. They're important to recognize, because the pressure to raise dollars can subvert the relationships needed to keep dollars, and other forms of support, coming in. In other words, viewing PR as subordinate to fundraising can be self-defeating.
PR should always be practiced, Swanger reminds us, as first a strategic discipline, not a tactical technique. We should be guarding against the encroachment of fundraising on the PR function. Hence the title of his piece, "Fundfraising Encroachment of Public Relations."
"Many fundraisers," Swanger notes, "operate in the one-way pressagency/publicity model. The prevalence of that model is why, for example, I continually hear this refrain from fundraising staff: 'If public relations could only make people more aware of our organization, then they'd give us money.' My response is always: 'Not necessarily.' I'm aware of lots of worthy organizations to which I'll never give a dime, mostly because I have no relationship with them."
Fundraising, Swanger feels, should be viewed as a specialization of public relations, not the other way around. He's right. In terms of basic organizational interests, PR is a long-term proposition (hence strategic) and fundraising shorter term (hence tactical). Pressures fundraisers operate under can distort relationships that build underlying loyalties — think, for instance, about the importance of word-of-mouth communication.
"...We're not merely a tactical function whose primary value is to support other 'more important' departments, such as marketing or fundraising," Swanger writes of PR. "I have offered such education myself throughout the years and, fortunately, my organization's new CEO understands the strategic value of public relations in managing relationships with all key publics, not just donors."
To all executives: Don't let fundraising pressures distort your view of ongoing relationships. If you do, you organization might not get to the future as as the outfit you envision it to be.
Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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