Companies have both sales and marketing departments and while they may overlap, they aren't the same thing. A sales executive explained the difference to me this way.
"Sales is when a customer comes to you to buy a product that they already know they need or want and you convince them to buy your product to fill that need. Marketing is making them understand that they need your product in the first place." In other words, marketing creates the customers, the demand if you will, and sales services those customers, i.e. satisfies that demand.
In the nonprofit world, when grantors open grants for applications, that grantor already knows that they want to support a certain type of philanthropy. They are essentially shopping for the program that best fills that need, but initially they reach out to you, or at least to organizations like yours. They are shopping and you are selling.
When you make the initial contact, you are marketing your program and organization to persons or organizations that may not know the problem you want to address even exists.
If you want to attract more or better support, you have to market. You might call that public relations, community outreach, or donor development, but it is still marketing. For some reason, many nonprofits just don't think of traditional marketing strategies as applicable to them, maybe because they don't understand the underlying strategy.
Like traditional customers, donors come and go. Long-term funding partners may change focus, have a cash shortfall, or just go away. Having a method of developing new donors is not just desirable, it is mission-critical. Marketing provides that capability.
Donor development is more like marketing. People may only know that they have some spare cash and may have a general idea that they want to support a charitable organization. Your job is to develop a desire to use that money for your mission.
In the nonprofit and philanthropic world, that means putting together a package that tells them exactly why supporting you is a good use of their funds, offer them personal satisfaction by telling them what they will accomplish, and then deliver those outcomes. Sometimes you can do that through mass media branding, and other times it has to be targeted to a specific person or organization.
It also means doing a considerable amount of research to identify the best person or firm to approach. If you are selling a car, you wouldn't market to people that want to buy furniture. If you are youth-focused, then pursuing a prospect focused on building preservation won't work, even if they are right in your city and have stacks of cash.
Too many nonprofits are looking for the magic formula, the words that get them money every time from every type of donor. They rely on canned appeals that only work with certain established donor demographics and wonder why they can never seem to add new supporters.
If that strategy worked, we'd still be buying the original Apple computer kit from 1976, instead of the iPad®.
Nonprofit marketing is at its core about expanding your customer (donor) base . That concept doesn't change, whether you are a for-profit or a nonprofit. Whether you do it with events, a blog, social media, direct mail or TV ads, your marketing goal is still the same.