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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 11.1


Selecting the Right Communication Channels

Development and fundraising work relies heavily on strong communication, but you need to match appropriate methods of communication with each audience. A former student now in his 80s will probably not receive a message you broadcast on Facebook, and a busy graduate in the early years of her career is unlikely to read a 60-page annual report.

You need to develop a mixture of communication channels that supports your development strategy and leaves no one group feeling neglected.

What Channels Are There?

Technology is moving quickly, and new channels of communication are being developed all the time. This section lists some of the main channels and their characteristics.

Direct Channels

Printed material through the post

  • Can reach the addressee directly.
  • Great for communicating complicated information or images.
  • Often preferred by older readers who are less comfortable reading on screen.
  • Harder to ignore or delete than electronic documents.
  • Can be shared easily with friends and family.
  • Hard to know if it’s being read, so measuring impact is difficult.
  • Expensive, especially for international distribution.
  • Impersonal unless tailored to the individual, which requires a great deal of time.
  • High levels of wastage unless the address data are good.

Personalised letters through the post

  • Often perceived as very personal and an indication that the writer has taken some trouble to get in touch.
  • Handwritten letters of thanks are particularly valued.
  • Often preferred by older readers who are less comfortable reading on screen.
  • No way of knowing they are being read and therefore measuring impact is difficult.
  • Expensive.
  • Time intensive.


  • Inexpensive.
  • Mass email can reach large audiences very quickly.
  • Great for keeping in touch with prospects once a relationship has been established.
  • Can get basic data to measure impact.
  • Can be perceived negatively as ‘spam’.
  • Can trigger a huge response and overwhelm the office.
  • Easily deleted and ignored, especially if not personalised.
  • Some people find it intrusive, especially if a work email address is used.
  • Informal language may creep in and detract from the message of the email.


  • Cheap and easy to do.
  • Gets news to alumni and prospects in a timely fashion.
  • Can get basic data to measure impact.
  • Can be viewed as ‘spam'.
  • Easily deleted and ignored.

Telephone calls

  • Great for creating a personal connection.
  • Very immediate and direct.
  • Easy to measure impact.
  • Good way to ‘clean’ your data.
  • Can be time consuming with calls and follow-up.
  • Some people find phone calls intrusive.
  • Can easily be dismissed, especially if this channel is only used for fundraising campaigns.
  • Can be expensive, especially if calling overseas.

Mobile phone (texts, apps, online browsing)

  • Mass text messages can reach large audiences quickly.
  • Contact is normally brief and therefore has a higher chance of being read.
  • Very immediate and direct.
  • Increasingly, mobile phones are used to browse the internet, so you can direct audience to get more information online.
  • Apps can be an especially fun way to communicate and provide something of value to your prospects.
  • Can be expensive.
  • Message has to be brief.

Face to face

  • Extremely personal and effective in building long-term relationships with prospects.
  • Typical part of major gift cultivation.
  • Can be one on one or a small group.
  • Can engage other representatives of the institution.
  • Often the best way to relay information because audience can respond, ask questions, etc.
  • Can be expensive and time-consuming.
  • Can be difficult to organise.
  • Can be viewed with suspicion by some people.


  • Effective way of building relationships and introducing new prospects to your institution or specific project.
  • Can be expensive if not self-funding.
  • Can be time-consuming to organise.

Indirect Channels

Press releases/PR

  • Good way to build up a general profile and encourage cultural change toward supporting philanthropy.
  • Needs strong content to ensure coverage.
  • No way of measuring its effectiveness (who reads it).


  • Great for communicating large volumes of unchanging information (policies, etc.)  as well as current events.
  • Great for news flashes.
  • Allows people to interact rather than receive information passively.
  • If well organised, can be a useful resource for both external and internal audiences.
  • Can measure some data.
  • Time-consuming to maintain.
  • Difficult to know who is reading it.
  • Needs to be able to meet the technical challenge of being read in many browsers, including mobile phones.
  • Highly visual with capability of displaying photograph and video control, as well as text.


  • Great for short bursts of information.
  • Good for directing attention to other forms of communication, such as website.
  • Real time tweets can make people off campus feel involved in campus-based events.
  • Good for generating a campaign following.
  • Quick, easy and cheap to do.
  • Tends to be used by younger audiences.
  • Message has to be brief.


Facebook and other social networks

  • Easy and cheap to do.
  • Good way of directing readers’ attentions to other forms of communication, such as the website.
  • Good for gathering information about individuals.
  • Good way to build a general profile.
  • Allows people to interact rather than receive information passively.
  • Can be time-consuming to moderate.

LinkedIn and other professional networks

  • Easy and cheap to do.
  • Good way of directing readers attention to other forms of communication, such as the website.
  • Good for gathering information about individuals.
  • Good for providing additional benefits to prospects through peer-to-peer networking and posting career opportunities.
  • Can be time-consuming to moderate.

Word of mouth

  • Very powerful.
  • Free and quick.
  • Difficult to stimulate.
  • Impossible to control, and people can be talking about your institution both positively and negatively.
  • Difficult to measure.
How Do I Choose?

You should choose which channel of communication to use based on these considerations:

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • How complex is  the information? Can it be expressed in a few words (text or Twitter) or does it need a whole webpage?
  • Are images required?
  • Do you want a response?
  • Do you want to be able to find out who has seen or read the message to measure your impact?
  • Can you afford it (financially or the time commitment)?
  • If it is a fundraising communication, then which channel will have the best return on investment?

Action Items
  • Choose a few communication channels as part of your regular outreach and incorporate them into your strategy and procedures (e.g., a personalised phone call or letter after every donation, a quarterly newsletter and two postings on social networks per month that link to the website). To determine these channels, you may want to survey a select group of your target audiences (even informally asking prospects and donors as you meet with them).
  • Review other channels as you launch new campaigns (e.g., when fundraising for a new project you may want to host an event, putting out a press release and call the top 50 donors who are likely to invest – to make sure they are coming to the event and know about the project).
  • Make sure you work closely with the marketing and communications team to leverage their activities. Start small and build.

You Might Also Want to Read:

The cultivation process
Partnering with other advancement-related departments
Gift recognition policies
Leave behinds and printed materials
Alumni magazines and e-newsletters
Online communications (11f)
How to engage the international community (12b)


CASE provides in-depth communications samples and information, including plans; benchmarking; and crisis, internal and external communications materials; as well as tips for development writing and specific fundraising methods (e.g., campaigns, direct mail, online solicitation and giving).

Adrian Salmon, annual fund manager at the University of Leeds, talks about campaign solicitation methods and compares the costs and returns of each.
Adrian Salmon discusses the growth of income and how it relates to donor participation, as well as what to measure and what to invest in.
Wood talks about engaging alumni, fundraising events and selecting the right communication channels.