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Fundraising and sales share a lot of similarities, especially when the sales are for-profit business-to-business accounts. Employees in both fields are expected to nurture long-term relationships and achieve certain benchmarks over the relationship lifespan. Both are expected to request money from various other parties and both are hoping for repeat business in the long run. In fact, fundraising and sales can be so similar that employees often find that the skills required to succeed in one field are transferrable to the other. There are, however, a few key differences between the two fields that one ought to be aware of before making a career change.

The Exchange Factor

Individuals working in sales can sometimes seem to have an advantage over those in fundraising for one reason in particular: the exchange factor. To be more clear, sales employees have a product or service to offer in return for the funds they are requesting. Potential clients are offered tangible evidence indicating exactly what they will receive in return for what will give. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many fundraising efforts. While there is certainly a clear benefit to donating money to charity, oftentimes there is little evidence or proof of what your specific funds accomplished.


Another big difference between sales and fundraising is the competition. Businesses in search of a certain product or service are definitely going to shop around unless they’ve already built a solid relationship with a particular company or account representative. Their options are typically limited, however, depending on the product or service they are shopping for. Odds are that sales employees are able to offer up some sort of benefit or reason that they excel over the competition when it comes to the desired product or service.

Fundraising employees do not have this option. There are hundreds of thousands of charities out there all working to collect funds for hundreds of thousands of causes. Not only are these organizations competing with other organizations meant to impact the same cause, but they are also competing with organizations impacting other causes. Donors are rarely limited by a need to sponsor one specific cause in a given timeframe. Their options are nearly infinite.


Perhaps the biggest difference between sales and fundraising is that of need. Most business-to-business sales relationships are initiated when a potential client has a need for one specific product or service. Individuals don’t need to donate to charity. It’s entirely optional. So employees in the fundraising field have to work to get their message in front of the desired clientele before they can even think about having a relationship-building conversation. Granted, sales employees must rely on a bit of advertising as well, but the intent is different. Business-to-business sales advertisements tend to focus on remaining top of mind when the need for a product or service comes up, whereas fundraising advertising is more about communicating the worthiness of their cause.

Both sales and fundraising are exciting fields for individuals that adore communicating with others in pursuit of a goal. By examining the differences between sales and fundraising, you can perhaps begin to differentiate which field makes better use of the nuances in your communication skills or provide you with a more satisfying challenge!