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4 Steps to Moving Your Marketing and Fundraising Teams to a Productive Partnership

Marketing and fundraising are two halves of a whole. But when they don’t operate that way, the outcome of each team’s efforts is far less than it could be, undermining an organization’s ability to engage its base.

Unfortunately, that’s the situation in most nonprofits where a single person doesn’t wear both hats. As fundraising expert Mal Warwick told me recently, when marketing and fundraising teams stand firm in their respective corners, the disconnect becomes a huge obstacle to raising money, particularly in today’s challenging fundraising environment.

But there are ways to surmount this obstacle. Fairleigh-Dickinson University (FDU) succeeded in doing so via a deliberate, well-articulated re-structuring. Read on to learn more about their strategy and the results, and my recommendation of a four-step process to bring marketing and fundraising into a productive partnership, supplemented by insights from some of the best fundraisers and nonprofit marketers I know.

4 Steps to Connecting the Left Hand with the Right

Put these four strategies to work to strengthen the marketing-fundraising collaboration in your organization:

1. Start at the top. It’s the only hope for a strong marketing-fundraising partnership

If bridging the marketing-fundraising gap is the goal, the pathway to getting there has to be spearheaded by your leadership. Your organization’s executive director, supported by the board, must be the one to guide the two teams into active collaboration and ensure they stay there.

Put more bluntly, “the heads of development and marketing have to accept that they are oxen pulling the same wagon, a wagon labeled ‘increasing community support’,” advises Tom Ahern, a leading authority on donor communications.

If your executive director isn’t focused on bridging this destructive gap, here’s a way to move her along that path, from Kivi Leroux Miller of

  • Ask the leaders of your organization to outline the top three actions an ardent fan of your cause would take in order to support you in a given month. Odds are that at least one of those steps, but not all three, will be related to fundraising.
  • Discuss how your marketing and fundraising staff can work together to encourage that big fan to follow through on those three actions. This moves the conversation away from traditional to-do lists and toward a more holistic view of how you are relating to your supporters and encouraging them to be a part of your organization’s community.

2. Articulate shared priorities to serve as the core of a common agenda

As long as your marketing and fundraising teams have distinct goals, they won’t be effective partners. How could they be, each pointed in its own direction?

But if tasked with a common agenda, the landscape changes. A marketing-fundraising partnership is the only way to get there.

  • At the HealthCare Chaplaincy in New York, the marketing and fundraising teams each have specific responsibilities but work closely together to advance their shared priorities—building and strengthening relationships with key supporters, and generating revenue. “This ethos starts with the directors and permeates our staff,” says Jim Siegel  Director of Marketing & Communications.
  • The advancement leadership at FDU made a radical change in mid-2009 as it merged the development and marketing teams. The teams had worked together in the same room for many years, but pre-merger did so side-by-side with distinct goals and paths of activity, says Dina Schipper, Director of University Public Relations. The merger shifted the entire team’s reporting to the Senior Vice President for University Advancement. But most importantly, “the shift introduced a tri-fold charge to the newly merged team—supporting fundraising, recruitment and overall institutional branding, which, in time, significantly enriched its donor profiling strategy,” says Schipper. The results are strong, even at this early stage. Schipper describes a greater awareness among her colleagues of what outreach is underway and increased ability to coordinate themes and timing. “Nothing says more about the success of this merger than the fact that we’ll be closing out our large and successful capital campaign within the next year,” she says. In addition, Schipper cites the unified team’s single focus as the source of its increased impact in transitioning University’s board members, alumni and other supporters as potent ambassadors. Lots to learn from here.

3. Identify what’s working—from each “side”—and do more of it

I learned this sage strategy from Switch authors Chip and Dan Heath, who advocate this (surprisingly) unusual focus as the most reliable pathway to positive change.

A proven strategy of doing so is to ask your marketing team to identify the top three successes from the fundraising team, and to integrate those approaches into its own work. And vice versa.

Don’t forget to identify what isn’t working, and do less of it. Kivi LeRoux Miller suggests that each team give the other a “free pass” to make any single change to each other’s work, without protest or arguments, for a week. If your marketing director can make only one change to a fundraiser’s direct mail letter, what will it be? And what single change will the development director make to the marketer’s website copy?

This exercise forces each team to focus on what is truly most important to them, gives each some level of control and encourages them to better understand each other without arguing over the merits of the requested change.

4. Build on real, compelling success stories, well-honed and widely shared and discussed as the glue of your fundraising and marketing conversations

Here’s a fact you might not know: When the same strong stories are used by both marketing and fundraising teams, your organization wins via increasing awareness, building engagement and boosting positive responses and actions (e.g., we want to be a part of a winning organization.) Showing via stories works; repetition does too.

Janet Levine, one of my favorite fundraising bloggers at Too Busy to Fundraise, recalls the pattern that emerged from her years working in advancement in higher education. “Working together enabled us to create a powerful approach—for example, we wrote press releases on key stories; those stories were re-purposed into newsletter articles; shared with our Board members to help them be better ambassadors for us, and served as the focus of our direct mail appeals,” says Levine.

The FDU advancement team had a huge win in making the most of Bruce Springsteen coming to campus as part of WAMFest (Words and Music Festival) to co-present an academic seminar with poet Robert Pinsky. This presented a huge traditional media relations opportunity for the university, which saw its story covered by the Associated Press as well as other venues throughout the world.

But that’s just the beginning. The team is creating “experience packets” with DVDs and transcripts of the Springsteen-Pinsky program and others, transcripts and press clips as leave behinds in visits to grantmakers funding in arts and culture, an area they hadn’t reached out to previously. And, as you can imagine, alumni are thrilled to tell the tale of Bruce on the FDU campus!

What is your organization doing to move marketing and fundraising into a more productive partnership? Please share your experiences in the comment box below and I’ll share these strategies in a follow-up post or article.

Nancy Schwartz in Fundraising, Staff and Consultants | 2 comments

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  • Carter McNamara

    I believe that it’s best to have separate Board Marketing and Board Fundraising Committees. Each each committee does its job well, there is not as much overlap as people think. If the committees are merged, then neither can its job well.

    Fundraising should be:
    1. Clarifying your fundraising target.
    2. Ensuring diverse prospect research.
    3. Identifying specific sources of diverse funds.
    4. Identifying who will approach who and how (all Board members should be involved, and each source might prefer to be approached differently)
    5. Ensuring effective internal systems to track and report on funds.
    6. Putting the above in a Fundraising Plan, and monitoring that it’s implementd.

    In contrast, a Marketing Committee should:
    1. Identify all the types of stakeholders
    2. Clarify what you want each type to think about you
    3. Identify what messages to convey to each
    4. identify the best channels for each type to get the message (web sites, social marketing, phone calls, newspapers, etc.)
    5. Develop an action plan of who is going to do what and when.
    6. Develop a Marketing Plan and ensure it’s implemented

    Combing the two Committees is a mistake.

  • Mary Cahalane

    Nancy, I see almost everything you’ve identified above as “marketing” as integral to fundraising. That’s also why I think we separate the two at our peril. When an organization is being run well, they are inextricably linked. That is to say, everyone is pointed in the same direction, working toward the same goals.
    Stakeholders, message, channel… all key to successful fundraising.
    I would also classify the duties outlined above as staff functions, not necessarily board functions.

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