4 Steps to a Productive Partnership
Marketing and fundraising are two halves of a whole. But when they don't operate that way, the results are far less than they could be.
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 remain stuck in their respective corners, the disconnect becomes a huge obstacle to building strong relationships and raising money. But there are ways to surmount this obstacle. Fairleigh Dickinson University broke out of this pattern via a deliberate, well-articulated restructuring. Here's FDU's strategy and results, and my recommendation of a four-step process to bring marketing and fundraising into a productive partnership.
1. Start at the top
This is 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 embrace the reality that they are on the same team with a common goal — increasing community support.
2. Articulate shared priorities
These are 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.
The advancement leadership at FDU made a radical change a couple of years ago as it merged the development and marketing teams. The teams had worked together in the same room for many years, but premerger did so side by side with distinct goals and paths of activity, says Dina Schipper, director of university public relations at FDU.
The merger shifted the entire team's reporting to the senior vice president for university advancement. But most importantly, "the shift introduced a trifold charge to the newly merged team — supporting fundraising, recruitment and overall institutional branding — which, in time, significantly enriched its donor profiling strategy," Schipper says. "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."
The results are strong, even at this early stage. Schipper describes a greater awareness among her colleagues of what outreach is under way, and increased ability to coordinate themes and timing.
In addition, she cites the unified team's single focus as the source of its increased impact in transitioning the university's board members, alumni and other supporters as potent ambassadors. Lots to learn from here.
3. Identify what's working and do more of it
I learned this sage strategy from Chip and Dan Heath, authors of "Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard," 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 integrate those approaches into its own work. And vice versa.
Don't forget to identify what isn't working, and do less of it. Try this: Each team gives 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, gives each some level of control and encourages both to better understand each other without arguing over the merits of the requested change.
4. Build on real, compelling success stories
These well-honed, widely shared and discussed stories are 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 by increasing awareness, building engagement, and boosting positive responses and actions (e.g., we want to be a part of a winning organization). Showing through stories works. Repetition does too.
The FDU advancement team had a huge win in making the most of rock star 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 grant makers funding in arts and culture, an area FDU 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? If you're not doing much, start by selecting one of the steps shared here and run with it. Good luck! FS