Two Sides of the Same Coin: The Reinforcing Relationship Between Communications and Development
A year ago, I stepped into a new role as director of development for a local and thriving nonprofit with a full-time staff of fewer than ten people. Previously, I served as director of communications for a national nonprofit, where development was a small aspect of the position, but not a focus. Why the jump to development? Because after 15 years of public relations and communications work, I was hungry for a change of pace and eager to challenge myself with something new.
In the last year, I’ve been energized by what I have seen and experienced at the local level. An anchor in the community, the team of professionals and volunteers that make up a local nonprofit is truly inspiring.
As I reflect on this transition, I realize a key thing I have learned is that communications and development are separate and distinct functions that reinforce each other. While the two areas are often and rightfully separated in organizational management, in many ways they are inseparable. Communications and development are very much two sides of the same coin.
Communications is the organizational function that binds everything together. Developing and transmitting mission statements, vision and accomplishments is a full-time endeavor that builds and reinforces a nonprofit’s brand. Large nonprofits have the luxury of having a vice president or director of communications, often with a supporting staff to help manage the diverse nature of traditional media and the constantly evolving world of social media. However, many of us in the nonprofit sector live in a world where the common rallying cry is “all hands on deck.” Often, communications is a group endeavor by office staff who wear many hats, and a dedicated team of communications professionals is an unaffordable luxury.
Development, on the other hand, is all about cultivating a donor base and setting achievable goals for growing the organization. Without significant investment of time and energy to build, maintain and cultivate relationships with donors, development can be tough to even initiate. However, once the ball gets rolling and that inertia is overcome, the constant growth of development goals makes for a vibrancy that can be infectious to everyone working with the organization. It is the work of cultivating and maintaining the relationships with donors that I find so rewarding.
This brings me to some key questions and a key point of understanding. When it comes to communications versus development, which should be the priority?
From my experience, they are both invaluable parts of the nonprofit world that reinforce each other in the best organizations. Effective communications, especially with current members and prospective donors, build the trust that gives life to the mission. When current and prospective donors trust your organization—and see the fruits of their donation in effective communications—they are more willing to grow with you and increase their financial commitments. Great development work is enabled by the process of great communications.
It takes an inseparable combination of effective communications and development to build a cohesive plan for the future. You need both sides of that coin to thrive.
If you are a small nonprofit, identify and clarify your mission statement and subsequent achievements. Then, communicate these to your audience. Simply put, start with communications. Review the status of all your communications, and create or refine a robust communications plan to build or expand your brand. This is a key tool in development work.
In development, identify aggressive but achievable goals and communicate those across the organization. The marketing materials, brochures and press releases that are the lifeblood of the communications world can also be used effectively for development. But this process must constantly be reviewed and refined, which demands a close relationship between communications and development.
Does your organization’s message connect with donors? Do your donors rally when hearing your mission? The answers to these questions give an organization essential data in the refinement process for communications plans and development plans alike.
As we all know, nonprofits are all about making a difference. There is a reason for your existence, and the need for others to join your mission and support that vision. That starts with communications. But never forget both sides of the coin. Development and fundraising starts with donors and personal relationships, but this is always enabled with effective communications.
The very essence of development is built on a foundation of communications. Your message needs to connect donors with your organization’s mission and ability to make a difference in the community. Connection is the key. With effective communications about your organization’s mission and impact, and robust development enabled by that communication’s work, anything is possible.