Layla Fry, director of communications for Southwest Key Programs, emailed me this question:
“My organization is interested in merging the now separate functions of fundraising and communications into a ‘Community Engagement Team’ as you recommended in your book. Can you tell me where I can find out more about this trend and how/why you believe this to be the path to success? Can you help us with a restructuring of this sort?”
My main reason for urging nonprofits to think about community engagement teams rather than separate fundraising and communications or marketing departments is because supporters don’t think of themselves as website visitors, newsletter readers, donors, and major donor prospects. They are whole people who want to relate to the causes they care about in multiple ways. Yet we insist on categorizing them in all of these different ways, and therefore splintering our relationships with them among various departments. It’s confusing for supporters and inefficient for nonprofits.
Integrating Communications and Fundraising, an article at CharityComms, also makes the case for why it makes sense to merge these functions.
So how to make this kind of merger work?
I suggested that Layla read The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change (Amazon) by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine (which she told me she had already started). Many people mistakenly think the book is about social media, but it’s actually much more about this idea of breaking down the silos in our organizations and working toward community engagement. Here is my earlier review of the book.
Nancy Schwartz also offers some helpful advice in 4 Steps to Moving Your Marketing and Fundraising Teams to a Productive Partnership.
My one big caution is that you really do need to treat a new Community Engagement Team as an entirely new entity. It is doomed to failure if the merger is really just “now the marketing people work for the fundraising team” or “now the development staff work for the communications department.”
Marketing and fundraising are two different things. Marketing can have many different outcomes, only one of which is raising money (like gaining new program participants, building a constituency of advocates, and educating communities for social change, for example). At the same time, much of what fundraisers do — especially with major gift fundraising — is really one-to-one, personal relationship building that doesn’t fall into what we typically consider nonprofit marketing to a larger target audience. For the team to work, you have to value these differences while also working together to connect with each supporter where that person is and to build and strengthen that whole relationship over time.
What advice do you have for Layla as they embark on this merger? What experiences do you have with making this work? Please share in the comments.