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4 Ways to Relieve Tension between Comms and Development Departments

Although an organization’s Development and Communications departments have distinct roles, their ability to work together is critical to the success of fundraising efforts and the sharing of your organization’s mission.

However, without proper care, the relationship can leave Communications feeling undervalued and Development feeling like they have to fight to get their message out. But when the departments work together in harmony? The results can be profound.

Here are four ways to reduce friction and increase collaboration between the Communications and Development teams in your fundraising office.

1. Align on strategy

Managing expectations is often the main challenge between Development and Communications. The Communications team typically supports the head of the organization, admissions or programs, Development efforts, and more. As a result, they may struggle to prioritize and balance the workloads of various teams and create a cohesive message or story for the organization.

In order for your philanthropy team’s efforts to be most effective, the Development and Communications departments need to be in agreement when it comes to an overall strategy. There are some practical next steps your teams can take today to become better aligned moving forward.

Share data across departments

Each department likely has unique data they collect and use to guide strategic decisions. Sharing data across departments can build trust and understanding when it comes to why certain tactics and stories are utilized. What shifts have the Development team noticed in donor qualification? Has the Comms department seen an increase in open rates from a new email subject line test?

Each data point, while measured with a certain department’s efforts in mind, may still have cross-departmental applicability. Sharing appropriate data benefits everyone and creates a more consistent, donor-focused culture.

Create a shared calendar

When Development and Communications can map out the year’s fundraising messages together, keeping in mind the flow of projects and organizational milestones, both teams feel ownership and responsibility for the work. It also removes surprises for both teams.

For example, Communications shouldn’t be surprised when they see a request for an email solicitation because it’s been on the calendar and discussed at regular check-ins. Likewise, Development knows not to launch a giving challenge during peak admission season when Communications is stretched thin.

To accomplish this process, each department must commit to flexibility and a solutions-based mindset, especially when approaching potential conflicts.

2. Develop a process together

Does your organization have a process for releasing an email blast? What about portfolio management? More importantly, does everyone follow the process?

It is essential to have a standardized process for Communications requests in order to manage workflow, reduce conflicts, and confirm departmental priorities.

Take inventory of fundraising tactics

What tactics are your teams using over and over? Your shared calendar can be a great resource for taking inventory of exactly which processes need development and input from both teams.

The process may include a request form asking clarifying questions about the project, including the timeline, project manager, the review or editorial needs (does the head of the organization need to review?), and any necessary lists that Communications may need in order to execute the project.

Again, the request should not be a surprise for the Communications team because of the calendar, and it should fit smoothly into their workflow. Development is responsible for ensuring they have all the pieces they need in a timely fashion.

Review processes regularly

Once processes are in place, it’s important to review them on a regular basis to ensure things are working smoothly for each department. Shifting organizational goals, personnel changes, and other factors may necessitate future updates.

Allowing for consistent check-ins on processes allows them to be approached with neutrality and even curiosity, and normalizes the idea that planning is an active and ongoing process.

3. Prioritize interdepartmental communication

Development and Marketing offices occupy a unique space within an organization. Whereas many nonprofit job functions focus on those they serve, Development and Marketing efforts are primarily focused on external audiences, whether working to inspire philanthropy or to engender loyalty.

Because these departments focus on the outward, it is often counterintuitive to turn inward and toward each other. However, prioritizing communications between departments usually results in stronger external output – and makes work in this area more seamless, with commensurate results.

Schedule regular check-ins

No one wants more meetings, but scheduling weekly or biweekly check-ins with the Communications team (and potentially Admissions or Programs teams) can be valuable time together to update everyone on the status of various projects, to remedy unforeseen obstacles, to brainstorm new ideas, and to create cohesive messaging across the organization. In addition, hearing from different departments may provide opportunities for collaboration on student features or program stories, reinforcing the organization’s overall message.

To ensure the tone of the meeting is collaborative and mission-driven, each department should have the opportunity to contribute to the agenda.

Normalize and encourage feedback

By establishing a culture that normalizes and celebrates feedback, challenges that may have festered and caused underlying tension can be discussed and resolved out in the open. This change must start at the top, with Directors of Development and Directors of Communications encouraging and modeling constructive feedback.

Given that these Development and Communications leaders often have very full schedules, extra emphasis must be placed on making the time for these feedback discussions – at least in the beginning. This requires buy-in, optimism, and a growth mindset.

4. Remember that you have shared goals

It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day work and frustrations and forget that both departments have shared goals and work toward the same mission.

A strong partnership between Development and Communications offices results in initiatives that inspire and motivate donors. The two teams each bring incredible value and expertise needed for a thriving organization, but here’s how you can reinforce your shared goals: regularly share your appreciation for members of the teams and frequently discuss ways to work towards fulfilling the mission of the organization.

Regularly share progress

Development and Communications teams are often in a fast-paced cycle of projects. As soon as something goes out the door, you start the next project. Take the time to recognize the work and accomplishments of the teams. Celebrate the successful collaboration, adherence to the process, and problem-solving skills of the teams working together.

Celebrate wins together

In addition, celebrate the achievements of the project (Did you raise more money? Increase participation? Have record high event attendance?) and hold a debrief meeting to discuss what went well and where there are opportunities to improve team communication or processes. Consider how the project moved the mission of the organization forward so that you’re able to have an even bigger impact with the next project!

The relationship between Communications and Development ought to be a close one. After all, Communications is often the first department to learn about and share those stories that inspire donors to give. And the work of Development provides a meaningful outlet for philanthropy to occur.

Donors do not consider their passion for a nonprofit in a silo – they look at an organization holistically. By working in a methodical and aligned approach, you can truly become greater than the sum of your parts.

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