The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

4 Steps to Closing the Communications-Fundraising Divide (Case Study)

Communications 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. Separate silos are a huge barrier to serving up consistent messages to the full range of audiences every nonprofit must engage for its various purposes.

To optimize impact and resources, a single team should define goals, calls to action, targets, timing, and channels. The message sent to everyone—whether individual donor, major donor, journalist, prospective activist, or legislator—should be consistent regardless of the originating department or goal or the delivery channel. That’s the only way your people will remember, repeat, and act on it.

It’s tough to change the status quo, but it can be done. Learn how Fairleigh-Dickinson University (FDU) in New Jersey integrated its communications and fundraising teams via a deliberate, well-articulated restructuring.

FDU’s 4-Step Path to Bringing Communications and Fundraising Together

  1. Start at the top.

If the goal is to bridge the communications-fundraising divide, get your leadership out in front of it. Your organization’s executive director, with support from the board and senior-level staff, should guide the two teams into active collaboration and ensure they stay there—just like the advancement leadership team at FDU drove the radical shift to merge its development and marketing teams.

If your need to build your leaders’ understanding and buy-in, start with these powerful findings from the 2016 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report.

  1. Share the “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) with communications and fundraising staff members.

There’s no way you’ll close the divide without leadership understanding, support, and action, but you can’t stop there. Make sure your development and marketing team members understand what they have to gain in closing the divide. Emphasize tangible benefitssuch as saving time, reducing conflict, and increasing ease and satisfaction on the job.

  1. Articulate shared priorities as the core of a common agenda.

Your communications and development teams won’t be productive partners as long as they have separate goals. How could they be productive, with each pointed in their own direction? But the team dynamic will change when they’re tasked with a common set of goals, activities, and results.

FDU’s development, communications, and alumni relations teams worked together in the same room for many years, with each team having its own goals and activity paths, says Dina Schipper, director of university public relations at FDU.

FDU began by unifying these staff members into a single team reporting to the senior vice president for university advancement. Most important, leadership tasked the new unified team “with a trifold charge: supporting fundraising, recruitment, and overall institutional branding, which in time significantly enriched its donor profiling strategy,” says Schipper.

The results are convincing. Schipper describes increased awareness of outreach that is underway, which spearheads improved coordination of themes, messages, channels, and timing. “Nothing says more about the success of this merger than the fact that we closed out of our last large and successful capital campaign in record time,” she says.

Schipper cites the unified team’s single focus as the source of its increased impact in asking, training, and supporting board members, alumni, and other supporters to be brand ambassadors.

  1. Build on authentic, relevant success stories—well-honed and widely shared—as the glue of your fundraising and marketing conversations.

When communications and development teams use the same strong stories, your organization wins via increasing awareness, building engagement, and boosting positive responses and actions (for example, wanting to be a part of a winning organization). Showing impact via stories works well, as does repetition.

FDU’s integrated advancement team had a massive win when Garden State hero Bruce Springsteen participated in the university’s Words and Music Festival (WAMFest). It’s no surprise that Springsteen’s visit was a huge “traditional” media-relations win. But that was just the beginning.

The team created experience packets that included DVDs and transcripts of the Springsteen program, transcripts, and press clips to use as leave-behinds during visits to grantmakers in arts and culture, a funding niche the team hadn’t yet prospected.

The story grabbed a few funders’ attention, opening the door to relationship building. As you can imagine, alumni were also thrilled to tell the tale of Bruce on the FDU campus. All of this was made possible by the power of a fully integrated communications and fundraising team.

Start bridging your organization’s communications-fundraising divide, and I promise you’ll begin to see wins you never before imagined. Go for it!

What is your organization doing to move your communications and fundraising teams into a more productive partnership? What’s keeping them apart? Let us know on Twitter: @NancySchwartz and @Network4Good.


From Network for Good: Nancy is spot on with her recommendations for communication and fundraising teams. If you can’t implement Nancy’s ideas for tracking donor communcation, it’s time to invest in a smarter way to manage your donors. A donor management system can help you keep better track of all your donor information, communication, and more. Talk to a Network for Good team member today and we can help you get started.

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About This Blog

Linda Lombardi
Content Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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