Roadblocks and Successes in Philanthropy Communications
Bonnie Jess Lopane, CFRE
Giving Tuesday is a fundraising initiative familiar to many development officers and marketers. In 2019, $511 million was raised online in the United States during Giving Tuesday.1 Similarly, Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s 24-hour online community giving day, the Extraordinary Give, raised nearly $11 million in 2019. Unlike any other fundraiser held by Hospice & Community Care, it is driven by marketing rather than development, reliant solely on online gifts, email marketing and social media––all of which is implemented within two weeks prior to the event.
For the development team this creates some uneasiness, as they don’t oversee the organization’s digital and social media efforts. For the marketing team, it can be stressful because they aren’t responsible for soliciting gifts, as this is the development team’s responsibility. And for the organization to be successful, it requires open communication, a cohesive plan, being organized, respecting each other’s roles and abilities, and delivering a consistent message across all platforms.
In 2019, Hospice & Community Care raised $93,000 in one day––the most it raised during the Extraordinary Give since it began in 2012. 563 gifts were generated from 77 new donors––an increase of 49 gifts and 20 new donors as compared to 2018.
Success wasn’t met without encountering some roadblocks when this initiative began seven years ago. The day of giving initially lacked a cohesive plan, used traditional print mediums, and included events to increase engagement, with little consistent messaging. These roadblocks became lessons learned, and helped the team approach each year with a fresh, new outlook.
Check out these roadblocks to avoid, and successes to emulate, to strengthen marketing and development communications within your organization.
While many organizations have integrated fundraising and marketing communications departments, there are as many in which the two entities are entirely separate.2 Even when communications and philanthropy are part of the same department, it can sometimes be dysfunctional if the departments function as silos. The silo effect occurs when separate departments or teams within an organization don’t have a system to communicate effectively with each other, and productivity suffers because of it. So, what is the right structure?
“Marketers serve as storytellers and conduits for a relationship with a brand, and fund developers are relationship builders and personal representatives of the organizations they serve,” says Aja Mae Pirtle, Managing Director of Marketing and Communications of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy of Indiana University. “By working together, you can leverage the strengths of both departments in a meaningful way.” Meaningful creative collaboration between employees with various skill sets is a great way to facilitate long-term communication within a silo.
Hospice & Community Care’s integrated model with development and marketing communications embedded in one department has been an effective structure for nearly 25 years.
“Marketing communications positions the organization and emphasizes the benefits that Hospice & Community Care delivers,” says Bonnie Jess Lopane, CFRE, Vice President, Chief Development Officer, who oversees development and philanthropy, and marketing communications. “That is how you want donors, patients and families, and the community to think about the organization.”
By comparison, some development and marketing communications departments are two separate entities overseen by different managers.
“Our two teams meet weekly,” says Sharon Jones, FAHP, CFRE, Vice President of Development of Haven Hospice in Gainesville, Florida. “Marketing handles all service line marketing materials, controls the website and social media, and approves all marketing materials. The marketing team has great energy, creative ideas, and is very approachable. So there is good integration between marketing and development.”
“Our departments are not located in the same office building, so communication can be a challenge,” says Cindy Moody, Charitable Gifts Officer, and Brynett Gamba, Director of Communications, Hospice of Marion County in Ocala, Florida. “Communications and development are separate departments, with development being just one of the departments served by communications. Any organizational communication must be approved by the communications team, which is responsible for all public outreach. Communications is often too busy to accommodate the needs of development’s timeline; likewise, development often feels that they are not always part of the overall communications strategy.”
“Marketing may also be more focused on business development than philanthropy,” said Aida Matic, CFRE. “The two departments should have shared goals and collaboration, and it is helpful if the marketing team sees themselves as having a role in philanthropy, and are able to devote sufficient time to collaborating with the development team. Both marketing and development need stories of patients and families, each for its own purposes, but in support of a shared mission… we sometimes forget that we are working towards one mission.”
“Development manages all aspects of fundraising collaboratively with marketing,” says Lisa Smith, Associate Director of Development, Shriners Hospitals for Children in Spokane, Washington. “The development team provides basic design and relies on marketing to review materials to ensure organizational branding.”
“Creating a development campaign typically begins with a ‘creative brief’ of the communication and/or marketing elements needed,” says Bill Littlejohn, CEO and Senior VP, Sharp HealthCare Foundation, San Diego, California. “This involves development of the case elements, potential messages and audiences, creative requirements, costs and responsibilities. Once the creative brief is approved, the collaboration ensues with individual roles and responsibilities.”
Collaboration between development and marketing colleagues is key in fostering positive relationships; when major challenges arise, the teamwork and trust that has been built will go a long way in solving problems.
Developing a Cohesive Plan
We’ve all heard it: “Fail to plan. Plan to fail.” Whether it’s a campaign case statement, direct mail appeal, or donor impact report, a cohesive plan is the first step to success. But if the development staff is creating that plan without the input or expertise of their communications colleagues, it could be detrimental.
At the beginning of the year, development and marketing teams should share their goals with each other. By doing so, they can effectively collaborate on a long-range communications plan that allows both departments to achieve those goals. Once established, it is important for both teams to meet regularly to assess the plan and determine if their objectives are being met.
This method has had great success for Hospice of the Chesapeake in Pasadena, Maryland. Sandra Dillon, Director of Communications, further explained.
“Bi-weekly meetings create an open environment that allows for synergy between all our jobs and facilitates success and collaboration,” Sandra says. “Being able to plan long-term has made the integration successful.”
Sandra encourages teams to look at the full year rather than planning quarterly or month to month. Communications jobs typically involve 90 days from start to finish to enter the marketplace, so if organizations aren’t looking six to nine months ahead, they will be running in place.
“Regular brainstorming sessions help create a sense of buy-in among all team members,” echoes Bonnie Jess Lopane. “As one department, development and marketing communications staff ‘huddle’ weekly to discuss the week’s priorities including joint projects.”
The staff also conducts creative meetings when a new project is identified, involving both the marketing communications team and development staff to discuss the goals, ideas, budget, and timeline. Creative meetings well in advance of a deadline are an effective way of bringing the right expertise together to create an effective end result.
“At Sharp HealthCare, there is extensive collaboration between marketing and development (the Foundations),” shared Bill Littlejohn. “The Foundations have a development officer for communication and digital strategies who works directly with marketing on all Foundation projects that involve system-wide communications, digital strategies, or creative elements. There are regular meetings or strategy sessions which involve marketing and the Foundations for project planning and implementation.”
If long-range strategic collaboration doesn’t quite fit your shop, you can also successfully plan on a project-by-project basis. 3 At Hospice of Marion County in Ocala, Florida, the development team conceptualizes each of their print and digital projects initially. From there, they share the concept with the communications team. The director of communications, is then responsible for scheduling creative meetings with both departments, setting an ideal project timeline to maximize fundraising outcomes, and overseeing the execution of the plan, with her development counterpart having final approval.
Unfortunately, when development and marketing teams do not collaborate, there can be very real consequences—like poor fundraising results, and ill will created among key stakeholders. While working in a siloed development office at a small liberal arts college, Coco Minardi, former Director of Annual Giving, noticed declines in annual fund appeal performance. But this was counterintuitive to all the strategic efforts that were being put in place. Having used giving habits to create strategic segmentation, data to determine realistic yet aspirational ask amounts, donor-focused content that was easy to digest and eye-catching postscripts, direct mail results should have been on the rise.
After a disappointing year, she reviewed not only the development calendar but that of the entire institution, and found that nearly all the fundraising appeals were mailed within days of other organization communications. Most notably, a Parent Fund appeal was mailed one week after a tuition increase letter was sent to all parents.
COVID-19 forced development and marketing to re-evaluate the cohesive plans they created together with an eye toward innovation. Hospice & Community Care was scheduled to hold its annual Spring Fling fundraiser to benefit children’s grief support programs. The organization had to switch its focus from having an in-person event to a virtual one. This required the team to use new technology, evaluate its budget, and adjust its messaging.
Having to pivot so drastically from their original plan might have derailed some operations altogether. But because the marketing and development teams at Hospice & Community Care have created a culture of collaboration and organization, they were able to quickly and effectively modify plans toward a successful end result.
Some might argue that being organized could mean being rigid and prohibit capitalizing on new opportunities that arise. In reality, being organized not only saves time and eliminates workplace stress, it facilitates greater results by allowing teams to focus on their highest purpose. In addition to bi-weekly meetings with development colleagues, Sandra Dillon maintains organization by using an electronic ticketed tracking system to manage every project.
Dillon added, “Communications team members track their time spent on each project. This level of detail allows everyone to understand the indirect expenses involved and stay focused on the plan rather than making dynamic changes midway through the process.”
Hospice & Community Care uses a cloud-based project management software to organize not only its development events and appeals, but all marketing projects for the organization. The software allows the team to identify those responsible for each individual task, assign deadlines, and upload documents, a one-stop-shop for team members to stay organized, maintain transparency and meet deadlines.
A lack of organization can impede creativity, delay deadlines, and lead to animosity between development and communications teams. Most significantly, it can diminish fundraising outcomes. So, instead of thinking about organization in terms of unpleasant and tedious tasks, reframe it as one of the easiest ways to be responsive to the circumstances around you, elevate your results and engender meaningful collaboration between departments.
2020 and the ongoing pandemic has brought to light the importance of having solid planning, collaboration, and organization among team members. Companies that already had a strong foundation in place pre-COVID-19 have been able to easily pivot their fundraising and marketing efforts to continue to remain successful.
Saying that you respect someone’s role within your organization is different than showing respect. Lack of respect may be dismissing someone’s comments during a meeting, having ideas used by another team member, and being excluded from work-related discussions.4 Respect in the workplace contributes to job satisfaction, and increases employee engagement and team productivity.5 Understanding each team members’ value, strengths, and weaknesses, and having open communication are key to ensuring mutual respect.6
When Allison Bucher, Communications Manager, started at Hospice & Community Care in 2018, there were some learning curves. She was entering an industry unknown to her and she was also starting with two new employees in the development department. Each of them was trying to find their place, making for some tense moments and frustrations. However, they were able to adjust, acknowledge, and respect the strengths each brought to their roles and how those would be most beneficial to the department and organization.
“The key to good collaboration is ongoing communication, being open to others’ ideas, holding non-threatening discussions, and teamwork,” says Sharon Jones. “I’ve worked in organizations where marketing and development have not had a strong working relationship… you can’t put a price on the benefits when they do work effectively.”
Delivering Consistent Messaging
The lack of messaging consistency may not be noticeable in the beginning, but failing to identify and continue with a consistent brand identity can eventually have a negative impact.
The best way to get everyone on board is to allow one department to take the lead. Traditionally, that is the marketing department.7 This department is responsible for all the organization’s communication to the community and oversees its brand. They have their finger on the pulse of what to communicate, how to communicate, and when to communicate. They also have a broader perspective of what is happening in the entire organization.8
“Individuals in both the foundations’ and marketing and digital strategies teams that have integration and collaboration roles,” shared Bill Littlejohn. “There is an understanding that Foundation and philanthropy marketing and communications is a system priority, and often the marketing team searches out the Foundation for patient stories or impact of philanthropy.”
However, the lead department should not make all of the decisions in a silo. Mary Arnzen, Major Gift and Planned Giving Officer at Southern Ohio Medical Center in Portsmouth, Ohio shares her thoughts.
“Donor communication is different than mass communication and I don’t think our marketing team always understand what fundraisers do,” says Mary.
If marketing is taking the lead in your organization, they need to collaborate with the development team. They know their audience, goals, and objectives, as well as how their donors and prospects prefer to be communicated with. While fundraising is important, there needs to be a balance between development communication and organizational awareness.
Whether your marketing and development teams are one or separate, keeping the tips and recommendations above in mind as you are approaching each project will ensure a productive and successful outcome that ultimately benefits your organization and the individuals it serves.
Lisa Smith, Shriners Hospitals for Children concludes, “We learned that planning ahead and having good communication, being open to alternative ideas, meeting periodically, and discussing ideas together creates the most effective approach to raising funds for our mission.”
Bonnie Jess Lopane, CFRE is the Vice President, Chief Development Officer at Hospice & Community Care. Serving the organization since 1996, Bonnie has experience in leadership and management, philanthropy including major and planned gifts, women’s philanthropy, donor stewardship, marketing communications, and public relations.
Amy Lewis is the Director of Philanthropy at Hospice & Community Care and has been with the organization since 2008. Amy is responsible for major and planned gifts, donor stewardship and women’s philanthropy, as well as overseeing the organization’s donor relations officers.
Nicole Minardi is the Donor Relations Manager at Hospice & Community Care. Nicole is responsible for donor stewardship and oversight of the organization’s major fundraisers. She has been with the organization since 2018.
Allison Bucher, Communications Manager at Hospice & Community Care since 2018, oversees the organization’s social media, media relations and creative direction, as well as maintains Hospice & Community Care’s brand and website.
1. Giving Tuesday website
2. "Marketing as Fundraising: 4 Tips for a Successful Collaboration.” Pirtle, A. February 27, 2020.
3. "11 Ways to Improve Collaboration Between Departments.” Wong, L. December 4, 2019.
4. "11 Signs Your Coworkers Don’t Respect You.” Cain, A. September 20, 2016.
5. "6 Transformative Benefit of Respect in the Workplace.” Duncan, J. March 19, 2020.
6. "How to Practice Respect in the Workplace.” Moseley, C.
7. "6 Tips for Enforcing Consistent Messaging Across Your Organization.” Garrett, M. October 6, 2019.
8. "5 Steps for Making Brand Identity More Consistent.” Perilli, R. September 14, 2016.