In the fundraising/development world there has long been a feeling of distrust towards the communication/PR folks. And after all these years of working with fundraisers, I believe the reason is that we just haven’t spent time trying to understand each others’ gifts.
Major gift teams need great communications teams to really do their job well. If you think about it, most of an MGO’s time is spent either informing donors as to how their gifts are making a difference or cultivating donors on the next big project they would like them to fund.
That calls for great stories, inspiring vision put to paper or video and proper communication of the impact that the project or program will have.
This is why communications and public relations are so important.
Communications can also help you steward a donor in ways you might not have thought about.
Recently I was working with an MGO who had just secured a seven-figure gift from a donor to help create and install a large public sculpture. With the help of the communications/public-relations team, we put together a publicity strategy that would highlight not only the donor, but also the significance of the sculpture for the city as well as the art world.
When this was presented to the donor, he was overwhelmed by the thought and planning that had gone into it. The communication not only emphasized the impact of the gift, but also what it meant to the city’s art community.
That combined effort was the result of having a great relationship between the major gifts and communications teams.
Unfortunately, I’ve also seen these two teams often collide. I was working with a team of MGO’s at a non-profit whose communication team had just sent over a series of proposals to be used with donors for soliciting gifts. To put it bluntly, these proposals were awful. There was no vision or heart, nothing about the impact the project would make, no budgets…it was basically a fluff piece.
I asked the MGO’s how this happened. They told me that no one from communications had ever sat down with development to get an understanding of what the donors might need to see from a proposal that would inspire them to give. They basically interviewed the program people, by-passed development and wrote a proposal for funding a project that no one in his right mind would ever fund.
You wouldn’t believe the venom that was spewing out of the mouths of the MGO’s. Years of mistrust and resentment had developed with the communication team so that no one ever spoke to each other.
This resulted in proposals that development always had to re-write, which left the communications team angry that development was never satisfied. But instead of getting together and talking about it…they just continued this crazy cycle.
And this had been going on for years.
Can you say, “bad management”?
In this case, we had to pull the old, “let’s go out and have a meal together” tactic. I know it sounds funny, but I’ve found this to work quite well. The idea is to get folks to come together in an informal way. A great way to do this is to go out together for a meal or coffee. (BTW, it doesn’t have to be a meal or coffee, but it has to take place outside of the office, and in a location that fosters informal conversation – you could even go outside and take a walk.) Find a place where folks can get to know each other and begin to see the other person in a new light.
I’m not saying it’s the answer to all your internal communications problems, but it’s a start in getting the conversation going in the right direction. I remember my boss using this technique all the time and it really worked. Whenever two groups of people were not talking, he’d take us out somewhere and I’m telling you, it put everyone on the road to engagement and problem solving.
It all starts by taking the time to understand one another. If you can do that, you can have greater empathy and learn to respect each other’s responsibilities and gifts.
Remember, we all need each other.