How to Integrate Development and Communications Priorities

by Jo-Ann Mort and Judith Wineman

Too often, communications and development staff don’t coordinate efforts, or see the link in their work. Add to that a somewhat different mindset especially regarding pace of work, and unfortunately non-profits often miss out on useful opportunities that can be forged by balancing communications and development priorities.

While it’s true for instance that communications efforts – especially media outreach – sometimes appear frenetic with the 24/7 news cycle and urgent deadlines to a development specialist who is focused on cultivating donor prospects over the long term, the fact is, being in sync with the communications strategy can “earn” the development staff new prospecting opportunities.

Some of the pay off is obvious. Good press coverage impresses donors and shows that an organization’s mission is being accomplished. But, it is equally important to work together on the recipe creation, not just the final product.

If you are development staff, start by knowing the organization’s communications plan if you want your priorities to be integrated. Sit with the communications staff to discuss how you see your own needs meshing with their messaging. Communications staff can even be “prospectors” – bringing new leads. After all, they are out there talking about the organization and no doubt come across potential donors, often not even realizing that they could be donors. So, it’s worth spending time with the communications staff to let them know what your own prospecting goals are and how to identify prospective donors. Development staff are also out in the world, often with different audiences than communications staff, and they should be aware of possible leads to bring to their colleagues. If you are communications staff ask for a copy of the annual development plan. Familiarize yourself with the organization’s funding sources and why the development staff have prioritized them they way they have. Understand that the development goals are rooted in the overall budget of the organization and driven by the Board and its fund development committee.

Think about the exposure, but also consider the follow up. For example, there is a profile of an organization’s executive director in the newspaper or an interview on a local NPR affiliate. Who will see or hear this? How will it get replicated? Be sure that the coverage doesn’t simply sit on the website or a social media link. It should be worked into solicitations and for sure, sent to any current donors too. If there are particular issues that the development staff wants messaged by the executive, discuss this in advance with the communications team and make sure that development and communications work together to massage the messaging so that it fits with all the targeted audiences.

Plus, consider opportunities for donors. If there is going to be a press conference, consider inviting one or two (not many more so that they don’t overshadow the press) potential donors to attend. Or if there is a press briefing by phone or via the web, offer a donor or potential donor the chance to listen in.

Also, just as communications experts will offer backgrounders to the media, from policy or research staff, consider doing the same to potential and current donors. A donor or potential donor wants to know that they are supporting an organization that has expertise that extends beyond the executive level. Don’t assume, therefore, that all interactions have to be top down, but do assume that all interactions have to be of the highest quality.

Resource development staff will create messages as part of meeting the overall development goals each year. They will answer questions like: What do we do best? Why should someone give us money, now? Why should they support an endowment or support us In the future? How will donors see their money in action? But if you are a development professional, don’t ask these questions on your own. Talk to your organization’s communications staff about how your giving messages fit with what is happening in their world. And, together, how does the organization achieve its broader goal of sustainability, including gaining visibility and stature in its specific field.

For a development specialist, things that are second nature won’t be so obvious for a communications professional. So, it’s important to break the process down for the communications staff: prospecting, outreach, cultivation, and stewardship. Define each stage, create messages together that work for each of these stages and also make sure that the development team and the communications team create the synergy we mentioned above. The timing may be different for each, but the messages should sync.

Similarly, the communications specialist should explain the tricks of outreach to the resource development colleague as seen from a communications lens. Consumers of news are different from news creators and even for those who use Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter, to use these mediums as part of an overall communications strategy is vey different from using them for social, personal, individual professional or other types of use. Don’t consider it extra work to spend a bit of face time with your development colleague to demystify the process of media and communications outreach. And, the same goes for the development colleague to the communications expert.

Finally, it may be helpful to create a time grid that shows how the communications and resource development work overlap and intersect. And, of course, be sure that press materials and resource development materials are shared between the teams, even after the consultation has taken place.

Jo-Ann Mort is CEO of ChangeCommunications, a strategic consulting firm based in New York City with clients in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere. Before starting her company 5 years ago, Jo-Ann directed communications for the Jewish Funders Network and also for the US Programs of the Soros foundations network, OSF.

Judith Wineman, of Resource Development Consultants, works with ChangeCommunications on behalf of clients.