Stronger from the Inside Out – Creating a Merger among Departments

By Lauren A. Silverstein, Ph.D.

Two years ago, exasperation in our hallways could sound like this:

Fundraiser – “I need impact stats for donors! I need to promote super cool events that will excite my donors and need content at the event that will inspire them to give. I know how to fundraise but I need to be equipped with the content to do my job. I need to focus my efforts on raising the dollars, not gathering information or coming up with the content for events. Marketing, help!”

Marketing Professional – “Where am I supposed to get impact stats from?! What are we doing that we’re proud of? What’s the need in the community? I’ve never been to the event you need help promoting – what’s the goal? What’s the vibe? I don’t know how to brand it. I’m not on the frontlines with our work. It’s going to take me forever to come up with content. Impact Professionals, help!”

Planning or Impact Professional – “Who came up with the idea of talking about hunger relief in our marketing materials? We don’t spend enough dollars on hunger relief. Why didn’t the keynote speaker at the event talk about the amazing new program that lets seniors stay safely in their homes? What does our brand even mean if it isn’t grounded in the data of who we actually are? Why are we collecting all this impact data if it isn’t getting into our marketing materials, driving our talking points and getting into the hands of our donors?! Who can help?!”

That was then.

Here’s a story that illustrates where we are now.

Last week, an amazing new impact stat came in about one of our programs that addresses mental health. Within an hour, this impact stat was logged in our archives by our Impact Manager. It was then accessed by our Marketing Director who included it in this year’s “Case for Giving,” our signature donor material that drives fundraisers’ messaging throughout the year. A bit later, it was accessed by our Events Director, who will include it in a speaker’s talking points at an upcoming event. This stat, like much of the other data that comes in every day, didn’t fall through the cracks, or stay in just one person’s inbox. Why not? Because our Impact Manager, Marketing Director, and Events Director all sit in the same department.

The Experiment

About a year ago, our Federation tried something new. We combined into one department, our impact evaluation and assessment team, our marketing/communications team and our events team. We call this new department the Impact Department. A year later, we would recommend this experiment to others. Especially while operating (and still trying to grow!) during a crisis, we’ve found that merging the core functions that every single department uses (impact assessment, marketing and events) has helped us become stronger from the inside out.

Where we were … maybe you’ve been here too

As the vignettes above suggest, here’s what we looked like up until a year ago. … In one corner of our building, our planning team and our evaluation team were hearing the needs of the community and collecting data on our impact. These teams were on the front lines of helping our programs and agencies articulate their goals and measure their progress. Our evaluators could precisely tell you how many people a program was serving, how well they were being served, and describe the ways in which our community was better off because of our work.

In another corner of our building, our marketing team was finding creative ways to tell our story, to promote our events, to thank our donors, and to inspire new donors to give. This team had their pulse on the most powerful images, our brand standards, and the stories that would pull hardest on donors’ heartstrings. A large percentage of marketing’s time was creating materials for our events.

But here’s what we found: our impact data wasn’t making it into our communications. Sometimes it was because marketers didn’t know about it, other times they didn’t find it useful. Our planners were being asked for stories from fundraisers, yet marketing wasn’t necessarily hearing these same stories. At the same time, our marketers were feeling like they needed to “come up with” their own content. Given they weren’t on the “front lines” with our product, like our planners and evaluators were, creating marketing materials took a lot of time, and sometimes the content wasn’t accurate.

Experimenting with a Merger … Dare to Try

By combining these functions into one department, we’ve created a model through which planning can drive our fundraising with impact and marketing serving as a translator. And the translation happens because communication is streamlined. Those leading our marketing and impact areas sit in the same departmental meetings (and in pre-pandemic times, in the same physical area). Our impact function is now informing how we talk about who we are and what we do. Our marketers feel they have immediate access and first-hand knowledge of impact data to drive their content. The below graphic illustrates how the flow of information moves from data collection through marketing collateral.

We didn’t just merge … we integrated.

As we saw from the vignettes, silos among departments can create inefficiencies. Merging these functions into one central department was just one piece of the restructure. The second piece involved integrating marketing and events professionals INTO each of our department areas. This was an organizational culture shift and required support from all senior managers. Our marketing/events professionals are now assigned to “teams.” For example, we have one content strategist, marketing specialist and graphic designer who only work with our fundraising teams. They are just as much a part of our fundraising team as they are our impact team. They are at their department meetings, attend the fundraising events, and are on the frontlines with fundraising strategy. These marketing and events professionals are becoming specialists in marketing for fundraising purposes. We have similarly integrated a unique marketing team into all other major departments.

The merging and integration structure became even more valuable when we were forced into remote workplaces. Here are examples of three deliverables, developed since our organization moved to working remotely in March, that were possible because of the new positioning of impact and marketing:

  • A weekly What Your Federation is Up To email. When we started working remotely, we knew it was going to be hard for 100+ colleagues to “feel in the loop” with work happening in other departments. Being that the Impact Department is integrated in all departments, we’re well positioned to update everyone. This email update also includes the week’s events and content calendar. We’re now more informed internally, and all staff have information at their fingertips to share externally. Our fundraisers copy/paste snippets of these updates and send to donors. Our CEO forwards the update to our Board of Trustees. And all colleagues know what communications are going out that week.
  • Managed central documents of Just the Facts” and Thank You/Testimonials – we knew our COVID-19 response was going to be this year’s story. We needed a central place that contained current information about where our dollars were going and all testimonials. Given that all this data was coming into the Impact Department and translated into promotional material coming out of our department, we were well positioned to curate this document, and keep it current. Any colleague at any time (whether on a phone solicitation or just answering an inquiry from a Board member) can access this document and easily call on statistics, stories, or quotes.
  • Symbolic giving catalogue – this piece has been on our fundraisers’ wish list for a long time. With impact and marketing under the same roof, we can easily translate financial needs into marketing material that is both accurate and relevant. For example, $18 can provide two days of Kosher meals for one of our partner agency clients. Or $72 can provide one day of home health care. Want to see how awesome this is? Check out our symbolic gift catalogue here.

This was surely a shake-up. We’re still learning, and still figuring out where we need to improve. We’re proud of our colleagues for being flexible as we experience the growing pains. As we’ve learned from so many of our peers before, it’s our pleasure to share this case study with you.

Lauren A. Silverstein, Ph.D., is the Chief Impact Officer at Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.