There might not be an “I” in team, but there’s definitely “work” in teamwork! And for a nonprofit that has a marketing department independent of the fundraising team, there’s an abundance of teamwork needed for both groups to achieve their goals.

The Marketing/Fundraising Divide

According to the latest Nonprofit Communications Trends Report, communications and development staff are collaborating more and more. Still, the teams tend to focus on different tactics. Marketers spend most of their time on websites, email and other digital efforts while fundraisers use print materials and in-person events to build support. It’s really no surprise that both teams struggle to set and stick to priorities—even if their end goals look remarkably similar.

When you add budgeting and capacity into the mix, things get even murkier. Fundraising experts like Gail Perry and Jeff Brooks have cautioned organizations about putting too much time and money into their brands and communications that aren’t donor-focused. But at the same time, fundraising efforts often rely on the strategies, manpower and reporting capabilities of marketing staff to execute campaigns that attract and retain supporters.

It’s time to meet in the middle and be prepared for a lot of sharing.

Partnering with the Fundraising Team

Even if your teams are made up of one-person wonders, there are more benefits to spending some time collaborating than operating in silos and hoping for the best. Use this five-step approach to stay on track—together:

  1. Use a shared vocabulary. Recognize that not everyone understands ever-changing marketing terminology or fundraising philosophies. If needed, create a cheat sheet of commonly used acronyms and terms to help avoid confusion and frustration.
  2. Create shared goals. One way to stick to priorities instead of constantly putting out fires is to identify shared marketing and fundraising team goals that move your organization forward. Want to boost members this year? Take into account the roles of events and your website when setting targets.
  3. Share your toys. From editorial calendars to donor databases, cross-train each other on the tools of your trade to create an understanding of your colleagues’ processes and challenges. Even though each team might prefer some tactics over others, you’re all better off in the long run when you build diverse skill sets.
  4. Schedule joint editorial meetings. Fundraising experts make a good point when they talk about the need for messaging that inspires giving. Get the teams together once a month to talk about upcoming projects, deadlines and content needs. Brainstorm the next newsletter or direct mail appeal. Bribe with drinks and baked goods as needed.
  5. Report your shared measures of success. Since you have shared goals, don’t be afraid to combine your successes, too. Break down artificial barriers in your reports to board members and staff by offering a more holistic summary of the tactics (not teams) that are helping the organization get to its goals.

When it comes to successful marketing and fundraising, blending skills is best—even if the organizational chart shows an imaginary divide. Sharing a vocabulary, goals, tools and successes can lead to a more consistent and compelling voice for marketing efforts and a highly focused path to donor cultivation. Think of how much good can happen when you combine your superpowers!

Has your nonprofit struggled to align your development and communications staff? What kinds of team-building efforts helped overcome the divide? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.


  1. A struggle our team faces often is the Marketing Team (of 1) sees the value in tracking statistics and keeping our SalesForce data up to date for communications and strategic planning. While our Development Team (of 2) operates with the mindset that personal spreadsheets reign supreme over SalesForce and that giving history doesn’t need to be shared beyond anecdotes. I haven’t yet figured out how to overcome this barrier.

    • Hi Kimberly – That sounds very frustrating. As you know, both teams can make better and more strategic decisions in the short and long-term from accurate and accessible data.

      If you think the barrier is related to discomfort with Salesforce, or maybe a reluctance to change the old ways of doing things, I wonder if some group training on Salesforce (or more general data management for nonprofits) would help all three of you agree on and commit to a new process of handling shared information. Depending on your location, you might be able to find cheap or free training through a nonprofit association, upcoming conference, public library or community foundation. You might also be able to find online webinars to watch together or perhaps pick a book for all of you to read and discuss, such as Data Driven Nonprofits.

      Good luck! And thanks for sharing your experience.