Communication and Planning are Keys to Good Working Relationships

This post was featured in the August 2013 Blog Carnival. Playing Well With Others

Good working relationships are crucial for nonprofit organizations, but this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes departments work in isolation and get territorial about their responsibilities,which is popularly known as siloing.

This can happen with the development and marketing departments, even though there is a huge amount of overlap between the two.  I like this quote from donor communications expert Tom Ahern – “The heads of development and marketing have to accept that they are oxen pulling the same wagon, a wagon labeled ‘increasing community support’.”

Marketing and development also need a good relationship with the program department. It’s important to remember that you are all working for the same mission. If you distance yourself from each other, you are not doing what’s best for your organization.

Here are a couple of problem scenarios that might arise and what you can do about them. Good communication and planning will help.


Development Coordinator or Volunteer Coordinator – “Why do I have to go through the marketing department if I want to send an email or post something on Facebook?”
Because you need a communication gatekeeper. This is not about control; it’s about consistency.

Generally that gatekeeper is someone in the marketing department.  Your organization can’t send out three messages in one day and not communicate again for three weeks.  Departments should get together and create a communication calendar, which can include fundraising appeals, events, newsletter submissions, and volunteer recruitment announcements.

This doesn’t mean someone in development can’t send out fundraising messages or your volunteer coordinator can’t send out a recruitment announcement, but you need coordination so that you are sending out the right amount of messages. These staff members also need to know how use the platforms (especially the email template) so everything you send out has a consistent look.

I think it works better to have one primary communication person.  Other people should be trained to use your email service provider and social media platforms so there is a consistent stream of communication even when the primary communication person is on vacation. You don’t want to be paralyzed when this person is not around.

Program Manager – I’m tired of development and marketing asking me for success stories.  I’m busy working with clients and don’t have time, especially when they ask me at the at the last minute.
Well, you do need to be respectful of the program staff’s time.  Don’t approach someone the day before your newsletter needs to go out and ask for a success story ASAP.

On the other hand, stories and photos show your donors how your organization is making a difference, and you need them in your fundraising and marketing materials. I always recommend nonprofits have an ongoing collection of stories, profiles, and photos to use, so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute.

You need to come up with a system where the departments can work together without feeling overburdened. This could mean sharing success stories at staff meetings, regular meetings between the departments to discuss stories and accomplishments, or program providing written monthly updates of client numbers and accomplishments.

You are all working for the same mission

Don’t forget to keep this in mind. Besides communication and planning, an understanding of what each department does and how that fits into your mission is also crucial. Good leadership will help with that.

How are the relationships at your organization?

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