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How do you create a successful partnership between the fundraising and marketing functions at an institution?

In the simplest terms, there is often tension between the two areas.  It may stem from a time when most communications and PR shops reported to the development function.  Fast forward to the present day: now, marketing and communications often reports directly to the president and plays a strategic role at the institution.

Even though they’re now partners, marketing teams often feel as if their advancement colleagues would like marketing to produce more projects that aren’t focused on the institutions marketing priorities and will take much more work than time and resources will allow.

Yet, I have not met a vice president for advancement who didn't want to create an alliance with marketing and communications. As a result, there’s an opportunity for a strategic partnership with development built on shared goals, alignment of resources, and mutual respect.
Shared Goals

Sharing common goals is necessary for any strategy and is the foundation to build a strategic partnership.

As a member of the marcom team, you need to have an awareness of the high-level indicators that the development division is measured on during a given year and especially during a campaign. At Gettysburg College, our understanding of the themes that served as the campaign priorities allowed us to develop tactics that elevated those topics for three years before the campaign was to be made public. And the marketing team's embrace of those critical goals and successful deployment of content about them throughout our communications not only contributed to the success of the campaign, but helped us to develop stronger partnerships with my colleagues leading the fundraising efforts.
Aligning Resources

Understanding and sharing goals is an excellent first step, but you can't be all things to all people. You need to spend your time and financial resources on projects, initiatives, and pieces that matter.

At St. Lawrence University, we launched a $225 million campaign publicly last fall. One of our key communication goals for the campaign has been to drive traffic to the campaign website. We developed a series of paid digital tactics to elevate content about the campaign priorities and the impact of giving to a targeted audience. This tactic is just one example of the ways that we are aligning our marketing resources from a budget and staff standpoint to support fundraising goals.
Mutual Respect

It is critical for advancement and marketing to respect the expertise that individuals have developed and the processes that each area has established. A partnership can't exist and thrive when both areas are not thoughtful in their understanding that neither has all the answers.

It’s been my experience that dialogue and compromise with advancement were essential elements of the most successful solutions. Marketing and communications offices need to understand the relationships that fundraisers cultivate with donors over many years and the pressures that those relationships bring to a project. It is also critical that advancement officers respect the expertise of marketing and that not every solution requires a 4-minute video. Marketing offices can't just be order takers. They need to bring their knowledge to bear and offer strategic approaches to the communications challenges that their advancement colleagues are facing.  
Wrapping It Up

Maximizing your resources and cultivating a culture of mutual respect for each area's expertise allows both areas to bring what they do best to the table. The end purpose is to achieve the shared goals that help advance the mission of the institution.

Paul Redfern is vice president for university communications at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. He is a frequent presenter on marketing and brand topics at national conferences and serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the College and University Public Relations and Associated Professionals (CUPRAP).