Posted April 27, 2021
I think that the most important contributors to a successful CDO/CMO partnership are awareness of each other’s work, clear communication, trust, and a good process. At their core, Development and Marketing both practice the art of communication about what their organization has to offer. While objectives, audiences, and outputs are different for each department, there is a significant overlap when it comes to inquiry and writing. Grant proposal language often finds its way into a press release, while graphic treatments, talking points, and headlines conceived by the marketing team will make pitch decks sing. There is a significant amount of synergy and brand equity that can be created when the two teams work together seamlessly. Given that the timing for deliverables is often fluid, it’s critical for the two leaders and their teams to know about each other’s work. Now how do you do that when everyone has too many meetings already? Before the pandemic, my amazing colleague, the Rubin’s Director of Development (CDO) Dona Lee Kelly, and I used to share an office, which was intentional, so we could easily check in, hear each other’s conversations, and learn about the other one’s needs and challenges. When COVID hit, we replaced the shared office time with weekly 30-minute check-ins. We keep a running agenda in a shared project management tool (we use Asana) where we jot down notes during the week and have them ready to go for our meeting. This helps us stay efficient while sharing the kinds of details that bring about those sought-after synergies and moments of cross-fertilization.
I feel very fortunate to be working with such a great Development team. Now that the world has changed in so many ways, the challenge ahead will be to set aside time to create a new shared vision together and to be in sync even more than before, offering strategic guidance for the rest of the leadership team with a shared voice. We’ll be forging new paths together and must boldly lean into the discomfort that comes with that.
Navigating pain points in any partnership begins with deep listening and empathy. What is the partner trying to accomplish and why? What are their needs and feelings? Empathy is an often-overlooked tool to reduce unwanted friction and improve outcomes. Of course, every negotiation is a two-way street, so it’s equally important to know how to communicate one’s own perspective clearly and in a non-harmful and non-threatening way. Personally, I swear by a technique called nonviolent communication, where you raise an issue without blaming. Instead, you make an observation, describe your emotion, identify a need, and make a request. It’s a powerful tool. That said, I have come to understand that conflicts, especially if repeating patterns are involved, often have a psychological layer that is best addressed with a good deep dive into one’s own fears and needs.
We’re just starting to come out of this pandemic, and the larger impact it will have on our society and organizations is only beginning to reveal itself.
We are seeing deep societal wounds and a great need for racial justice and healing. We know that priorities are shifting for foundations, donors, and members. So clearly, this is not the time for “same old.” I think what we will see in the coming years is a reassessment of the missions and values of organizations, and how operations can support or challenge structural inequalities in society. What will this mean for Development and Marketing leaders? We need to be askers of good questions: What are our assumptions for the future? What are our shared goals and how will we achieve them given the limited resources? Will the shifting priorities of foundations have an impact on audience development? How do we think about audiences in relation to membership? Elizabeth Merritt, Director of the Center for the Future of Museums at the American Alliance of Museums, said it so well in this year’s AAM TrendWatch: “By helping to build a more just and equitable world, museums will establish their role in creating a better future. And this service will make the strongest possible case to government, foundations, and communities for support of America’s museums.”
Mutual trust and open communication are important aspects of any healthy professional relationship, but those aspects are especially critical in forging a successful partnership between development and marketing/communications leaders and their teams. At the risk of sounding obvious, I think it’s essential to express and demonstrate an authentic appreciation of each other’s role and strengths, and respect for the value of each other’s contribution to advancing their organization. And when things get bumpy, a shared sense of idealism and sense of humor also help in navigating the pain points!
Looking ahead, we continue to face not only the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also the nation’s reckoning on race and our own individual and collective responsibilities to equity and social justice. Fundraising and marketing have an opportunity—and I’d say, a responsibility—to work together to communicate and advocate for the ways in which an institution can advance humanity’s progress, while also advancing its own mission.
Effective communication and transparency are two of the most important contributors to a successful CDO/CMO partnership. Each organization has its own unique styles in how marketing and development focused areas engage with one another, whether that is due to available resources or structure. Accordingly, a successful partnership between a CDO and CMO varies from organization to organization, as the same approach cannot be used across the board. Regardless of these differences, I view a successful partnership between a Chief Development Officer and Chief Marketing Officer as one that leads to goal achievement through an efficient use of resources, in a manner that aligns with the organization’s mission and values.
As marketing professionals, we are often put in a position where it is our responsibility to craft communication for an initiative that is spearheaded by another area of the organization. In many cases, projects between a CDO and CMO follow this model and become a balancing act of determining responsibilities and defining roles that, ideally, lead to the best outcome for the organization as a whole. This type of collaboration requires a level of trust in each other’s areas of expertise, an understanding of the pooled resources available, and in all likelihood, a willingness to try new ideas. In my opinion, there is no right answer as to where lines of collaboration should be drawn, and regardless of where they start, each party needs to be receptive to adjust as a partnership progresses. Furthermore, both parties shouldn’t feel the need to “stay in their lane,” but rather move forward with trust placed in each other’s knowledge and experience in their respective areas. At the end of the day, I feel most comfortable getting to a place where there is a shared investment in the project where both parties feel equally responsible for the outcome.
In order for the collaborative process to go smoothly, you must first have a joint understanding of what the goal or goals are for the project. I find it helpful to reference SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) goals early in conversations as a way to shape discussions and point to a marketing strategy that is aligned with desired outcomes. SMART goals provide a basis for transparent conversations and can be a useful tool throughout the entirety of a project—from crafting strategy and vetting initial decisions to providing check-in opportunities that evaluate if adjustments are needed and establishing a basis for evaluation that can be useful in the future. While it takes time and will look different based on each unique situation within different organizations, transparent, effective communication between CMOs and CDOs should result in a stronger partnership, and consequently better outcomes for the entire organization.
I believe the most important contributors to a successful CDO/CMO partnership are the same factors that contribute to every successful relationship amongst colleagues and peers – communication, trust, transparency, respect and collaboration. And, in today’s virtual and remote world I would add connection. The opportunity to build that personal connection and rapport with a colleague is challenging when working remotely, but it is by no means impossible. As with any great partnership, you need to take the time to build that connection with colleagues; it will serve as a great foundation for a strong working relationship.
It’s also critical that CDOs and CMOs really understand each other’s goals and share those goals with their respective teams. Development teams are often under great pressure to deliver lofty financial goals. The organization depends on them to be able to fulfill its mission. At the same time, marketing and communications teams are often stretched thin and tasked with supporting fundraising initiatives along with the organization’s brand and every other department or program within it. Being transparent about team goals and fully understanding how each is tied to the organization’s overall mission and success can help create mutual respect, foster teamwork and collaboration.
Across the nonprofit sector there are often great inconsistencies with the way in which development and marketing are structured – whether the teams operate independently or under one department or whether a function falls on a development employee or marketing employee. I don’t see this as something you can inherently change, as much of this is designed by the unique needs and resources of an organization. However, I think this issue can always be addressed by the CDO and CMO together in order to establish understanding between the two teams. The CDO and CMO need to collaborate to define the roles and responsibilities of the positions on their teams that can often have great crossover. This will help the two teams to work together more effectively and efficiently on a regular basis.
I think this simply goes back to the basics of relationship building and communication. If something isn’t working, speak up and propose ideas and solutions to address those pain points. Or, assuming you’ve built great trust with your colleagues, ask for suggestions and recommendations on how you can move forward as a team.
Like many organizations and corporations, the role of virtual and digital needs are top of mind. I’m curious to see what the interests of our key stakeholders are in terms of how they want to interact and get involved with the organization and what this means for virtual or in-person fundraising events.