Is it better for fundraising and comms to be separate?

Anyone who blames structure for poor communication and a lack of collaborative working is hiding behind their own failings, writes Valerie Morton

Valerie Morton says charities should put their energies into making sure all staff are communicating as effectively as possible

Q. I'm considering carrying out a restructure of my charity. What's your view on combining fundraising and communications functions?

A. There has been plenty of discussion in the media over the past few months (and even years) about whether it's better to have fundraising and communications as one combined department or as separate ones. The supporters of having one team seem to have garnered more column inches, but I wonder if that is simply because that camp is more vocal than the other.

Interestingly, support for the one-team approach appears to come from those with a communications interest or background. The justification is that one team ensures uniform key messages and is the best way of giving fundraisers the appropriate level of comms support because they buy in to the strategy.

So let's look at what is happening here. First, I believe everyone is barking up the wrong tree when they talk about one team or two. Everyone in an organisation is in one team, under the leadership of the chief executive. The issue, then, is at what point in the hierarchy does a team have its own management structure? For example, if there are two discrete teams, the heads of those teams will report to one person, such as the chief executive. If there is one team covering both fundraising and comms, the tendency will still be for the staff to feel part of one or other section. The argument, therefore, is not about whether the functions should be combined, but where in the charity's structure it should happen.

Second, anyone who blames structure for poor communication and collaborative working is hiding behind their own failings. If we look at the corporate world, the production line is not usually managed by the sales team, but each team understands their interdependence and they work together to achieve the overall objectives. Of course, there might be occasional fallings-out, but we get those even in single teams. The best examples of effective working relationships are when everyone has a clearly defined role and understands where they fit in the bigger picture.

Finally, in my experience, the person appointed to a joint comms/fundraising post is likely to have a strong background in one or the other, which sometimes results in the other half not getting the attention it needs. This is particularly worrying in small charities where comms people are easier to find than fundraisers.

There might be good arguments on both sides of the fence. But before making any decisions about restructuring, put your energies into making sure that all staff are working together and communicating as effectively as possible. You might then have a different perspective on what structure you really need.

Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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