Marketing OR Communications? If You Had to Choose, Which Would You Pick?

August 8, 2011

For years I have been amused when a nonprofit organization would label one of its key departments “Marketing AND Communications.” To me, that always seemed redundant. After all, you never hear a CFO claim responsibility for the Department of Finance, Accounting and Accounts Payable.

A university president once talked with me about leading his marketing and communications team. When I asked if he would consider shortening the title for simplicity, he emphatically declined. For that and other reasons, neither of us seriously considered forming a working partnership.

Later, when I taught marketing at another university, I spent considerable time talking about the relationship between marketing and communications. I never believed the two terms were synonymous or interchangeable, and I drilled into my students the concept that communications comes at the end of the marketing process.

Five years ago I left my position as Vice President of Marketing at United Way. Although communications was part of my portfolio, it always grated on me when my CEO referred to my department as “marketing and communications.” Although I appreciated his thorough description of my team’s role, I also thought he was being unnecessarily redundant.

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A Thank You from Joplin

June 26, 2011

A favorite memory from Joplin came in the middle of an uneventful afternoon in the Red Cross shelter.

A young girl turned 11 years old.

Because she and her family lost their house in the tornado, the shelter’s dining room provided the best place for a birthday celebration. To make the occasion special, a friend baked a cake and brought it into the shelter. The bright smile on the girl’s face demonstrated how happy she was that someone remembered her birthday.

When she saw me, she eagerly asked if I would like a piece of her cake. I said, “Yes, but only a small one, please.” She cut into the cake and handed me a piece three or four times larger than my definition of small.

I thanked her, honored to be including in her party.

As I ate the cake, I took special note of the girl’s sweet spirit. I imagined how she and her family had made other plans to spend the day in a completely different way. Not only did the tornado blow those plans aside, it destroyed the house where the girl and her family lived. Now, they were living temporarily in our Red Cross shelter. Read the rest of this entry »


What to Do When United Way Moves Your Cheese

January 6, 2010

I just finished re-reading the classic little book Who Moved My Cheese? It gave me a better understanding of what is happening in the nonprofit community—not just here in Kansas City, but across the nation.

For many years, the national United Way system has been struggling to redefine itself. Its leaders have created new methods for allocating money, and somehow they believe that “moving the cheese around” will make their cause more attractive to donors who have, over the years, found United Way to be waning in relevance.

That logic escapes me. In my opinion, United Way will become less relevant as it leaves gaping holes in human services programs. I guess you could call it their “Swiss cheese model” for meeting human needs. I assume United Way realizes that its decision to cut much-needed funding will actually force established, well-respected organizations such as the American Red Cross to compete more directly with them for contributions from within the same donor pool.

Personal Disclosure

To be transparent, I must disclose two important facts about myself before I continue sharing my opinions.

First, I am responsible for marketing at the American Red Cross of Greater Kansas City, the single largest recipient of United Way allocations in this region. Though I am employed by the Red Cross, this blog post has been written on my personal time and entirely reflects only my own opinions, not those of my employer.

Second, before coming to the Red Cross I served as the vice president of marketing for the United Way of Greater Kansas City. Because I have always had great respect for the organization and its mission, I am both a Diamond Donor (meaning I’ve given for 25+ years) and I’m also a member of the Leadership Giving Circle. However, in the weeks ahead I intend to reevaluate whether United Way is the wise investment I once thought it was.

By the way, I have many friends who work at United Way. They are exceptionally professional individuals and nothing I say here is a personal indictment of them or anyone else. Read the rest of this entry »


When Fundraising Becomes Begging

December 1, 2009

This time of year we hear from lots of people asking for money. That includes my charity-of-choice—the American Red Cross—which recently launched its holiday giving campaign.

Everywhere I turn someone’s hitting me up for another contribution. Isn’t it enough that I’m a leadership giver to United Way? Or that I also tithe at my church? Or that I buy trash bags, cookies and popcorn to support worthy causes?

As I drive around town, I’ll often see a homeless person panhandling at a busy intersection. His “case for support” will likely be handwritten on a crude cardboard sign.

Last week as I walked into my favorite bookstore, I was accosted on the sidewalk by the same man who’s been there years. Quite literally, that’s his “job”—begging for money. That brief encounter prompted me to think about the similarities and differences between a panhandler and a nonprofit fundraiser. Here’s what I came up with:

How are they similar?

  1. They both want my money.
  2. They both think they are quite deserving of a contribution.
  3. They both act as if it’s my patriotic duty or moral obligation to support them.
  4. They both will say thank you once I’ve given.
  5. Neither will likely follow up to let me know the positive impact my gift had.

How are they different?

  1. One is dressed nicer than the other.
  2. One has showered and shaved today.
  3. One is more likely than the other to have my e-mail address.
  4. One might publish my name in 6-point type in an annual report.
  5. One is more likely to ask me to give again, reminding me how much I gave last time and even requesting an increase.

Read the rest of this entry »


Did Someone Forget to Say Thank You?

November 17, 2009

My family and friends live life to its fullest. They are thankful for the abundance that surrounds them and they articulate their thankfulness in countless ways. Often they simply say, “Thank you!” Sometimes they send handwritten notes or e-mails expressing their gratitude. Occasionally I’ve been given a Starbucks gift card in appreciation of a special favor.

Almost everyone I encounter has a special way of saying thanks.

On rare occasions, however,  I encounter someone who falls short, someone who fails to express gratitude. Read the rest of this entry »


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