Your Comms People Are More Than Publicity Agents

Heather Ferguson

By Heather Ferguson, Whale Communications

So here’s the thing. You are the Executive Director or CEO of a successful charity. You have the standard staff complement of Resource Development Officer(s) and Communications Officer(s). The ResDev people raise money and the Comms people publicize the cause. So far, so good.

But, there is a grey area here. Once the gift is pledged, who is the best person to spearhead your donor relations? If you have just a little leeway in staffing you can cover this gap, so how about using the person who is likely underused? If the name of the game is to keep people focused on what they do best, use your comms manager to create and run a donor relations program. Here’s why.

Taking care of donors, building on those relationships, making sure they get the reports they need, the telephone updates and invitations to events is everyone’s business. But the problem with something being everyone’s business is that it becomes nobody’s business. Each person takes on a fragment from the corner of their desk and sooner or later opportunities get missed and there is no coherence to any of it. Someone in the office has to be accountable for the bigger picture but you need your fundraisers focused on the calls that will lead to the next gift. Current donors, having given their financial support at least once, are part of a special group that demands special care.

A communications practitioner to understand the needs and demands of their audience while balancing those with possibly different needs and demands from the organization. A good comms person can design a solid stewardship plan around a high end donor that keeps the fundraiser involved, brings the ED or Board members in at the appropriate time and generally keeps the donor up to speed on the organization, its work and priorities.

In fact, for consistency of message, creating appropriate materials, and coordinating a wide range of needs, a comms person can best support this special group of current donors and help you keep your fundraisers focused on raising money.

Let’s look at an example. Jodie is a manager of major gifts and has just secured a large donation to her organization. Now she turns to Communications Manager Kent who works with her to design a communications follow-up plan for this donor. The plan might include the following:

  • A phone call and letter from the Executive Director. Kent will write the draft letter and send it to the ED for her to revise and personalize. He will also include a brief note on the background of the institutions involvement with that donor and their phone number and email.
  • An annual report on the status of program the donor supported and how their gift is being used. Kent will liaise with programming and with Jodie to obtain details and create the report keeping in mind an appropriate message and consistency of look.
  • Kent will also make sure the donor is informed of any news about the organization. Knowing that Jodie and/or the ED are the primary relationship holders within the office, he will likely alert one or both of them, write an email or news release and pass it on for them to send on to the donor. Likewise, if a board member or other volunteer is the primary relationship holder, he will alert that person and follow through to conclusion. As Jodie is the one who secured the gift, these protocols will have been worked out with her ahead of time.
  • Kent will make sure the donor is placed on invitation lists for events or can arrange for the donor to meet with Jodie and the ED for lunch or a meeting. Kent will also make sure that Jodie greets and speak with the donor at the event and that the agreed upon follow-up with the donor happens as it should.
  • Overall, Kent will take a broad strategic understanding of all current donor needs. He will strategize and offer communications advice as well as continuously check the program for consistency of message and coordination with other communications activities.

Kent’s training as a communications/public relations expert allows him to focus on things that are not directly related to asking for funds but which, over the long-term, can lead to bigger gifts. His coursework in stakeholder relations allows him to understand why Jodie needs to continue building her relationship with the donor and why it is important for the Executive Director to have a strong relationship too. Kent is really putting his publicity competencies to the service a smaller, highly targeted, mission critical audience.

Using a communications manager simply as a publicity officer is to miss the very real training in relationship building and stakeholder management their education provides. What’s more, it takes the job of donor relations off the side of Jodie’s desk and keeps her focus squarely on her core competencies. Keeping your people focused on what they were hired to do is the Holy Grail for small organizations but it’s still pretty tough when you are a large one too. Understanding what and how much your communications department can handle can help you to snatch that grail from its hiding place.

Heather Ferguson, MCM, ABC, CFRE (2003-12) is a consultant living in Victoria BC. Her expertise lies in managing key accounts as well as non-profit management, major gift fundraising and content marketing communications. She is passionate about the non-profit world and is convinced we are on the verge of a golden age of doing good. Heather can be contacted at


Today’s Career Opportunities

Vancouver & BC
Development Officer, University of Victoria
Manager, Donor Relations, Simon Fraser University
Athletics Advancement Officer, Vancouver Island University
Development Coordinator, UBC
Development Coordinator, Annual Giving, UBC
Development Officer, University of Toronto

General Manager, YMCA
Administrative Coordinator, Annual Giving, University of Calgary

Senior Development Officer, Runnymede Health Care Centre
Stewardship Coordinator, Centennial College
Fund Development Assistant, March of Dimes Canada
Associate, Donor Database Marketing, Heart and Stroke Foundation
Fundraising Coordinator, Kerry’s Place Autism Services
Coordinator, Donor Marketing, Canadian Diabetes Association
Development Assistant, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
Director of Annual Giving and Constituent Relations, The Bishop Strachan School
Development Officer, Campaign and Major Gifts, Havergal College

Today’s PD Opportunities




Philanthropy Officer, BC Children’s Hospital Foundation


Full-time, Maternity Leave Contract

Download the full position prospectus here: Philanthropy Officer, BCCHF, July 2015


To inspire support and funding for excellence in child health.

BC Children’s Hospital Foundation (BCCHF) supports the people, places and things required to ensure BC’s kids have access to outstanding pediatric care. Since 1982, hundreds of thousands of young lives have been transformed by our donors’ generosity.

The Foundation works with individual, corporate and community donors to advance child health by funding research into childhood diseases, leadership recruitment, education, equipment purchases and capital projects. All funds raised by the Foundation go to support these activities at BC Children’s Hospital, Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children and the Child & Family Research Institute.


Reporting to the Senior Director, Philanthropy and working as a member of the Philanthropy team, you will develop financial goals, plans and timelines based on analysis and research.  As the Philanthropy Officer you will be responsible for key account strategies and marketing with a focus on the Banks and Mining industries.

You will be active in raising funds corporate donors and prospects by cultivating, soliciting and stewarding donors/prospects within these sectors.   

More specifically, as the Philanthropy Officer you will:

  • Develop strategies for and carry-out business development to build an existing fundraising program including cold calls, relationship building and stewardship of key donors.
  • Work closely with senior volunteer leaders within the community and within the assigned industries.
  • Plan, organize and execute annual fundraising campaigns and events as required.
  • Develop and execute tailored strategies such as: fundraising plan development; proposal and stewardship report preparation; drafting detailed proposals for support; making person-to-person donor contact; conducting tours of hospital/health centre facilities; arranging meetings between prospects/donors and senior leaders of BCCHF and/or the hospital/health centre.
  • Assume primary responsibility for the overall fundraising success of a designated portfolio of corporate and major donor accounts in order to renew and upgrade these accounts and cultivate new prospects.
  • Be responsible for management of junior fundraising staff and/or administrative staff.  


You possess sound knowledge of fundraising, donor cycle strategies and marketing; this knowledge is complemented by your proven ability to generate business through acquisition and business development. You are a leader with exceptional communication, strategic thinking, and problem-solving skills which enable you to analyze, plan, initiate and complete projects in a timely basis. Your proven success in building and maintaining donor and volunteer relationships and ability to work as a team player are critical to the role. Your proven ability to negotiate, inspire and foster a positive, collaborative work environment makes you an ideal candidate for this role.

In addition, you will have:

  • A Diploma or Degree in Marketing, Arts, or Business Administration or Associate Certificate in Fundraising
  • Five years of directly related fundraising experience
  • Staff management experience
  • Experience working with volunteer committees
  • Proficiency using Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint)
  • Raiser’s Edge 7 or other database experience is an asset
  • CFRE designation is an asset
  • Or the equivalent combination of related skills and experience
  • Valid BC Driver’s License and access to a vehicle for donor calls.


This is a full-time temporary opportunity for 13 months, commencing in September 2015.


BCCHF’s employees have helped to create a work environment in which there is laughter, passion and pride. It is a place where people are respected, appreciated and recognized for their individual and team efforts. We see our employees as our most valuable resource, and we work hard to ensure that employees continue to work in a collaborative and positive environment. As a result, we are proud to state that we have been recognized as one of BC’s Top Employers for 6 years in a row!

In addition to a nine-day fortnight and a commitment to professional development, we offer a dynamic team environment and a comprehensive compensation package including benefits. If you are interested in applying for this position, please apply online at by July 31, 2015.

We thank all applicants for their interest. Only those selected for an interview will be contacted.

Please mention  that you saw this career opportunity on Phil’s Careers Blog – Fundraising ONLY!

Today’s Career Opportunities

Stewardship Assistant, BC Children’s Hospital Foundation
Manager of Donor Relations, Focus on the Family
Coordinator, Philanthropy, Heart and Stroke Foundation

Director of Development, Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary
Senior Development Officer, Mount Royal University
Director of Development, Mount Royal University
Alumni Relations Officer, SAIT

Director of Annual Giving and Constituent Relations, The Bishop Strachan School
Associate, events Services, Sick Kids Foundation
Manager, Sponsorship and Cause Marketing, Sick Kids
Online Help Line and Campaign Support, United Way
Donor Services Representative, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
Bilingual Donor Services Representative, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
Senior Fundraising and Development Coordinator, JDRF
Door to Door Fundraisers, Plan International
Development Associate, Major Gifts, The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation
Director of Private and Corporate Development, World Vision
Manager, Community Engagement, Heart and Stroke Foundation
President and CEO, Holland Bloorview


Today’s PD Opportunities




What Is #DonorLove? Donor, Don’t Hurt Me!


By Maeve Strathy

I’ve been talking about #DonorLove a lot lately, but what is it?

It’s a lot like being donor-centric. It’s about remembering that the donor is at the heart of everything we do as fundraisers.

So far in my career, I’ve only worked at educational institutions, but I’ve learned that my work isn’t about the school; it’s about the donor. The faculty and administrative staff and the variety of employees that are here to serve students and programs, they’ve got the school covered. I’m serving the donors. That’s what #DonorLove is all about.

#DonorLove has a natural fit with stewardship, for sure. From the moment the donor says yes to making a gift, there are myriad opportunities to show them love. Right then and there, for one thing! A sincere thank you with eye contact and a smile has a powerful effect. An additional thank you call within 48 hours to reinforce your gratitude will be well-received (and has a massive influence on retention). A hand-written thank you letter just for them is another special touch, and there are so many more.

But #DonorLove isn’t just about stewardship. Would it be loving to demand an in-person meeting with a donor if they preferred a phone call? If your planned giving prospect likes getting information by mail, aren’t you only serving your interests by calling them?

Why are you talking about the biggest fundraising priority at your charity when your donor has expressed already that they’re only interested in supporting a specific program?

Why did you make an ask on the first visit to meet your targets when it was clear that the donor would’ve benefitted from a few more discussions about the project you’re asking them to support?

#DonorLove isn’t about the fundraiser or the charity; it’s about the donor. It’s about showing them love and inspiring them to make big things happen with their philanthropy. It’s not about telling them about what you’re going to do with their money, it’s about enabling them to do something big!

We have the opportunity to make a lot of people feel really good about themselves and the world, and for the world to be made better, too.

Tell me how you’re going to show your donors more #DonorLove today!


And while you’re at it, register for The #DonorLove Rendezvous!

It’s taking place on Wednesday, May 11, 2016 in Toronto, and will be a day as fun, inspirational, and creative as fundraisers.

If you are ready for a stimulating day of learning all about putting donors at the heart of what we do, this conference is for you!

Learn more and register at


Maeve Strathy calls herself a Fundraiser. Full-stop. Right now she is developing the leadership giving program at her alma mater, Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Previously she worked as an Alumni Development Officer at Trinity College School, where she focused on young alumni giving and programming. Maeve is passionate about enabling people to make a positive difference with their money. She’s so passionate about it that she spends her spare time thinking about it, talking about it, and writing about it on her blog,

A blog about fundraising careers and fundraising issues. By Gérard Consulting – Fundraising Talent Management


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