Photo by Alexis Chloe on Unsplash
July 3, 2019

How can you get your team to stop fighting like cats and dogs?

Chris Tuttle

Farra Trompeter, Big Duck’s Vice President, and Chris Tuttle, digital engagement strategist, bring their respective love for cats and dogs to the analogy of fighting communications and development teams. Hear how they create cross-departmental alignment and collaboration.


Farra Trompeter: Welcome to the Smart Communications Podcast. I’m Farra Trompeter, Vice President of Big Duck, and I’m joined today with my friend Chris Tuttle, one of the smartest nonprofit communications and campaign strategists I know. Today we’re actually going to talk about a topic that’s near and dear to both of our hearts, which is how to get your teams to stop fighting like cats and dogs and work well together. So before we dive in, Chris, I’d love it if you could tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.

Chris Tuttle: Thank you so much, Farra. And thank you, Big Duck for having me. I started out as a community organizer in my teens and early 20s back in South Carolina and in Baltimore. And really it was the advancement of technology around online communications and digital work that allowed me to see the power of communications to organize communities to create change. And so over my career I’ve had such amazing opportunities and privileges of working with a variety of organizations from GLSEN, a leading education organization, creating safe and inclusive schools for LGBTQ youth and helping them create campaigns like the National Day of Silence and No Name-Calling Week. To foundations like the Arcus Foundation, which funds LGBTQ equality and great ape conservation issues around the world and helping them create a global day of giving for apes that’s raised $1.5 million for ape conservation.

And today I’m really privileged to be working with nonprofits and helping train communications, development, and executive staff on how better to use communications to advance our missions. From reaching new audiences, engaging volunteers, and ultimately driving further donations to support our causes.

Farra Trompeter: So I actually met Chris over 10 years ago through NTEN where we both discovered our mutual love of all things connected to nonprofits and technology and communications. Since that time, we’ve been local organizers for NTEN meetups. We have been on the board of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, and we’ve also both served as faculty for NeighborWorks America’s Nonprofit Training Institute. Through that nonprofit training institute, we both have actually taught a class on how nonprofits can use social media to engage their audiences. And it was through that that we actually discovered there was a shocking difference between us.

Chris Tuttle: That you’re obsessed with cats and I’m obsessed with dogs. And I think we realized this because the original presentation decks that you had developed had probably like 500 pictures of cats throughout them. And as a dog lover, I really just wanted to see dogs included and welcomed.

Farra Trompeter: Come on. Everyone loves cats.

Chris Tuttle: We do, we do, but don’t we also love dogs?

Farra Trompeter: All right, sure, sure. So silly photos aside. I think it got us thinking and talking about, yes, there’s cats and dogs, but also where do cats and dogs play into the world of nonprofits. And it got us talking about actually communications and development and how they often can fight like cats and dogs. So I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the topic and why it’s needed and how it came about for us.

Chris Tuttle: Absolutely. Well, I think it’s no secret in the nonprofit world that often different teams on an organization may have competing resources, or goals, or needs, and sometimes that can lead to difficulty working together. And sometimes, especially, I think coming from a communications lens where our work often overlaps the work of almost every other department in the organization, there can be some control issues. Or some issues determining who actually owns what, who’s responsible for what, and who does what. This can obviously manifest in various ways from just difficulty in preparing campaigns or work and programs that are going to be incredibly effective.

My biggest fear is that if internally we’re unable to organize our work in such a way that we’re collaborative to be most effective—of course, we’ll get to this later, but spoiler alert, no one person owns communications and no one person owns fundraising for our organization—But if we can work more collaboratively, we’re going to be more effective both in just advancing our mission, but also more effective in the eyes of the constituent. Because a constituent doesn’t care whether or not we work for a development team, or a communications team, or who is ultimately responsible for what they’re asking for or need. They care that they’re being answered. They care that they’re being served, and they care that they’re actually being engaged with in ways that they believe are going to be effective for an organization, and the cause that they care about.

Farra Trompeter: Exactly. I often talk about…you can see proof of this if you’re on an email list or following an organization on social media, and you see a post maybe three minutes between each other, or you get an email within a half hour. And I’ve seen this happen, where I get a newsletter and then three minutes later I get an event invitation and it just feels like, “Wait a minute, if you’re going to email the same list, why didn’t you at least space them out a little bit?” And clearly it’s because maybe they were even using two different email systems, let alone not even talking to each other.

I also was just recently talking to an organization who was sharing with me that the development team, again, is doing things like sending out emails, inviting people to events, sending out appeals, but then the CEO is actually overseeing the communications that go out to the broader audience. So what’s happening on social media, what’s the overall newsletter. And that again, there isn’t that coordination, which to your point I think makes the constituent confused and can actually wind up negatively impacting how they engage with the organization. They might get frustrated, they might get annoyed and just move on to someone else who actually does it better.

I’m curious if you can think of any other problems you’ve seen or extreme examples or things you’ve heard other people share on this topic. Where are the biggest fights between development and communications?

Chris Tuttle: Yeah. I think you’ve identified exactly where a lot of them kind of are wrestled around or accentuated around, which is around the actual communications we’re sending people, and the relationships we’re building with specific audience groups.

Obviously, development teams have very clear goals and responsibilities to raise funds for our organization’s work, but I hear so often of development teams that want to silo and own their donor communications. And those donors can also be people who are receiving services. They can also potentially be volunteers. They’re not a single action donor or constituent that they’re only going to take necessarily one action with an organization. And so I worry that when we are working in silos, we’re separated and not collaborating effectively, that we’re only communicating with constituents in those same silos. And like you’re saying with the example you provided of the emails going out on social media at different times, how are we coordinating our messaging and our brand if we’re each doing things without each other?

Farra Trompeter: Yeah. Likewise, I’ve seen it on the other hand where development wants to post three boosted posts on Facebook for Giving Tuesday, and the communications team says, “No, we control Facebook. We’re only going to let you have one post, and we’re going to tell you what time it is.” And it’s possible the communications team actually has a better sense of when’s the best time to post, what’s the best content, but then it just becomes an argument over who owns it. And again, that content, that strategy, those ideas get lost.

Chris Tuttle: Absolutely, and I think we see this also with communications teams sometimes really over-managing some of the work that’s happening on digital platforms. I really found that digital can be overwhelming nowadays for a lot of organizations. There are so many social media channels to manage. We still have email constituents to build relationships with and hopefully segment and build custom communications for those different segmented audiences. We have our website, we possibly have a blog, we have our offline communications and materials, we have our media priorities and we already can’t do everything. I think as a comms team, we often have to realize that there are other experts in messaging and communications around their own issues and with their own audiences. And so we can also as comms people be more effective by working with others and not having to manage all of that ourselves.

And then to your point about the social media piece, I think I’m really excited about this idea of using this opportunity to collaborate, to also teach each other about where we’re coming from in our perspectives. Because there are so many little tricks and nuances to how to utilize digital communications professionally or correctly. And why should we expect our program or development staff to understand all those nuances. But instead of arguing with them, can we teach them, can we bring them along and help them understand so that our next campaign is going to run more smoothly, and they’ll know what to expect when we’re coming to the table to develop messaging together?

Farra Trompeter: And likewise, because when Chris and I talk on this topic at conferences, I take the role of development. Again, I think there are things that development professionals, program professionals can teach communications. There may be things that development has learned about what makes donors tick, what parts of the organization’s causes or messages are really resonating that they can impart and share. Again, it just comes to working together.

So let’s keep on the positive here. Let’s talk about solutions. You and I are both kind of people who want to make things work, not just point out what’s wrong. So I know that we both share a belief that the best place to start, anytime you’re thinking about communications or even fundraising is with goals and audiences. You know, where are we going and who do we need to engage to get there? I’d love it if you can talk a little bit about how you can focus goals and audiences in this work and use that as a solution.

Chris Tuttle: Great. I, like you, are a huge advocate for understanding our goals and audiences before we get started in planning, before we actually dive head in to all of our communications with constituents, and really before we even have our own teams run wild with ideas and doing their work. Getting us all at the table and thinking through what are we trying to achieve and who are we trying to reach is the first step of any effective campaign or work. And hopefully our goals are coming from our strategic plan. They’re coming from our organization’s larger goals, our annual goals, because all of our communications strategies and development strategies should be really supporting those organizational goals.

Our audiences, however, also need to be considered. I laugh all the time because I always think that I’m not going to ever hear it again, that we’ve told everybody, nobody’s going to bring it up again. And yet when I ask at a training, “Who are your audiences? I still hear people say everybody. Or the general public-

Farra Trompeter: The general public. Oh, you get that? We didn’t even plan that. The number one pet peeve.

Chris Tuttle: The general public is not your audience.

There’s value in understanding who we’re trying to reach and who were trying to talk to and being able to develop specific communications that are going to be most effective with those audiences. And so I think that can be figuring out who our programs are serving, who are most likely to be our donors, or who we’re trying to educate or raise awareness among. Those could be audiences of constituents we currently serve. They could be audiences who are new, who we’re trying to reach. They can even be underserved audiences who we know we should be reaching and we need to develop better campaigns towards targeting.

Farra Trompeter: I would add, the other pet peeve I have is when I asked people who their audiences are, if they pass the bar and don’t say general public, but they say things like donors and program participants and advocates. And I’m like, “Great. Okay. So those are categories. Who are your donors? Who are your program participants?” And the next step may be is that they rattle off demographics. Well, they’re probably likely to be this age. Maybe they are this background, they live in these places. But I think the piece that’s really important that I hope organizations start thinking about doing more, that we certainly think a lot about is psychographics. What are the motivations of those audiences? What do they believe? Where do they spend their time? I mean, this is where I think communications really has a lot to learn from community organizing.

Community organizing is all about go where the people are, be where they show up, listen to the community, craft responses. And related to that, don’t just go into a community, tell them what to do and leave. The community knows how to solve the problems they’re dealing. So do your donors, so do your program participants, so do your social media followers, whoever it is. So instead of debating, “Should I be on Instagram or Twitter?” Ask, “Where is my audience?” And not just where are they but, what do they want to hear from us? So we often encourage everyone we’re talking to, whether it’s in a workshop or it’s one of our clients, think about who your audiences are and understand their motivations, their barriers, and figure out what they need to hear and where they need to hear it, and then get them to take that action you want them to take. But I’m curious if you’ve done any work around that.

Chris Tuttle: One hundred percent, I think we have to do this work. So we do this work via my consulting and various jobs I’ve had over time. And even in trainings that I deliver, we talk about how we do this work of audience identification and profiling both in the onset of our planning for strategic plans, communications plans, and even digital plans if we’re getting into digital strategy, but we also do it for every campaign that we’re developing. For every program or service we’re offering, there are going to be different marketing needs and different marketing audiences for different programs and offerings that our organization has.

I think I also wanted to add one thing to what you said before about the things we need to understand, the deeper level understandings of our audiences beyond just an identity. Is also what stories do they have, do they hold around our work and what stories are most going to resonate with them? Because that’s ultimately what we’re going to be needing to develop and deliver to drive our work forward.

Farra Trompeter: Exactly. And it’s funny because I often hear organizations think about what are the stories we want to tell? Which is certainly an important question. And what are the actions we want people to take? Well, want them to give. We want them to become a monthly donor. We want them to take an action and share it on Twitter and it’s great. Obviously you need to think about what your organization wants to do, but again, what are your people want to do? The more you can craft strategies that respond to what they want, not just what you want, I think you’ll actually have better luck.

But let’s talk about another solution people can take if they’re having a cats and dogs collaboration moment inside their organization. One of the solutions we look at when we do some work with teams is around setting purpose statements for each department. And as you mentioned earlier, having that really be based on the organization’s mission.

So if our mission is to end cancer or cure hunger or whatever the things may be that we’re trying to do in our organizations, what is the communications team’s role in meeting that? What is the development team’s role? So if each department has a purpose statement, the purpose of our communications team is to do X. The purpose of our development team is to do Y, as it connects both based on our skills, our practices, our jobs as well as the mission. That then sort of being clear about that can then start helping figure out, well then how do these teams work together? We might have our own unique purpose statement that ladders back to the mission, but then it can help us maybe settle some of these arguments and be really clear.

For example, we did this with an organization who said the purpose of their communications was to get people to really be really passionate about the issue and donate. It was very clear that this was an organization who was trying to raise money for a cause, so then it helps solve that. Well then actually maybe communications should report to development, and development should be really involved in that decision making. Obviously that conversation might lead the other way where they work side by side or even communications oversees development, but stopping for a second and thinking about, “What are our roles and our purposes and how it relates to our mission?” But I know that there’s lots of other things you think about that people can do beyond things like department purpose statements. I’m curious what other suggestions you have for steps people can take?

Chris Tuttle: Well, I definitely think the department purpose statements are a great place to start for helping organizations, staff understand the value of each other’s departments. And I think I would carry that a bit further with cross-departmental planning committees, meetings, groups, whether it’s one time every other week or ongoing to develop marketing initiatives or program offerings or to support donor communications. It’s coming to the table and recognizing that we each have a role in ensuring that this is going to be most effective and identifying what those roles are. I think I hear so often from different nonprofit staff who are just extremely frustrated with this constant need for people or departments to own things—this is our program, this is our communication, this is our campaign. And I think recognizing like you’re saying with these value statements, but also with collaborative planning and work, we can recognize the value that folks are bringing to the table. And we can actually bind that we’ll think more about more audiences, about more possible problems that may arise. We’ll think more carefully about what we’re actually doing and ensuring it’s going to be effective and not just rehashing another communication, another giving day fundraiser, or another campaign.

Farra Trompeter: Right. And to your point you made earlier that I really liked is actually see each other as teachers. That I can learn from you in communications if I’m in development, and the program staff can tell me what they heard in the field, so that instead of it being sort of a relationship that’s antithetical, it’s one that people are working together. I’m a big fan of doing things in person. I love talking to people, so your Chatty Cathys. But we also both love technology and I think there are tools that are coming out almost every day it seems, that have enhanced how people can collaborate not just within the same office but around the country, around the world, in different places. We see organizations more and more working with remote staff. What are some of the tools people can use to support collaboration and working better together?

Chris Tuttle: There are more tools every single day more than I can even keep up with. And as a techie, that’s hard. I think the goal here is to find the tools that are going to work for your team and the big thing that we need to think about, depending on the type of organization you are, how long you’ve been around and the existing tech, is whether or not your tech that you’re currently utilizing is providing for collaboration across the organization. And in this more and more digital and remote world, probably cloud-based. I’m a huge personal fan of Google Drive for collaboration or numerous projects that I work on, especially with national and international teams. In fact, actually I was just up this morning writing a campaign plan for a new fundraiser with somebody who was on a flight back from Amsterdam to San Francisco, and another person who was in Barbados. And we were all online in this document at different times around the world working together, and that eases collaboration. That’s much easier and better than sending version 5.6 of a Word document via email back and forth and waiting on the next person’s availability.

But likewise, what collaboration tools are we using to plan our projects better? Whether it’s Slack, or Asana, or Airtable, this new one that I’m kind of addicted to lately. What’s the tool that your organization uses to plan projects together? Because if each team is planning their projects in silos than they’re working in silos.

Farra Trompeter: Exactly. Well, I want to wrap up. I think to me the big takeaway is if you’re going to communicate better with the outside world, you’ve got to communicate better with the inside world. That having stronger internal communications can only lead not only better external communications, better fundraising, more people taking action, more people really engaging with your mission. So I hope people take that from our conversation.

Chris, thank you so much for being with us today. If you want to learn more about this topic, Chris and I have been speaking about it conferences, we’ve got to our webinar on Big Duck’s website. You can sign up for it or watch it through the videos on our website at Well, also be sure to link to other resources in our show notes including Chris’s site at And again, thanks for joining us.

Chris Tuttle: Thanks so much for having me.