Silos and prisons

We all bemoan the tendency of non profit organisations to operate in silos. This is something that pretty much everyone who has worked in the sector has experienced at some point and for many of us, this is a problem we face regularly.

I don’t know if fundraising is worse than other areas of our organisations in this regard but it can be pretty bad. How often do the major giving people not talk to the direct marketers who then never speak to the community folks? And no one ever remembers about the supporter services and database guys.

(Sometimes it feels that the only time the different teams talk to each other is to squabble about who “owns” a donor. Every time you do that, people, a baby panda dies.)

This is partly human nature, individuals like to feel ownership of what they do and people always form groups within which they can feel secure and valued. But the result is that we create cages for ourselves which makes good fundraising harder. How much money do we lose because we can’t join the dots and manage to exploit the opportunities that we have before us?

And there are things we can do which if they don’t entirely abolish fundraising silos, can at least make them significantly weaker. Here’s my top list

  • Build the organisation around the donor not the staff. Think about your fundraising structure. Is it based around what best meets the needs and aspirations of your supporters or the convenience of your internal organisation? What you’ll probably find is that you have a structure based on fundraising methods or products, which sounds quite sensible until you think how does this relate to your donors and how they think about themselves? Do they think of themselves as direct marketing givers, community fundraisers or major donors? Of course they don’t. If they happen to give in a different way to their previous behaviour they haven’t suddenly become a different sort of person. But we often treat them like they are. Why not create a structure that is based around the audience?
  • Use targets wisely. Fundraisers need targets but setting the wrong targets can foster internal competition in a really unhelpful way. I’ve never understood why key targets can’t be shared across teams on the basis that if people have worked on something that leads to a win they get recognised irrespective of how the donor givers or where the money is banked.


  • Encourage the sharers. Make sure the people in your team who are good at collaborating with other teams get acknowledged and rewarded. This should be recognised in their appraisals but saying thank you is never a bad idea either.


  • Move people around. While you are probably constrained by the office environment you’ve got, a simple solution to the problem of two teams not talking to each other is to stick them next to each other. It can just mean they are able to ignore each other in closer proximity but it’s often worth a try.


  • Walk the talk. If your team sees you behaving in a territorial manner they’ll follow your lead. If you don’t want them working in silos you need to show how you work effectively with other teams across the organisation. This means you will even have to talk to service delivery people….you can still ignore IT though until your PC breaks and you want it fixed*

    Organisational silos are prisons we build to stop us fundraising effectively. Let’s try and break out of jail.

* that was a joke guys and please would you have a look at my laptop when you have the chance?

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