In our last blog post, I talked about how the culture of an organization, through its systems and structure, can breed organizational silos. These rifts create mistrust and territorial behaviors between departments. When the organization loses sight of the donor, it results in a broken donor pipeline where donors either go away and stop giving, or they give dramatically less each year.

No one wants this, especially you.

So, how do you get out of this territorial mindset where you only think about your part of the system and structure of the organization?

It starts with re-imagining how your organization’s systems and structure are set up. Create your internal processes with the goal of moving donors through the pipeline as easily as possible, so that they can find joy in their giving.

Clear Roles

Something that Richard and I often find on development teams is that no one is clear on what their role is. Having clear job descriptions is the start. Does the staff person know what their expectations are? Do they have clear metrics that promote collaboration and trust across teams?

We’ve seen mid-level officers doing thank you calls for donors who are not in their portfolios, or major gift officers who are asked to plan an event. Take a look at each person’s job description. Does everyone understand their role on the team? Do you have clear and reasonable expectations, with metrics that promote collaboration?

What Are You Measuring?

If you really want to break down silos and promote collaboration, then having KPIs that promote collaboration is one of the best ways to do it. The old saying, you do what you’re measured on, is true. If you belong to an organization that is very siloed with a culture of non-collaboration, my guess is that it’s because each fundraising discipline is evaluated in a way that doesn’t promote working together.

Therefore, you find direct-response teams reluctant to move donors into a mid-level program, or a mid-level officer not wanting to hand off a donor to a major gift officer. It’s because there is no incentive for them to do it. They may even get a poor evaluation because their departmental revenue may go down when they move a donor.

Richard and I have seen this happen many times.

Creating metrics that promote collaboration is key to breaking down silos.

This is why a key performance indicator for mid-level is: “How many donors in your portfolio did you move into a major gift portfolio?” And, for major gifts: “For the donors that moved into your portfolio, what percentage increase in the revenue per donor did you achieve?” For the direct-response team, it’s using KPIs to determine what percentage of donors are you moving up to the mid-level program, etc.


Finally, I want to talk about the role that leadership plays in breaking down silos and promoting collaboration. Essentially, it’s THE key to successful teams. If leaders are promoting communication across teams, you will see change. This means that individuals and teams are evaluated on how well they collaborate and work together, in addition to having clear roles and correct metrics.

In all the years that Richard and I have been working with hundreds of different non-profits, when we see a non-collaborative culture with strict organizational silos, it’s because the leadership is ineffective. Non-profit leaders must be the champion of “delighting the donor.”

Delighting the donor means all the systems and structures of the organization are built with the goal of creating a healthy donor pipeline.

Good leaders know that building collaborative teams means measuring them on how well those teams work together. And celebrating that success will lead to inspired employees and engaged and happy donors.

The best non-profits have the traits I describe above, but you may be thinking: “There is no way we’re going to see changes like this. We don’t have the leadership or management that would embrace it.”

I’ve had many front-line fundraisers reach out to me feeling defeated. My response is that even if managers or leaders are slow to change, one way to remain hopeful is to be the change you want to see. In other words, what could you do to break down silos and promote collaboration within your organization? What might you be doing that is preventing it? What is it about yourself that could be one of the reasons you are seeing such thick walls between your department and the rest of your colleagues?

In our next blog, Karen Kendrick is going to explore this with you further. She’ll offer some strategies for how you can make your own changes that will lead to better teamwork within your organization.


Other blogs in this series on collaboration:
  1. Can We All Get Along?
  2. Breaking Out of Organizational Silos (this post)
  3. Managing Your Fight-or-Flight Response for More Courageous Conversations
  4. Follow This Checklist to Prepare for Courageous Conversations