If your work as a fundraiser is to help a donor experience the most possible joy through their giving by enabling them to give to projects and programs that will help change the world, then it should be your responsibility to create an environment that makes it as easy and delightful as possible to make that happen.

In other words, the journey of a donor, from the time they make their first gift to the decision to leave part of their legacy to your organization, should be an incredible, life-giving, experience. Yet, in most cases, you have created systems and structures that benefit you and your organization, but not the donor.

What happens is that your donors get stuck in your donor pipeline, and many leave altogether or give less because they are treated poorly and without care.

A major contributor to why this is happening is that your organization is entrenched in unhealthy silos.

Just about everyone I talk to who works in the non-profit space agrees that working in silos is damaging… yet almost no one wants to do the work of dismantling them.

Why? Well, it takes hard work, time, and effort, and when you’re trying to meet your goals and the demands of your job, it always takes a back seat. And it never gets addressed.

Therefore, we wanted to spend some time discussing the damaging effects of working in silos or being so territorial that you (in most cases, unintentionally) create an environment that hurts your relationships with donors and your colleagues.

Here’s how I want to break it down with each blog post in this series:

  1. Culture — How work cultures devolve, what it feels like, and how you can build a culture of communication and collaboration.
  2. Systems — What creates a lack of trust that are solved through setting up clear systems? What systems build trust?
  3. You — Be clear about your own conflict style and triggers.
  4. Managing through conflict — Strategies and tools on how to have courageous conversations.


I want to first talk about what silos look like at your organization. Typically, how we see it at Veritus Group when we start working with an organization is that you have a direct-response team (annual fund) mid-level and major and planned gifts. Within those categories, you have direct mail, online, social media, etc.

In almost every case we have been brought in to help develop a mid, major, or planned giving program, none of these departments really communicate with one another. They have no systems, KPIs, or structure to help a donor move easily up the donor pipeline of that organization. So, it feels like this:

“I can’t afford to give up our direct-response donors to the mid-level team because I have revenue goals I have to reach and if I give away my best donors, I’ll never make them.”

“I really don’t feel comfortable moving a mid-level donor into a major gift portfolio because the value of my portfolio will go down, and I don’t trust that the major gift officer will spend any time on the donors I give them.”

“I can’t talk to my major donors about a planned gift because I need to make my revenue goals this year. And, if I bring in a planned giving officer to talk to my donors, they will put them into their portfolio and I’ll lose a good donor.”

How did it get to be like this? No one sets out to be territorial and to create walls between different fundraising disciplines.

I think it has more to do with the overall culture of the organization and how over time, systems and structures have been set up to make it easier for the organization rather than thinking about the journey of the donor.

Those very systems and structures that we set up are creating an environment that drives staff to become territorial. This is why, in some cases, you see non-profits where the direct-response team will even have a separate database than the major gift team. Or there is no incentivized KPIs for how a donor passes on from mass fundraising to mid-level to major gifts.

Over time, because the culture has been built to favor being territorial, the people become territorial. And, when leaders of those departments become territorial, it breeds mistrust and an overall culture that loses sight of the donor experience, focusing on what is best for “my department” instead.

So many non-profits are a mess internally. We’ve created a culture of mistrust, navel gazing, and we’ve forgotten to care about creating a great experience for our donors.

All is not lost though. Trust can be restored, and cultures can be changed.

What does it take? Leaders who understand that systems and structures should be set up to focus on the journey of a donor.

This means a system that promotes and provides incentives for each team to “give up” a donor so that a donor can have a delightful experience and give to their full capacity. This means teams from each discipline communicating regularly about their strategies for donors and how they can work together to make it easier for the donor to move up the donor pipeline.

Like I said in the beginning of this blog post, this is not easy work. In our next blog post, we’ll talk about how you deal with territorial behavior, and how you can turn it around by using the proper KPIs, hiring the right people, and promoting a culture of communication.

All with our sights on creating collaboration that results in great care for the donor.


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