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In many nonprofits, two cultures develop: a fundraising culture and a programmatic culture, creating “silo mentality” that fosters suspicion and degrades mission effectiveness. 

In many nonprofit organizations, two cultures develop: a fundraising culture and a programmatic culture. At best, the two cultures exist side-by-side, going about their own business separately, hardly noticing each other. More often, however, the two cultures collide, creating institutional silos that frequently foster suspicion and animosity and degrade mission effectiveness.

Neither of these scenarios is ideal.

Successful nonprofits know that fundraising must be thought of in relationship to every aspect of the organization. In other words, organizations that achieve effective programming outcomes have successful fundraising efforts: the two are intertwined

Good fundraising and effective programming are correlated. Rarely, if ever, does one find an organization with excellent programming and weak fundraising, despite the claims of many organizations’ leaders. There is a strong correlation between good fundraising and effective programming. Mission effectiveness is the totality of all of your organization’s efforts. You are as strong as your weakest department.

Furthermore, an organization’s donors are often their very best advocates and force multipliers, and as donors increase in numbers and giving, the organization becomes more effective in executing its mission. This is how organizations raise more and do more at the same time.

This is not to say that the proverbial tail should wag the dog. Excellent programming that’s on mission should always come first.

Yet this is often not the case. In some organizations with ill-defined missions and/or poor governance, fundraising can drive the focus of programming. Yet more common, especially among smaller nonprofits, is to treat fundraising as an afterthought—simply because there often doesn’t seem to be time to do it. Or perhaps there is a lack of organizational confidence and experience with respect to development, and a lack of knowledge about what steps should be taken.

To avoid these common organizational pitfalls, there are simple things you can do to build a unified workplace culture.

1. Engage all your staff or leadership across the organization in annual strategic planning.

2. Call upon your program staff to participate as experts or organizational ambassadors in your fundraising activities with donors.

3. Ensure that your fundraising staff participates in programmatic operations and activities.

4. Regularly report fundraising and programmatic successes to everyone, creating a culture where the sum of the organization’s activities is understood as the basis for mission effectiveness.

In my work with nonprofit clients, I’ve observed that internal “silo mentality” often lies at the root of bigger problems, from mission drift to financial instability.  And while most organizations recognize that these silos are a barrier to their success, few actively work to break them down.

If you find yourself in this situation, don’t get overwhelmed. You can begin by introducing these four simple practices.

4 thoughts on “4 ways to break down ‘silo mentality’ in nonprofit organizations”

  1. Tom says:

    So often, I find that fundraising staff is not involved in strategic planning, in communications or in programming. Yet, they are often the ones closest to the “consumer” , the persons benefitting from the programs, the client of the services, etc. And when we are allowed to share or we take the initiative interject with real life experiences from the field, leadership uses the objectives they have established to over-ride or ignore the concern.

  2. Elaine Fogel says:

    And sometimes, there are conflicts between fundraising and marketing! Good training can solve this by helping every employee understand his/her role as a brand ambassador.

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