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Be a Silo Buster!

Be a Silo Buster!

superheroIt’s a bird, it’s a plane, no wait! It’s a Silo Buster!

(Cue superhero music here)

Fundraisers don’t think of themselves as superheroes. We’re taught to stay in the shadows, work through, and with our donors, and generally keep a low profile.

I have no problem with being a wallflower, EXCEPT when it comes to working through organizational silos that exist between not-for-profit departments. You know the usual suspects: communications department, programming people, research departments, front line staff, and senior management.

Fundraising is a team sport. We are the glue that binds the many pieces of the organization together. To do our jobs well, we need to coordinate and cooperate with our colleagues. Going one step further, we need to empower and educate our colleagues about how they are contributing to fundraising successes at our organization.

I will never forget the day that a programming person told me that giving me access to their past clients was like “pimping them out.” Yes. She actually said that. My reaction was “Boy, I have a lot of work to do to earn that person’s respect.”  I had not been on the job for long, but based on that comment, I knew I had to work alongside the staff members to earn their respect.

As an educator and consultant I see a lot of fundraising shops. Here are the typical silos:

  • Silos around money and fundraising targets – Major Gifts versus Events, or Planned Giving versus Annual Giving;
  • Silos between the storytellers and the story seekers – Programming versus Fundraising;
  • Silos between overall objectives and strategic goals – Senior management versus fundraising staff ;
  • Silos between the money allocators and the money raisers – Finance versus Fundraising (and Programming);

Breaking down barriers requires two things: trust and time.


People trust people they know.  If you’ve got a silo that’s affecting your ability to do your job and raise money, then go and engage: fundraising is a full – contact sport.

  • Invite them out for a cup of coffee at your cafeteria and ask them what the hardest part of their day is.
  • Get a sense of what they’re dealing with from their side of the table.

When you can understand their perspective, you can understand how you can best work alongside them, fit your needs into a pre-existing task they are already doing, or come to some kind of an agreement of what might be a “reasonable” expectation of what you need.


And it’s going to take time to do this.  You can’t fall in love over a lunch. Take time to get to know them. Keep them informed about what’s going on in your department, and how they helped make a difference. Celebrate with them, include them, and let them know that they are important to you by staying in touch.  You don’t need to know every person in the organization, but my general rule is that you need to know one key person in each department that trusts you and understands what you do all day, and why you do it.

Struggling with Silos at Work?

Join me for this month’s Fundraising with Confidence call. We’re tackling silos. In this one hour interactive call held on Google Hangouts you’ll receive:

  • Tips on  how to communicate effectively within your team;
  • How to use templates and pre-formatted documents to save time when collecting information from silos;
  • Formal and informal silo-busting activities that you can implementing today.

The free online session is January 27 from 12 -1 pm EST.  Sign up now, and  I will send you the link to join the FREE google hangouts call on January 27.

Now, back to work all you superheroes!

Jenny Mitchell