Breaking Down Nonprofit Silos, 1 Murder-Mystery Weekend at a Time
For the second year in a row, my client, Rich Rumsey, VP of development and communications at Project HOPE, has forced me to do unusual things with unusual people.
Last year, he said (paraphrasing), "Katrina, I'd like you to come to a three-day retreat with the other vendor-partners my organization uses. These partners, along with my staff, will represent every person who touches any sort of individual giving at Project HOPE."
You mean, I whispered, you want me to spend large amounts of time with planned giving, major giving, direct response, gala, marketing, communications and public relations people who work for Project HOPE? Together? You want me to take meals with them?
Since 1958, Project HOPE has worked to make quality and sustainable health care available for people around the globe, working in more than 120 countries. Project HOPE is breaking down the walls between countries. Rich is breaking down the walls between departments.
This is a hard thing. His background as a college football player is handy.
Says Rich, "I am a true believer that if you gather smart people together, great things will happen. Giving up our individual power can be uncomfortable, but breaking down silos and building a team, a team that gets the big goal, that's phenomenal."
In addition to Rich and his menacing presence when he invites you to this gig, Project HOPE has a nice advantage in its campus; everyone wants to stay there so a three-day outing sounds good. And, coincidentally, it is the perfect setting for a murder-mystery weekend. Grand old Southern mansion, ghost stories, creaky floors, hidden passageways ... And, putting different income segments in the same room for an extended period looks a lot like a murder mystery weekend.
But, in this culture, murdering someone is out of line and so is achieving departmental success at the expense of another department. Most important, understanding other departments' challenges and opportunities opens high-value, low-cost opportunities.
As an example, the gala lead described her challenge in engaging the people seated as guests at each table. She needed ways to engage them beyond the evening, to convert them to alignment with the organization. Peer-to-peer folks are always looking for ways to celebrate peer-to-peer fundraisers who are successful. Collaborative answer — at the gala, show a video of the oh-so-cool peer-to-peer event, and then celebrate the highest fundraisers on stage. An offer is made to all to participate, potentially engaging table attendees beyond the gala event. Does the gala person lose anything since the P2P people might engage them? No. Statistically these dual-channel participants are higher-value than single-channel participants. Does Rich need to recognize both parties for supporting each other? He should and does do that.
Suddenly, one of my personal goals as I work the peer-to-peer route is to see how many new names I can deliver to the direct response people. Their job is to handle them carefully, transitioning them thoughtfully and increasing lifetime value to the organization. The direct response people want to help us promote, in any way they can, our new peer-to-peer event so they benefit from the newly acquired names hitting their list. Rich appreciates each party publicly for success.
Major gifts grabbers now see peer-to-peer as a lead-generation vehicle. And guess what? As long as I can benchmark and measure new names to the direct response list and major giving prospect list, I would rather see the money move to major giving because those folks actually know how to develop these potential major giving leads better than I do. Imagine my excitement to realize that Project HOPE might mark its database to see where the people who give big money originated!
I believe what Rich proves is that breaking down silos is an act of leadership, planning and recognition. The leader has to require it, the leader has to plan the new collaboration and the leader has to recognize the new kinds of success breaking down silos engenders.
Otis spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising” and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina also regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.