How to Deal With Territorial Attitudes in Your Organization
Your work as a fundraiser is to help donors experience the most possible joy through giving by enabling them to give to projects and programs that light them up and will help change the world. And it follows that it should be your goal to create an environment that makes this process easy and delightful for your donor.
In other words, the journey of a donor — from the time they make their first gift, to their decision to leave part of their legacy to your organization — should be an incredible, life-giving experience. Yet, in most cases, organizations have created systems and structures that serve internal goals and processes, rather than 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 nonprofit 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.
Working in silos breeds mistrust, and ultimately results in an organizational culture that fails to prioritize the donor. Some groups even find themselves in competition with other departments for the same donors. This kind of environment is damaging to your relationships with donors and your colleagues.
What can you do if this is your organizational culture?
Let’s break it down. What do silos look like at nonprofit organizations? How do work cultures evolve, and what does it feel like when you’re in it?
Typically, when I start working with an organization, they have a direct-response team (annual fund), mid-level, major and planned gifts. Within those categories, they have direct mail, online, social media, etc.
In almost every case, 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 nonprofits where the direct response team will even have a separate database than the major gift team. Or, there are no incentivized KPIs for how a donor moves on from mass fundraising to mid-level to major gifts.
Over time, because the culture has been built to favor territorial mindsets, that’s how people behave. 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 nonprofits 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, this is not easy work. If you’re dealing with territorial behavior in your organization, you can turn things around by using the proper KPIs to incentivize collaboration, hiring the right people and promoting a culture of communication.
Remind yourself and your colleagues to focus on the donor journey. Creating the best possible experience for the donor requires your collaboration.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.