Silo Busting: How to Make a Friend at Work, and Why
The beloved and I were meeting recently over dinner with Robert (not his real name), a fundraising executive with one of the top 20 health care nonprofits. I run a peer-to-peer fundraising strategy firm; the beloved is our human behavior expert, Otis Fulton.
Robert had been in this particular position for only four months, and was telling me about the challenges he is facing navigating the organizational chart to get things done.
His issues have become familiar to me: poor communication between fundraising and marketing, poor communication between the corporate office and the dozens of field chapters, poor communication between himself and the "veterans"—men and women who had been on board there for 15, 20 years or more.
Because of the organization’s siloed management structure, it was the communication with his peers that really was giving him trouble. Interaction was infrequent. Reaching out to them for lunches and other attempts at establishing rapport had only gotten him so far. And Robert admitted to me that he wasn’t much of a natural politician; connecting on a personal level didn’t come naturally to him. Showing up in someone’s office on Monday morning and asking, "so how was your weekend?" wasn’t a great option.
Turnkey is a company that uses recognition to gently and lovingly bludgeon fundraisers into compliance. (Visual: I’m gonna compliment you into compliance soldier! Here you go. Take another hit of "nice!" Sound off, one, two.)
Naturally, I started thinking of ways that Robert could connect with the vice presidents, directors and other staff with whom he needed to get on the same page in order to be successful. I turned to my human behavior expert for help.
At around the time I finished my second glass of sauvignon blanc, he came through. Otis said, "Robert, you need to ask them for help."
Robert replied, "Wow," taking a gulp of his gin and tonic, to give himself time to formulate a nice way to say "Oh, hell no," to Otis.
It may seem counterintuitive to bring someone over to your side by asking for assistance. And there may be some gender difference to this as well; I think that men, in particular, would think this way of approaching peers puts them into a subordinate position that they would prefer to avoid.
Why is, "please help me here," such a powerful message? It is a form of recognition, and we know recognition is both a powerful motivator of behavior and shaper of attitudes. You are telling the other person that you acknowledge their competence. At the same time, you are saying that you trust and respect them enough to expose yourself as someone who might not know everything. Finally, it says that you and I are in this thing for the greater good of the organization. The organization is important enough for me to put my ego on the shelf for a brief moment.
I watched the beloved help Robert find a path to connection. And, as I watched, I wondered how many times he used that same trick on me.
The long and short of it is—recognition, trust, working for a greater good—this is a powerful trifecta that will work to forge a bond with most people. The ones with whom it won’t work probably never were going to be your allies anyway, so you might as well find out now.
Go forth and ask for help.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., 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 the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," 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 regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." 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.