CDE project 11: part 2 — guid­ance on integration

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 30, 2017


The rise of digital and social media and the fragmentation of traditional media mean it is increasingly difficult to reach potential donors and make them interested in what you have to say.

Integrated fundraising is meant to be the fundraisers weapon to combat the abundance of ways we can now communicate with, and listen to, our supporters. Yet although integration sounds appealing it remains elusive to many fundraising teams.

When trying to understand why many nonprofits have failed to embrace integration, we believe it is worth splitting integration into two parts:

Everyday integration – how you give donors a consistent experience across your organisation.

Internal integration – how you organise across different teams.

The first is externally focused. How do you make sure that supporters get a consistent experience when they interact with your non-profit? This means your message and branding is seamless across traditional, digital and social media.

The second is internally focused. How do you organise and plan within your team and wider organisation to produce inspiring fundraising appeals and campaigns that work across multiple channels?

Both types of integration apply to recruiting new donors and keeping their support.

Understanding both is crucial if you want to reap the rewards that integration can bring to your fundraising.

And what are those rewards?

Increased commitment and loyalty which lead to increased lifetime value. Integrated fundraising helps you improve both of these by providing a consistent experience and an opportunity for donors to interact with your organisation.

Barriers to everyday integration – achieving internal integration to overcome them

So if the results of everyday integration are so impressive, why do so many charities struggle with it?

Perhaps the biggest problem is a silo mentality that exists in many charities. In our experience, the larger the organisation the more likely you are to have this problem.

As Jeff Brooks explains in his blog article, Your silos are going to kill you

Non-profit organizations are still extremely siloed organizations. The people doing direct mail want credit for this behavior– since their efforts are triggering online gifts. But generally speaking, the digital department does not report to development but to marketing. So the digital departments get to make statements like ‘online revenue is up 50 percent,’ when they should be saying, ‘online revenue cannibalized direct mail revenue by 20 percent.

Silos can exist in many shapes and forms. Here are some that we’ve experienced

in our careers:

  • Fundraising department silos happen when different fundraising teams don’t share their ideas and plans: the phrase ‘the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing’ springs to mind.
  • Donor silos, when people argue over who ‘owns’ a donor. A typical phrase you might hear is ‘this is a digital donor, he gave online first, of course you can’t mail him.’
  • Financial silos are related to the first two. Teams can argue over who gets the budgetary credit for a particular donation. If this exists in your charity then be very careful, it can be highly destructive and hugely de-motivating for staff.
  • Departmental silos go beyond the fundraising team and occur when services, marketing, HR, finance, etc all operate in their own little worlds.
  • Cultural or external silos, when people in a team refuse to look at outside benchmarks and best practice. We’ve been in this position many times. You suggest a new idea or point out another fundraising team’s success and colleagues answer along the following lines: ‘Sure, that sounds great. But it wouldn’t work here. Our donors are different.’

These negative silos can seriously hamper your fundraising ability. Most importantly, silos don’t exist in donors’ minds. They don’t care how w e are organised. They only care about the impact we have made and the donor experience they receive. Steve MacLaughlin from Blackbaud Inc., describes the situation:

Donors are multichannel. They receive messages across multiple channels and they give across multiple channels. They don’t care about your organisation chart or who gets credit for the donation. 

The problem is that many nonprofits are still organised around single channels each doing their own thing, with their own strategies, their own data, their own donors and their own systems. That’s broken and really costly.

One final point to remember: silos aren’t always necessarily bad. We need centres of expertise that focus on specific aspects of fundraising. We can’t be jacks of all trades, masters of none, the challenge is to keep the benefits that expert teams can bring and mitigate the problems they can cause.

So how do you stop negative silos forming in your organisation? Let’s look at some overarching things to consider.

First of all, senior management need to show leadership and create a team culture and environment where negative silos can’t thrive. If you manage a department then make sure your team see you making the effort to engage and work with other teams. Building trust and credibility is crucial. You need to build a reputation as someone who gets things done, is accountable and shares praise and recognition across teams and departments.

Secondly, consider how the layout and set up of your office impacts on the creation of negative silos. Apple founder Steve Jobs was adamant about the importance of office design to help break down silos. He thought it was crucial to encourage encounters between staff from different parts of the business. The design of the Pixar headquarters is testament to this:

If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.8

Finally, don’t forget your ‘why’. When you are struggling to overcome the problems silos can cause take a step back and remember why you are fundraising in the first place.

Remind people of the duty they have to the cause they serve and to the donors they represent. Ask people questions like ‘how does this help us reach more beneficiaries?’ or ‘what would our donors say if they could hear us talking like this?’

By reframing your issues in the language of beneficiaries and donors you can get people to see you are all on the same side and not competing against each other.

Ideas to combat negative silos

Now let’s look at some specific ideas to combat negative silos.

Fundraising department silos

It is crucial that different teams are informed about each other’s work. This can be through formal and informal routes. You might have a weekly or monthly inter-department team meeting, e-mail updates, use project management tools, such as Basecamp, or hold informal stand-up meetings.

Too often our default mode of communication is e-mail. Even when we are sharing the same office, the temptation can be to send an e-mail rather than talk to the person we want to communicate with. Think about how you can encourage people to send fewer e-mails and to pick up the phone or, even better, get up and go and speak to colleagues.

Richard Taylor, former director of fundraising and marketing at Cancer Research UK, takes a radical approach to the problem of fundraising silos. At the 2014 Revolutionise Annual Lectures he told the audience how he moves his senior management team around every couple of years. He believes that getting someone to switch departments brings numerous benefits to overall fundraising and marketing performance. It reduces negative silos as it helps identify cross-team opportunities and keeps senior management engaged and highly motivated.

One development from the world of technology is to bring cross-departmental teams together to work intensely on product development or software updates. These are known as ‘scrums’ and ‘sprints’. This flips the traditional sequential approach on its head and brings teams closer together to work on a problem. Organisations from outside the world of technology world are starting to use this technique to solve their own business problems and develop products.

Try giving permission and autonomy to your staff to work together on a problem or project they are interested in. This can be a great motivator and produce high-quality work and solutions, even in a short, intense period of time.

Donor silos

We have heard horror stories from some fundraisers where they won’t ask a donor for more money as they will ‘lose them’ to another team. This is clearly a major issue. So what’s the answer?

For too long we have organised and structured fundraising teams in a way that is convenient for us and not around what suits the donor. However, there are signs of this changing.

Donor-focused nonprofits have created entire departments with trained professionals focused on donor care and the donor experience. Examples include the Humane Society of the United States, Operation Smile, Child Fund International, American Cancer Society and St Jude. Some even have, by whatever title, created the position of ‘chief donor officer’, to coordinate fully their activities across all departments and truly put the supporter at the heart of all their activities. This role includes establishing and monitoring metrics for defining customer relationships, cross-departmental influence to deliver the greatest value to supporters and driving an integrated agenda throughout the organisation. They actively seek to destroy negative silos. 

Financial silos

Targets are important in fundraising, but they need to be used wisely. You don’t want to make them counterproductive by pitting team against team. If multiple teams are involved in a successful event, major donor ask, corporate pitch, etc, then share the (budgetary) credit. Don’t create a ‘winner takes all’ mentality that rewards selfish behaviour and only one team receives the credit for a fundraising success.

Departmental silos

These are problematic when trying to get stories and information for your fundraising.

In one of the organisations he worked for Craig was told there was a huge problem with silos between teams. This created a culture where there was little trust and respect for each other. It quickly became apparent that it was seriously harming the organisation’s fundraising ability. Working with his team, Craig set out to bring down the barriers. Through little steps such as purposely eating in the same dining room, organising job swaps and inviting other teams to

fundraising social events the problem soon started to recede. Trust was built, stories shared and they were able to enjoy their mutual successes.

One of the simplest ideas was sending a thank-you card to staff he worked with on a project when it was finished. This small token of gratitude worked wonders. One colleague told him, ‘I’ve worked here for nearly 10 years and it is the first time anyone has done anything like this. We need to do more of this kind of thing.’

Gradually people wanted to work with the fundraising team and began to understand why we needed certain information. Rather than Craig’s team constantly chasing for stories and images they could use in their fundraising, colleagues started approaching them – it was a huge transformation.

Fundraisers need to understand the motivation of other teams in the charity. When trying to motivate people to help fundraising, it is important to show ‘what’s in it for me?’ One final idea to break down departmental silos is to organise fundraising weeks for your own cause. Get all staff, volunteers and trustees involved in fundraising. This can range from teams helping at community events such as flag days to taking part in fundraising challenge events. At one organisation Craig worked at nearly 90 per cent of staff took part in the fundraising challenge he set his colleagues. Overall, they raised approximately £200 for every staff member in the charity. As well as producing a great fundraising result, it had a huge positive impact on internal morale and building stronger inter-departmental links.

Cultural/external silos

These can be the hardest to deal with as, frankly, encountering this sort of mindset can be extremely de-motivating. People who defend the status quo, are reluctant to change and believe the old ways are best can be described as ‘drains’. They are people whose negativity and pessimism drain away any positive energy and strangle new ideas.

To combat this you need to try and become a ‘radiator’ and exude energy and warmth to your colleagues. Be the person who is known for your generosity of support to others.

One way to tackle cultural silos is to hold a ‘sacred cow barbeque’. This is a technique described by nonprofit consultants Bernard Ross and Clare Segal in Breakthrough Thinking for Nonprofit Organizations.

The idea here is to think the unthinkable and challenge mindsets. It is a straightforward technique. Write down things you wouldn’t or couldn’t do as an organisation; stick the ideas on a wall or flipchart to be discussed and debated. The sacred cows could be things such as ‘we should cancel our longstanding event’, or ‘we need to invest more in retention than acquisition’. Use the opportunity to think beyond the norm. To help challenge mindsets, Ross and Segal propose four rules: 

  1. Anyone can say anything.
  2. No one is to make personal attacks and no challenges will be taken personally.
  3. No challenging remarks will be repeated outside the meeting.
  4. Only things the group has agreed to take forward will be recorded. Everything else will be forgotten.

Other barriers to internal integration

So now we’ve looked at negative silos, what are the other barriers to internal integration?

Quality of data and investment

Once again one of the big barriers we face as fundraisers is the quality of our data and investment in our systems and processes.

Convio’s Integrated Multi-Channel Marketing study looked at barriers to integration. As well as the silo problem, the study identified a lack of commitment on the part of an organisation’s leaders to integrate. Consequently, there is low investment in the mechanics – business processes, staff, measurement and software – that are required to make it happen. Fewer than half the organisations surveyed measure lifetime value by channel, or tracked the migration of donors from one channel to another.

Too often organisations only track metrics associated with a single channel. For example, we look at how many donors mailed in a cheque in response to a direct mail appeal, but not necessarily whether we experienced an increase in online donations when the letter arrived at the donor’s home.

Greater focus is needed on how people move from one channel to another, as well as more detailed examination of retention rates by channels of engagement. Finally, achieving everyday integration is hard work. Battling negative silos and not having the necessary processes and data to hand can make integration seem more hassle than it’s worth. We’d urge you to stick with it though. As we showed at the beginning of the chapter, the rewards for getting it right can be excellent. And as the way we consume media continues to change, there is no doubt that integration will be essential to fundraising success.

Click on the image below to view project 11 in full - PDF format

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

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