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Breaking Down Nonprofit Silos, 1 Murder-Mystery Weekend at a Time

April 22nd, 2015 Posted in Fundraising

For the second year in a row, my client, Rich Rumsey, VP of development and communications at Project HOPEOpens in a new window, 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.

By Katrina VanHuss | Posted on February 20, 2015
Fundraising Success Magazine

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