Silos Are For Cows, Not for Deans and Development Officers



cow Having resided for much of my life among dairy farms in either upstate New York or northeast  Wisconsin, I’ve had a lot of exposure to silos—the physical structures in which farmers store grain  for their livestock. But the experiences I’ve had with college and university silos—the  metaphorical but nonetheless very real structures in which schools, departments and disciplines  isolate themselves from the rest of their institution—have been far more profound and always  more troublesome.

The presence of academic and administrative silos within an institution inevitably influences the  behavior of fundraisers who serve those subunits. Such silo-induced thinking leads fundraisers to  act in counterproductive ways that minimize fundraising yields at both the institutional and  subunit levels, mostly because they are focusing on their own program’s bottom-line needs and  not giving primary attention to the interests, motivations and aspirations of their donors.

Top donors usually have multiple points of contact with a college or university they are  supporting; nonetheless, those donors tend to view their multi-faceted colleges and universities as  a single entity. Even if interacting with multiple units and personnel, they are interested in the  overall success and reputation of the entire institution. They also believe—often wrongly—that the  various people and parts of the institution are communicating with one another.

When academic fundraisers operate in silos and do not actively collaborate with their counterparts from other silos, several bad things can happen:

  • Confusion:  Donors may mix up the multiple appeals, confuse which personnel represent which program, forget what gifts they’ve made, or overlook pledge payments.
  • Frustration:  Donors’ confusion can quickly lead to irritation, which may result in reduced giving to one or more subunits—or no giving at all.
  • Inefficiency:  Even when donors give generously to multiple programs, if that giving is not coordinated there is still wasteful duplication of dollars and efforts expended on soliciting and stewarding those gifts.
  • Uncertainty: At some point, a donor who observes a multiplicity of uncoordinated fundraising efforts from a single college or university is going to have doubts about the management and leadership of that institution, which will likely affect that donor’s future giving decisions.

On the other hand, when fundraisers climb out of their silos and collaborate, several positive things can happen:

  • Efficiency:  Eliminating duplication of expenditures and effort means that more resources can be devoted to other donors and other projects.
  • Synergy: When formerly siloed fundraisers collaborate, they create the potential for synergy from sharing of ideas, information and perspectives about a donor that may help both of them be more effective in their solicitations.
  • Teamwork: If two or more fundraisers and their programs coordinate their strategy and tactics, their combined solicitation team can be more persuasive than if they operated separately…and they will also eliminate the possibility of a donor playing one program against the other.
  • Camaraderie:  When fundraisers collaborate,  greater respect, trust and support tend to emerge; from this camaraderie can develop an environment in which colleagues look out for one another and make a point of sharing information and new possibilities.
  • Karma: From a culture of camaraderie and trust may emerge a belief that if a fundraiser in one program shares a promising prospect with a colleague in another program, that act of collaboration will eventually be reciprocated by the original beneficiary and/or by other colleagues.
  • Donor-centricity:  If we de-emphasize what’s best for our unit and our own best interests, the focus will shift to what’s best for our donors. When that happens, donors will become more fully engaged with our institutions, become more informed and excited by all that we’re doing, and ultimately increase their overall giving—often to the benefit of the fundraiser and unit that took the initiative to expand the donor’s engagement.

Some readers will no doubt react to this mini-rant against siloed fundraising as self-evident and a description of behavior in which they and their institution would never engage. If that’s indeed the case, you have my congratulations and admiration. But fundraising in silos remains a far more common phenomenon that I’d like to think, and my visits to several large, multi-faceted universities over the past year have confirmed for me that it’s still alive and impeding progress at numerous institutions.

I am a firm believer in doing the right thing and seizing opportunities to expand a donor’s engagement with our institution, even it means “sharing” our best prospects with other. I believe this because I think it’s philosophically the right thing to do. But I’ve also witnessed how it’s good for business and ultimately pays off.

The most illustrative example from my career involved a top donor to the school I served at a complex research university. While the donor had been generous to our school by most any measure, we knew he had the potential to do much more, but numerous attempts had failed to unlock it. Then, after discovering our friend had a passion for architecture and historic preservation, I persuaded my dean that if he were to introduce the donor to the leaders of our historic restoration program the donor and the university leadership would all appreciate his sharing. Skipping over a lot of detail to get to the end of the tale, I can report that the donor did indeed become very involved in the historic restoration effort, was appointed to the university’s governing board, and made an eight-figure pledge to the university’s next campaign. And my dean—the one who shared this generous donor with others at the university—received from the donor a naming gift for a new facility that far exceeded any of his previous gifts to the school, as well as a coveted award for community-spirited contributions to the university.

For more about the dangers of silos and the benefits of cross-division collaboration, I recommend Patrick Lencioni’s enjoyable 2006 book, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors ( According to Lencioni, silos—and the turf wars they enable—devastate organizations by wasting resources, killing productivity and jeopardizing results.  His book provides useful advice on how to “eliminate the invisible barriers that separate work teams, departments and divisions, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another.”




Something Worth Reading: Employee Satisfaction Doesn’t Matter (from LinkedIn)

I’ve heard a lot of buzz about this article on LinkedIn. The article, entitled “Employee Satisfaction Doesn’t Matter” is written by Jim Clifton (CEO at Gallup) and asserts that focusing on job perks and striving to be atop “best places to work” rankings doesn’t actually improve performance. He continues to argue that:

Employees don’t want to be “satisfied” as much as they want to be engaged. What they want most is a great boss who cares about their development, and a company that focuses on and develops their strengths. Trying to satisfy employees’ appetites for free lunches, lattes, and ping pong tables is giving people something they don’t deeply want — and that isn’t natural or good for them.

There are a few things to consider about Mr. Clifton’s assertions here:

  • First – the article and study that he references are incredibly interesting. You can find the summary here and the report in full here. Its data indicates a point that I think Mr. Clifton neglects to emphasize in his article: that both superficial perks and traditional benefit incentives pale in employee impact when compared to more strategic engagement.
    • It would be interesting to see what impact specific incentives have not on performance, but on recruitment. Stronger candidates are likely unable to really assess employee engagement. So, while they may not play a larger role in employee performance, it is entirely possible that being a “best place to work” attracts higher caliber candidates initially. In a field like development where the talent pool is extremely limited – it is difficult to rely on selectivity of candidates to build a stronger program (as the Gallup report advises).
  • There is the implication here that employee satisfaction is irrelevant to effective management. However, neither Mr. Clifton’s article or the full report actually benchmark, define, or attempt to measure satisfaction or assess its correlation to employee engagement. It seems that they use the term “satisfaction” to loosely cover everything that is not considered engagement. Plus this approach allows them to use a title as eye-catching as “employee satisfaction doesn’t matter.”
  • Clifton’s strongest point is that management is largely responsible for establishing and reinforcing a culture of employee engagement. “A winning culture is one of engagement and individual contribution to an important mission and purpose.”


Other interesting data points from this report that I found include:

  • The percentage of employees across the US who are engaged has not changed much at all since 2000 (it remains around 30%)
  • Companies with less than 10 employees had the highest ratio of engaged workers.
  • Organizations who are in a hiring phase have 30% more engaged employees than those who are cutting jobs (not a surprise there)
  • Millennials, even when engaged, are more likely to look for new jobs and opportunities.
  • Vacation time is not necessarily a good tool to attract your ideal talent. “Engaged employees who took less than one week off from work in a year had 25% higher overall well-being than actively disengaged associates — even those who took six weeks or more of vacation time.”
  • Employees who spend part of their time working from home are, on average, more engaged and put in more hours than their counterparts.
  • Remote Workers: Balancing Collaboration With a Sense of Freedom



So how can we apply this data to the non-profit sector and fundraising? There are a few implications that fundraising managers and leaders should consider:

  • That flex-time and the ability to work from home can actually lead to better engaged employees
  • That engagement is driven by managerial attention and leadership. Strong team managers and leaders are hard to come by in the fundraising world (not coincidentally – in a recent BWF survey weak management or development team leadership was listed as a leading cause of dissatisfaction among frontline fundraisers). Development shops need to be proactive not only in the hiring and recruitment of their talent, but also in the investment and cultivation of strong managers, which results in better retention and performance results.  Frontline fundraisers in particular require a combination of direction from and empowerment by management.
  • That cause and passion about the institution matter. We’ve touched on this before; fundraisers care and are driven by your institution’s mission and impact. The more you can celebrate their contributions to the cause and integrate their activities with the overall culture and impact of your organization the more engaged they will become.


We will talk some more about creating and supporting effective managers in a later post. In the meantime – enjoy the end of the fiscal year!

The Three Fundamental Questions in Talent Management

We’ve spent time talking about talent, what makes good fundraisers, what to look for in incentive structures, and the role of titling. Talent management, especially in a sector as competitive as development, is a complex process, but almost every element related to this array of challenges can be boiled down to one of three fundamental questions.

The questions (and what they mean) are below:

question mark

1. Do we have the right people?

This question really can be broken down to one big idea: talent composition. When thinking about whether or not you have the right quantity or quality of talent, one should focus on institutional objectives. What is your non-profit trying to accomplish in its fundraising program? Can you tie those objectives to expanded or existing responsibilities for specific team members or positions? If not, that means that there is likely a gap in your staffing that needs to be filled. If so, your next question should assess whether there is confidence in the skill level and breadth of these individuals to meet the goals set out before them. For example, a new objective could be to triple gift income designated towards an existing program, but if the giving team program is inexperienced or already maxed out in workload you do not have the right people to reach that goals even if you can trace responsibility initially.

Similarly, the level of skill required to meet goals can be higher than what is found among existing staff members.  If a development shop wants to go after 7 figure gifts in New York City it will need a seamless operations team to handle the $1M+ gifts and fearless, versatile frontline fundraisers who can converse fluently about high level wealth and have a proven ability to get new gifts. In all likelihood the organization entering this goal area will not have the right level of talent immediately available.

2. Are our people in the right place?

Take the scenario described above, where a team is unable to meet the existing or new demands placed upon it. This type of occurrence doesn’t necessarily mean that you are required to bring someone new on board. Rather, the next question to think about is where your top talent is. Non-profit talent management is all about minimizing cost and maximizing outcomes – one key way to do so is to match staff members with positions that best fit their skills. For example, if your development shop has three top priorities, it follows that you should ensure that the institution’s strongest talent are positioned to work towards or lead the efforts related to those priorities.

In a different example you may have a strong leader on your team. He is a stellar frontline fundraiser and has strong relationships with board members who can easily open new doors. Since his performance has been so strong he has been put in front of a new team to manage. This new position effectively reduces the time he can spend fundraising by half. Unless this individual strongly desires the management responsibilities or there are sufficient other fundraisers who can maintain similar high level donors relationships this new position may leave a gap in current performance and fail to utilize his greatest strengths towards institutional goals.

3. Are team members reaching their full potential?

This question related to two levels of potential: current efficiency and work quality and long-term potential and growth. If you look at questions #1 and #2 and feel confident that the size, skill, and organization of team members are all effective, but are still dissatisfied with performance this question should be the launching point for identifying the problem. Are team members under-performing because they don’t have sufficient staff support or there is a negative office culture? Perhaps the structures supporting the team are insufficient and don’t give teams the tools they could use to be more effective. In the area of long-term potential you may have individuals with strong performance, but very high capacity that aren’t getting the training and coaching that would help them be even better.

Using these questions in problem-solving.

To look at this process from another angle – these three questions are useful to diagnose existing frustrations or challenges you currently face. Take any struggle, high turnover in a critical program for example. Do you have the right people in the program? High turnover often happens when position responsibilities are too voluminous or technical, thus overwhelming or overextending employees. Are your people in the right place? A weak or disorganized leader may discourage retention or perhaps there’s highly technical element that requires a stronger partnership across the organization. Are team members reaching their full potential?  A common reason for leaving offered in exit interviews is that there is no room for advancement so staff members feel undervalued and underused.  These questions help you identify the root of problems that any office encounters and lead to stronger solutions moving forward.


The talent management process and strategy-building comes into play once you answer these questions. Talent management is designed to be the “what’s next?” when institutions realize that they don’t have the right people, or their talent isn’t organized effectively, or performance is below where it should be. We will talk a little bit later about what your most effective options are when you look at your staffing related to these questions and come up short.

On an unrelated note – I will be at the AFP International conference this weekend in San Antonio. Stop by the Bentz Whaley Flessner booth 539 and say hello, ask me any questions you may have about talent management, or share some feedback on your own talent management struggles.

Something Worth Reading: “The Human Capital That Wins the War: Engaged Workers”

I stumbled over this article post today while perusing linkedin. In the past we’ve talked about how fundraiser performance doesn’t follow the traditional bell curve, well this article touches on a theory for why this is true not only in development, but across sectors: the lack of engaged workers. In particular Mr. Hope says:

You can hopefully call up the same list in your own heads right now. Many people would call this your 20/80 list. The 20% of the people who end up doing (and often even voluntarily signing up to do) 80% of the heavy lifting, consistently; within your company, government, organization, school, unit, department or group. I call this my 8-10 List

1-5 is mediocrity. Even the Bible suggests, “be hot or be cold, but if you are lukewarm I will spat you out.” Translation: even God does not like mediocrity. 

5-7 is entertainment. It’s the person you date, but you do not marry. 

8-10 is excellence. Not black excellence, or brown excellence, or white excellence, or male or female excellence, or Republican or Democratic excellence. It’s just excellence. It’s real leadership. 

Looking at your own development shop – who are the 8-10s as described by Mr. Hope? What is different about their behavior? Do you treat these individuals any differently? The most effective development shops are those who can find those strong workers and retain them. But, what Mr. Hope does touch on, is that sometimes the difference between a 5-7 and a 8-10 is not potential or intelligence; it’s engagement. Great leaders are often expected to be leaders and given the freedom to use their creativity to solve interesting and new problems. What leadership expectations are we putting out there for development professionals? Has the era of metrics and benchmarking brought measurability at the expense of creativity and performance?

5 Resolutions for Better Development Talent in the New Year

1.       Spend more time building a strong team in house.

It’s easy to reward and pay attention to the senior team members and high performers in a development shop. This year we should focus on building a team ready to lead your organization’s fundraising for the next 3-5 years and beyond. Identify 3-4 fundraisers or development operations team members who have high unrealized potential, and then devise a program for professional development and/or mentorship for each. These efforts will not only see a large boost in effectiveness and skill sets, but it will also engage and build confidence amongst a core group that your organization wants to retain.

2.       “Lose weight” across the office

One thing I have learned in working with many development offices and fundraising shops is that team members are often brimming with ideas for office improvements and new projects, but rarely get a chance to present or implement those ideas. Try having 2014 be the year that you let teams own 2-3 projects aimed at streamlining a process, improving communication across development, or protecting time towards direct fundraising activities.

3.       Set aside time for the team and office culture

Time and time again we encounter great talent and team members who leave an institution not because of title or pay but because of a toxic or unsupportive work environment. Be better in 2014 about building a strong office culture that makes fundraisers, support staff, and development operations team members want to come in and contribute their time for your organization. Sometimes the most difficult part of this process comes with identifying what the actual issues facing your office are. Ask you team to contribute to this discussion and listen to what they have to say. Then do your best to address those concerns and create a more positive, supportive space in your development shop.

4.       Be a proactive “recruiter”

Chances are if your organization has more than 6 frontline fundraisers you will either be looking for a new hire or replacing someone in the next 12-18 months. This year try proactively networking and building relationships with local and regional development leaders. Try to identify who the star and rising talent is in your area and professional network and brainstorm about which candidates you might like to add to your team and what your organization would need to do to theoretically recruit them. When the time comes to post a job you will be better organized, prepared, and have a strong idea of where to look and will shorten the hiring process.

5.       Learn a new trick/skill

For that matter – set the goal to see if everyone on your team can learn at least one new skill in the next 12 months. Low discovery results? Set up a training or a workshop for fundraisers to practice and build cold call skills. Database difficulties? Use the new year as an opportunity to teach new shortcuts or reporting to users. Learning is one of the most powerful sources of employee and team engagement and greatly contributes to job satisfaction and fights boredom.

Five Reasons why you should invest in strong development operations talent

clock wheels

We’ve spent a lot of time so far talking about frontline fundraisers (what makes some stronger, how to recruit them, how to support them, and how to think about their time), and it’s easy to forget about those who make the wheels turn in a development office: the operation/advancement team.

You can have a stellar fundraising front line, but without equally strong back up and structure your results can fall flat. Here are five reasons why development operations deserve more applause and attention.

(1) A well-managed database keeps donors happy

Database accuracy is a constant challenge for development shops. Those that struggle with maintaining strong records and contact information are more inclined to make mistakes. Sometimes these errors can be as basic as sending direct marketing solicitations to someone who has requested no contact. Other times a weak database tracking can result in fundraisers dueling and competing for the same prospects. The most damaging effects of a weak database can be in the area of donor stewardship and relationships. I’ve seen an organization invite donors to a recognition event only to have nearly half of the donors at incorrect or out of date recognition levels, and I’ve worked with another institution that sent a solicitation addressed to a married couple of longtime major  donors when the recipient was recently widowed. Data errors like this happen, but a strong database management team can prevent a majority of them and put safeguards in place to catch and respond to those errors that do make it through.

(2) Well-crafted reporting, research, analytics, and prospect management can elevate fundraising results

You can have your fundraisers make 100 calls a month, but if they are not meeting with the right people their results are likely to remain lackluster. Development operations/advancement services is not an area that merely tracks and records fundraising activity; it directs and facilitates a more strategic and success-oriented fundraising team.  Investing in talent in development operations means that your office is more likely to have a team capable of identifying, targeting, and understanding your institution’s strongest prospects and leveraging your organization’s most compelling elements. This results in better protected and targeted frontline fundraising, leading to better results and long-term sustainability.

(3) Strong leadership in development operations balances out the overall office’s perspective and management

We’ve talked about the difficulty of finding one individual with the ability and inclination to manage an entire development office. There’s a certain degree of politics to be played with leadership, fundraisers, and donors alike. On the other hand you need a strong data-driven and analytical mind in leadership to direct the  technical aspects of your development shop as well as apply their understanding of operations to overall mission and goal setting. If all staffing in development operations/advancement services is at the junior level you lose this valuable perspective. You also communicate to your infrastructure team that their role is less visible and valuable within the office because they do not have an ally at the leadership level.

(4) Turnover in development operations staffing can be incredibly disruptive

Most people who have worked in the fundraising field for more than 5 years have lived through (survived?) a database or system conversion. They’re messy, and things get lost, and sometimes you feel like the supposed new efficiency isn’t worth the frustration. A turnover in staff can have a less public but similar disruptive effect. If an office doesn’t seek to retain and reward talent in operations then it will quickly lose to competition those individuals who not only have great technical skills but have an understanding of your organization, donor base, and processes that cannot be easily picked up by a new hire.

(5) Development operations/Advancement Services is a great place to build home-grown talent in all areas

Development operations teams tend have younger, more technologically savvy, and early career professionals.  It is a great recruiting ground then for both operations leadership and fundraising talent alike. Fundraising programs that do not pay attention to this great resource therefore miss the great opportunity and potential organizational sustainability to build their own talent pools, having to rely more on the difficult world of poaching and recruiting talent to fill staffing and fundraising openings. Those who translate broader staff retention and talent management strategies to their operations team have a greater chance to keep and capitalize on their younger, high potential staff members.

Six Alternatives to Year-End Bonuses for Rewarding Fundraisers and Development Staff

We’ve now brought up incentive pay a few times. With the year’s end coming around the corner many development shops are focusing on expressing gratitude and sending out year-end solicitations to their donors. It’s usually a very busy time of year for all staff members (especially our friends in the annual fund). The final push to January 1 and subsequent stress can accentuate those negative team dynamics and sources of dissatisfaction that have been built up throughout the regular year.

snowflakeFor those who do not have year end bonuses to look forward to (as well as those who do) this time period can produce doubt as to whether they are truly valued in their positions. Year-end recognition can be therefore very important to staff morale. Below are six ways (outside of financial bonuses) to show appreciation and reward performance in a development shop. This should be in conjunction or in addition to the regular year-end event/party/dinner.

(1) Flex time and vacation re-allocation.

Most staff put in a lot of time around the holidays (especially gift processors at the end of the year). You can recognize those individuals through the allowance of additional flex time around the holiday time. If your team has had a particularly challenging or fruitful year management can recognize those efforts through rollover or addition of vacation time for the next year.  One modification of this strategy that has been particularly well-received at an organization was presenting the option for staff to “buy-back” unused or capped vacation days to their retirement funds or 401k.

(2) Inviting a Donor/Board member or Constituent to share their appreciation and story.

Development offices focus on relationships and gifts, highlighting giving impact for their donors and constituents, so much so that they can lose sight of the direct impact of their own work. Inviting a recipient of services (or scholarship or program outreach) or a donor to speak to your team can be effective in two ways: it shows that leadership and the community are aware and appreciative of the development staff’s contributions and it connects the hard work of your team over the year to the real-world impact and good of the institution.

(3) Personalized thank you’s from leadership.

Staff members want to feel noticed by their peers and by leadership. The end of the year is a good time to personally thank each staff member (either in person or through a written note) for the work they have done. This gesture should be very specific, identifying 1-3 contributions or strengths of the individual and highlighting why they are appreciated and well-received. A generic thank you card with an impersonal message in this case neglects the significant contributions of the staff member and effectively communicates that their role is easily overlooked and any special effort that they did make went unnoticed.

(4) Individual development plans and budgeted professional opportunities.

If you can’t offer a salary increase perhaps you can demonstrate investment in your staff, especially in potential superstars, through your budget. Top team members who have shown great potential can be incentivized with conferences and speaking opportunities. You can also demonstrate a long-term investment in individuals by using the end of the year to step away from basic metrics and building 3-5 year IDPs for team members, in which they identify their own professional and career goals and managers, in turn, can use their leverage at the organization to help facilitate and support that growth.

(5) Small, cause-related gifts.

It’s been said time and time again: people don’t work at non-profits to get rich. Chances are your development staff is invested in your organization’s cause and mission. A gesture of recognition and inclusion in the mission can be made through an interesting and valued gift to staff. Some great examples of this include: annual ornaments with quotes from leadership or those impacted by a non-profit’s work, clocks for 5 year employees engraved with the mission statement, relabeled bottles of wine with impact statistics and highlights, etc.

(6) Peer-nominated staff and performance awards.

Across the board recognition of the team is good, but individually highlighting achievements can have an even greater impact. Many offices host “staff superlative” contests where employees peers can nominate and vote for each other in various areas of performance. A variation of this concept can allow each team to nominate one of their own for a particular award or “best of” recognition that can be celebrated publicly (at the end of the year party) and rewarded (with a gift card or gift). This type of recognition brings in other staff members in the brainstorming and can bring humor and levity to the office.



Of course these are just suggestions and the best managed offices are ones where staff regularly feel appreciated and included all year. What does your office do during the holiday season that is well-received?