Leesa Harwood: Stuck in a silo? Then it's an organisational failure

The integration of fundraising into the business model is a perennial issue for charities

Leesa Harwood
Leesa Harwood

Hot topics come and go. The General Data Protection Regulation, cryptocurrency and reputational crises all trigger debate among fundraising leaders. But some topics come around again and again without resolution. The meaningful integration of fundraising into the charity business model is one of these boomerang debates.

To better understand why this issue won’t go away, it helps to look at the way we position fundraising in charities.

First, we put fundraisers in a structural silo called the fundraising department. Then we overlay a departmental strategy to compound the structural silo. Then we do the same with all the other departments and end up with lots of structural silos resolutely reinforced by departmental plans.

Then we spend lots of time and money trying to design governance processes or systems to override the siloed structures and stand-alone plans we have created. But these systems don’t always work very well and only chip away at the symptoms of a very well-established cause.

You can see these symptoms everywhere. When the people who raise the money are not involved in the financial planning of the people who spend it. When mission delivery targets are long-term but fundraisers are still driven by short-term financial targets.

In a fundraising department we start to hear the frustrated cries of fundraisers asked to hit unrealistic targets with impossibly tight timeframes to underwrite activities that they have not been able to influence. From over the wall in mission delivery we hear accusations of mission creep as they are asked to amend pre-existing plans to fit donor criteria. From our donors we hear criticism of left-hand/right-hand confusion and a hurried sales pitch from a desperate fundraiser.

This is complicated, a veritable Gordian knot. It’s easy to see why the organisational integration of fundraising is a debate that won’t lie down. Except that it’s not really a debate about the integration of fundraising. If we step back from the symptoms described above and apply some perspective, we see that this is about organisational silos versus organisational flow.

These symptoms describe what happens when a charity doesn’t have end-to-end planning or end-to-end delivery because it is structured and targets are set in vertical silos, not horizontal streams. This isn’t a fundraising issue at all; it’s an organisational one. And because we’re looking in the wrong place for the problem, we’re looking in the wrong place for the answer too.

In his October 2012 paper From Silos to Streams, Sree Hameed explains how the siloed, hierarchical structures of the Ford Motor Company became a blueprint for organisational design. But then he describes the impact of the technological revolution and how an increasingly borderless, digital generation has found its voice and outgrown hierarchies and silos.

He advocates tearing down the walls between management and delivery, reducing the layers between strategy and execution and knocking down the vertical functional silos to create flow. This is revolutionary stuff.

So the next time you crave integration between fundraising and the rest of your organisation, take time to understand the specific problem you are trying to solve. If what you really want to do is better involve your fundraisers in organisational planning and get the left hand to shake the right hand over the silo wall, then deploy tactical mitigations and align key metrics.

But if you really want integration, if you really want to tear down your organisational silos, you might want to put on a hard hat, because it won’t be a quick or easy fix.

Leesa Harwood is a fundraising consultant

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