A Siloed World

The high-powered fundraising consultant led the workshop attendees through his talking points related to comprehensive fundraising campaigns, using images in his PowerPoint presentation to reinforce points. He paused at the image of a silo, saying universities are siloed organizations.  Heads nodded; mine tilted.  “Yes, they are,” I thought, “but isn’t this conference supposed to be about how campaigns can unify universities?”

The expert then went to the topic of donors. He described the differences between old money donors and those who have “new money,” i.e., entrepreneurs.  “Entrepreneurs are great people, but they have many interests.  The ‘old money’ donors had simpler interests.”  He continued his presentation, but after a few minutes I could not contain my frustration any longer.  I raised my hand.  He acknowledged me.

“Certainly you misspoke,” I said. “You said ‘entrepreneurs are great people, but they have many interests.  Certainly you meant and. Entrepreneurs are great people and they have many interests.  This workshop is about unifying universities.  Who else but a university can address such a wide range of interests, like those that entrepreneurs have?  Who else can offer opportunities to experience everything from volleyball to metaphysics, from philosophy to biology?  If we work together, we can engage the many interests that entrepreneurs have.”

Silence. He replied, “Interesting perspective.  Does anyone else have any opinions?”  More silence from the crowd of 100-plus.  He turned on his heel, pointed to the image of the silo and said, “But we live in a siloed world.”

The next morning, I challenged him at the breakfast buffet. “I gave you an opportunity on a silver platter to show how comprehensive campaigns can bring down barriers and you dropped it completely.  I can’t believe your response at a conference about the potential of campaigns…about the potential to unify.”  He mumbled a lame excuse and I left the conference to collect my thoughts because therein lies the problem:  don’t look at campaigns—or any significant fundraising initiative—as having to deal with the negative aspects of fundraising as a foregone conclusion; look at them as opportunities to make a difference, effect a change, and improve how your organization functions.

While not all organizations have the multitude of options to engage a donor that a university does, all do have many ways to connect to people’s interests, talents, dreams and passions.  Listen to learn of their interests; share to engage them as fully as possible.

It can be easier to bring a donor to different programs and areas of your organization than it is to get the internal team members to “share” a donor. In those circumstances, you can serve the organization best by serving as the donor’s champion.  (One of the reasons that I created the Philanthropy Liaison blog was to champion donors and remind everyone that giving away money is not an easy thing.)

As fundraisers, we have many opportunities to make a difference; one of the greatest is bring our organizations together by breaking down silos.




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