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Dealing with Silos Inside Nonprofit Organizations

Competing Priorities and Not Feeling Focused

The Nonprofit 2.0 session on “Dealing with Silos Inside Nonprofit Organizations” was packed with lots of discussion about staff managing competing priorities. “We suffer from initiative-itis,” said one nonprofit campaigner.” For example staff is feeling pressure to constantly send out appeals to different email lists about a variety of campaigns and priorities. Is this really the right strategy for nonprofits? Who at the organization can help set the priorities and not say “yes” to everything?  Is it senior leadership? Do campaigners need to take a more active role and push back? Having to manage so many priorities makes it difficult to get the real work done day to day.

Advice From Group Members.

Can you talk to senior leadership about focusing on 3-5 campaign priorities for the year and make an organizational commitment to stick to it?  Can you gather evidence from other organizations who have been successful operating this way and show the ROI?

Can you bring in a consultant to reinforce what staff is already saying? Sometimes a consultants advice resonates with senior leadership.

Competition and Branding

Regional organizations that have several chapters across the country are struggling to see the big picture of working together to acheive the organization’s mission. They compete with each other, instead of collaborate.

Because there are so many chapters, several staff is running different programs and they don’t connect it to the larger mission. Some of these organizations are also struggling with having a unified brand. One chapter even designed their own logo

Advice group member gave.

Provide website and branding templates to the affiliates. This will make it much easier on the local chapters and help the organization scale nationally. “It’s a groundswell,” said Michael Kusie of Hillel International. Organizations like National Wildlife Federation developed a branding committee to develop brand guidelines that all departments must use.

Alternatively, a group member said you could stop trying to act like the “brand police” and develop guidelines that are very flexible.

Managing Failure

Do we ask the right questions after we failed?  Why did it fail? Was it because of lack of resources and capacity issues? Was the organization working on too many issues at the same time and campaigns got diluted? Did we burn out our constituents? You need to answer these questions honestly and openly.

One group member, suggested that before a campaign launches ask the team, “why would this fail?” Answering this can help you poke holes in the campaign.

Building Connections Inside the Organization

How do organizations get people excited about being a part of the organization? Sure, the mission inspires most staff, but internal politics can make people feel frustrated with their jobs. A couple of the organizations in this session have tried to address this by doing fun staff activities at the organization. For example:

  • Hosting victory parties after they won a campaign. Even a small win is cause for a party.
  • Scavenger hunts across the organization. One of the organizations has even done this with their regional chapters and teams are comprised of staff from different locations.
  • Jeopardy-like games.
  • Volunteer days