Collaboration, not competition - why charities need to challenge the silo situation

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Collaboration, not competition - why charities need to challenge the silo situation

The IOF Convention felt different to me this year. Perhaps it was because the spectre of the GDPR deadline has finally lifted, or because there is a bit of clear blue water between some of the old morally suspect ways of fundraising and the new. Whatever the reason, there was a noticeable optimism about the sector that has been slightly lacking recently and it was great to experience first-hand.

The three day event was kicked off by BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz, whose inspirational plenary speech encouraged everyone in the audience to think and act more like an artist - to challenge, innovate and keep asking fundamental questions.

Just because something has always been done one way, that doesn’t mean it always has to be - and this was a theme that continued throughout the Convention.

There were some great examples of organisations that had started applying their core skills of collaboration, understanding and empathy between their own internal teams - breaking down the long-standing silos between brand, fundraising, PR, digital, welfare and supporter services.

Why is breaking down silos so important?

If your main objective is to get a strategy, plan or creative campaign through the internal process as unbruised as possible, then how focused can you really be on what your supporters need and want from you? 

After spending all your time overcoming internal barriers (such as a tussle with brand over the use of an image, or another product team over who you can mail in a particular timing slot) you might come to the sinking realisation that you have lost connection with who your charity’s supporters really are and why you have their support.

Judging by the talks on offer at the Convention this year, charities are starting to really understand why this is such a big problem for them. And if any further convincing were needed, here are just some of the benefits that can be derived from challenging the departmental status quo:

- A motivated, multi-discipline team can achieve great things because everyone is pulling in the same direction. Fundraisers tend to be good at working in teams, but are being held back by outdated department structures. 

- Chances are that there are gaps in any one department’s knowledge and established systems. Changing the way we work to be more inclusive and insight-led is bound to be more efficient and ultimately more successful - and allows us to utilise the expertise of our colleagues to plug said gaps. 

Of course, a cultural change won’t come overnight. It can be tough to get started and it will almost certainly need an impartial external facilitator to keep momentum. But everything has to start somewhere - and there’s no reason you can’t be the person to get the ball rolling.  

Sustainable change is not something you can achieve alone. Look for allies to help you raise the bar, challenge the status quo, innovate and keep asking the fundamental questions. That’s an approach I’m sure Will Gompertz would approve of.

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