Nonprofit organizations, like any group working together for a common purpose, carve out certain of their activities in order to delegate them. For example, the board works on strategic planning, the development staff work on grant writing, the accountant sets up the financials, and so on. This makes good sense - certainly everyone can't (and shouldn't) be involved with everything. That's obvious.
What isn't always as obvious though is when and how these activities should be brought back together.
In consulting with a wide range of nonprofits, I found that it was often my client's ability to see the connections between activities such as strategic planning, board development and grantwriting that really gained the client a quantum leap in their thinking and approaches. So, while delineating and delegation of work activity is key to getting things done, if the results of those activities are not re-connected for the benefit of the whole, the organization suffers.
For example, in many organizations development people write grants for funding from major foundations. Since foundations ask crucial management questions, effective grant proposals express the nonprofit's strategic approach to its mission and to the particular funding request. But even so, few if any board members - or in many cases, even executive directors - ever read the proposals. Nor in many cases, did the grant writers have access to the organization's strategic plan as the foundation for writing the proposals. This disconnect between two primary activities in the organization means a weaker, less effective grant proposal and a weaker, less-informed board.
And this is just one example of how the silo-ing of basic activities in a nonprofit can hinder its overall success.
What can be done about this? The most effective leaders think through what re-integration makes the most sense and then develop the mechanism in their organization by which it will occur. For example, it makes sense that good budget development requires the information provided by past years' financial statements and input from key staff responsible for earned income and for contributed. Leadership should develop policy and procedure to ensure that cross-pollination between responsible board and staff members takes place in budget development as a matter of routine, rather than expecting (or assuming) it to happen as the result of the initiative of those involved.
In another example, fundraising and marketing campaigns should originate with the strategic plan, but too often these efforts are developed in isolation. This could be the result of the organization not having a strategic plan (or it being out of date) or it could be that leadership has not made it clear that these efforts must synchronize with each other. To address this, leadership could pass policy that all development and marketing materials will reflect the priorities and language of the organization's strategic plan, and then create procedure whereby the board collectively reviews marketing and fundraising materials, e.g., the basic grant proposal template, on an annual basis. Not only would this ensure that there is a strategic plan, that development staff have access to it, and that the intersection of these efforts actually takes place, but also that board members are up-to-date on what is being communicated about the organization.
This may seem obvious, but it's surprising how often nonprofits struggle to delegate activities effectively, and once this is accomplished, consider that the end of the matter. Or they chalk it up to a communication issue and assume the responsible individuals will take care of it. In fact, it is in the bringing of these delegated activities back together by leadership that the real benefits are realized. This is because, simply, everything is connected to and impacts everything else in an organization. A culture that values and nurtures this synergy is what makes for a balanced, resilient, innovative organization - instead of a siloed, reactionary, and defensive one.
The more the leadership of a nonprofit is fluent with the intersection between areas of major activity, the better able it will be to lead. This agility and breadth of understanding across the organization enables an organization to go from good to great, to use Jim Collins’ phrase. While specialized expertise in areas like development, planning, marketing, technology and finance is critical in today's world, it is leadership's ability to integrate them - to see what is greater than the sum of their parts - that gets big results.
Nonprofit-KnowHow: The Guide and The Workbook supports nonprofit leaders in reintegrating often siloed activities such as strategic planning, fundraising, board development, finance and more, for greater resilience and impact. Explore how here.