Over the nearly four decades we’ve been partnering with nonprofits to improve their fundraising
effectiveness, our team has identified ten of the most common issues that hold organizations back
from achieving their full potential in fundraising. In this series of articles, we will review each of these
in turn. Here is the second…
Issue #2: Lack of Organizational Alignment
When working with boards, senior executives, and strategic funders, I ask them to imagine their
nonprofit organization as having three supporting components, much like a three-legged stool. The
legs of the stool are programs, revenue, and administration. The effective functioning of each is
critically important to the overall health of the growing nonprofit. However, just as important is their
internal alignment and interconnectedness. If the three legs are not aligned and connected, the stool
will wobble and collapse under weight.
To extend the metaphor, the legs of the organizational stool do not do their jobs for the collective
whole when they work in isolation. They need to be aligned and connected – pointed toward the
same missional “north star.” This alignment doesn’t just happen. It requires consistent, rigorous
communication horizontally as well as vertically.
Too often, organizations fall into the trap of “stove-piping.” In other words, by giving focus to only
one element or vertical in their organization, they do not operate at full effectiveness. When different
parts of an organization operate in silos, development departments struggle, and trust breaks down
between the internal and external stakeholders.
Does that sound familiar?
You may have seen first-hand the evolving disconnects between fundraising and programs that can
eventually lead to stress, distrust, frustration, or misunderstanding. Sometimes, the lack of
organizational alignment is subtle, allowing everyone to operate on their own, siloed, with unstated
frustrations. Other times, one leg of the stool is magnified, and the other legs atrophy or are treated
as a lower priority in the organization. If these scenarios go unaddressed, they typically get worse
The bigger the fundraising apparatus and the more complex its programs, the greater the likelihood of
disconnect between the legs of the stool. As a consultant, when I see these internal disconnects at
play, it is most often the fundraisers who feel them first. But the frustrations and breakdowns move in
both directions. Programs do not feel they and their priorities are understood by fundraising, and
fundraisers do not feel heard, or possibly respected, by programs.
When each leg is doing its own thing and being evaluated by isolated metrics, no one is asking the
most important question of all: so what? If organizational alignment toward its mission is not
present, the nonprofit won’t be maximally effective in accomplishing its mission.
Time and again I have seen that when an organization’s program staff and fundraising staff are
working in sync, donors tend to be more willing to make bigger investments in the mission. Here are
some practical things you can do to achieve that level of synchronization:
- Healthy board: A balanced board will commit to contributing to revenue growth. Additionally, it
will take the time to understand and think through program realities and goals. A healthy
board of directors reflects a balance of the 3 Ts: time, talent, and treasure.
- Strategic planning: A current, relevant planning process and document will ensure everyone
has a consistent understanding of the mission, the current priorities, and goals of the
organization. It should help drive alignment, heighten accountability, inform budgets, and
provide corporate clarity.
- Outcomes-based evaluation: A framework deployed across the entire organization that will
ensure each part understands and measures its own benchmarks and metrics as they
contribute to the overall accomplishment of the mission.
- Strategic communications: Master your message and understand your audience. Everyone,
from the board down, should be able to do this when it comes to your mission, programs,
accomplishments, and fundraising needs.
- An information czar: An Information czar is a unique but strategic position that operates
midway up the chain of functional leadership. This person connects the programs and
revenue legs of the stool to ensure accurate and relevant information is flowing in both
directions. This critical cross-piece between legs on the organizational alignment stool can
contribute significantly to both the efficacy and alignment of programs and fundraising.
Are the different parts of your organization operating in silos? Strategically aligning your core functions will help your organization become more cohesive and ultimately lead to greater accomplishments both in revenue and programs. But strategic organizational alignment doesn’t happen without intentionality and investment. The effective functioning of each leg is critically important to the overall growth of your nonprofit, and so is their healthy interaction. Abundant resources and great leaders matter, but so do strategy, partnerships, and outcomes.
Ready to fast forward? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization become strategically aligned.