Denise Fernandes On Removing Silos for A More Collaborative Team

 Denise Fernandes Nonprofit Silos
 
 
Nonprofit silos are the enemy of productivity and collaboration. There is nothing that hinders success more than hiding information and leaving staff members in the dark. Now more than ever, organizations need to think of new and innovative ways of collaborating for a better future. One that is more inclusive and encouraging of new ideas. 

Denise Fernandes is the current Executive Director of Planned Giving and Major Gifts at Diabetes Canada and a passionate leader. She has had plenty of experience collaborating with different departments to raise millions of funds. 

In our interview, Denise discusses:
  • What a silo is and examples of how her team improved performance with collaboration
  • The future of teamwork in the sector and 
  • Why leaders should communicate with their employees and set goals for success 

Official Transcript


Sabrina
Let's break down nonprofit silos in today's podcast with strategic senior leader and fundraiser Denise Fernandes.

Hello and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes podcast.

I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente. And if you're not familiar with us, Donor Engine is a true all in one nonprofit software solution that is dedicated to saving hours in data management. Our suite of software can help you organize your team, volunteers and donor data in an easy, clean and efficient platform. If you want to learn more about us, visit donorengine.com for more information.

What is a silo mentality? For those who maybe are unfamiliar, it's a mindset that occurs when certain parts of an organization or sector do not wish to share information with others.

This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation while also reducing morale and may contribute to the demise of productive company culture. So when you feel like you're getting stuck in a silo, how do you get out of it?

Denise Fernandes is the current Executive Director of Planned Giving and Major Gifts at Diabetes Canada, and Previously worked at Plan International Canada as the Director of Philantrophy. She's a passionate leader with a proven and consistent track record of exceeding ambitious fundraising goals, and I am very excited to have her on the show to talk about breaking down those silos and being more effective as a team.

So thank you so much for joining us.

Denise
I'm really happy to be here.

Sabrina
So how would you define a silo mentality? How does it affect an organization?

Denise
Yeah, I mean, I think typically it's seen as a big shop problem, whereas small shops have to be everything to everyone. Silo mentality is when each department functions independently towards their own department's own goals. And some of the ways that affects charities is loss of revenue, lack of innovation and reduced morale and possibly leading to a high turnover.

So silo's happen as a function of competition and most fundraisers are very goal-oriented and focused on achieving their targets, but we know that as organizations that are collaborative and focused on being donor centered, actually they're much better than those that are working in silos.

Sabrina
So do you have any examples of where breaking down silos has helped improve productivity within the organization?

Denise
Yeah, absolutely. A few years ago, when I was leading planned giving, we were happy to have a few questions added into the marketing telling telemarketing campaign rather than have our own telemarketing campaign. So we ended up receiving a much higher response because we were able to connect with the more loyal donors while saving a ton on the expense to not have our own telemarketing campaign.

It was also better for the donors so that they're not receiving multiple calls and it was great for the donor marketing team to really get more of their donors engaged in planned giving, which leads to more revenue. So it was a win-win situation all around. I have another example too, that I met with our donor care team. They received a call for a donor wanting to upgrade their monthly gift. And so they wanted to upgrade it to a thousand dollars a month.

And so the annual team kind of thought it was interesting and connected with the major gifts team. And we were able to grow that relationship to over a million-dollar gift and I believe another 10 million since. And so if that doesn't convince you to work together, then I don't know what will, but it's a really good thing. The annual giving person didn't say, oh, no, we want to keep that thousand dollars a month and not share.

And so I think there's some really great opportunities to work together and catch what is needed for maybe some collaboration with other teams.

Sabrina
So it's almost like a fear of sharing information will hinder their success. Like almost like it's there's a competition within the organization. 

Denise
And I have a really great example from earlier in my career where I have a split role in annual and planned giving. And we were working on this really impactful testimonial for planned giving and we received really incredible results. Even our partner was really impressed. But the list that we ended up going to was mainly lapsed donors. And we know that for planned giving it's our loyal donors that are really the target. And it's an example of an organization putting a fifty dollar gift ahead of a possible forty thousand dollar future gift and the internal battles that so many of us face in the not for profit sector.

Sabrina
What needs to happen when an organization begins to recognize that they're beginning to fall into this silo mentality?

Denise
I think it's important to have a shared vision and goals. I think organizations now, especially with all the pivots, are looking at joint planning sessions and shared accountability as a way to succeed and to break out of that silo mentality. We need to work together collaboratively and I think having shared goals is an important piece so that it's not just sitting on one team's lines of KPIs and that it's on several teams so that we are, in fact, have to work together so we can't be competing for the same donor.

Instead, we're focused on how we provide that that donor with the best experience across the organization.

Sabrina
Yeah, I guess it's also a matter of, like you mentioned in the first question, collaboration and getting different opinions and making people feel valued in their position. Because I guess when you do have a fear of that competition, just that reminder of remembering that you're on the same team and that you do have other people to rely on can be joining.

Denise
Yeah. And I think I think one of the things I've learned is that you can only count the money once, but you can recognize people as many times as possible for each gift. And so that recognition definitely goes a long way to building morale in a collaborative workplace. And I know it's hard to sometimes take the competitiveness out, but when you're measuring success and you have that motivation in building on those goals, I think that that's an important key. Building in the goals so that each team member feels like they have a part in achieving a goal for everyone else.

Sabrina
Exactly, because who doesn't want to be part of somebody else's or contribute to somebody else's success, that feels amazing.

Denise
And you're able to celebrate.

So I think one of the ways that we try and encourage any of the collaborative gifts that come through is these massive celebrations, whether it's just emails at this point while we're all working from home, but really just celebrating the successes of any of those joint gifts and encouraging each other and always looking back. So, you know, we will sometimes receive a donor from our donor care team that has major gift potential. And so looping back and allowing them to celebrate the success of them passing on a donor is an important piece as well.

Sabrina
Yes. Since COVID started, it's been hard for a lot of teams, organizational and business to work together because, you know, when you're so far apart and you're doing everything through email, you can almost lose touch with people and you have to start pivoting and getting creative. So since the pandemic, we've seen a lot of organizations become more open to working together, partnering with businesses, corporations and even other nonprofits. How important is collaboration in the sector?

Should this continue to be a priority moving forward?

Denise
I think it's always been important, but even more so now. I think whether you're in a big shop or a small shop, we all have limited resources. And, you know, we've been hit pretty hard as an industry and there have been cuts and there's people wearing multiple hats. And it's such an opportune time for us to drop what we've been doing and think of a new way of working. And so silos don't just affect the financial success of an organization both in the revenue and expenses, but it really does have a large implication on company culture. We know that the really big issue for a not for profit, especially in turnover, and so being able to work collaboratively together, I think is an important key to really job satisfaction, being able to remove obstacles that you face because you now have a broader team to work with.

Sabrina
Yeah, and people when you have a diverse team, which is something I talked with Sabine Soumare a few episodes back, but she was really stressing the importance of including different voices because different people have different experiences. They have different ways of doing things. And you probably will end up being more effective and more productive by including other people in these conversations.

Denise
Yeah, one of my favourite examples of that, is not even in the not for profit sector and it's from a few years ago, but it was around Diamond Shreddies and it was an intern who came up with it. And Shreddies are a pretty boring cereal. And, you know, they've always been that square and then just kind of flipping it over and making it a diamond like had sales skyrocketing and, you know, the exects at the table probably wouldn't have thought of it, but it was there was that intern who kind of came up with a new way of looking at that.

If we put that into the not for profit space, really looking at different groups and different people, to be able to help you with some of the situations that you're facing will lead to new innovations that we otherwise will face.

Sabrina
That's a terrific example. I remember I took a marketing course and the professor spent the whole class was talking about it. For those who aren't familiar, the whole point of this marketing campaign was that they just turn the Shreddies like 90 degrees and were like, oh now it's a diamond. And it really speaks to perspective to how just your perspective and your messaging can do so much because the product didn't change just the imagery and the communication behind it did. So maybe that there's a lesson in there for nonprofits that coming out of this pandemic should maybe look for a different perspective or different way to share a message to their donor base that's relevant and entertaining.

Denise
Yeah, and the mindshift is key. I think, you know, I was part of a working group that we were really trying to push collaborative tasks and meetings between major gifts and giving fundraisers. And one organization created this race track that they had on the office billboard and each fundraiser had their own car. And so for each joint meeting, they went on their car, moved up the space. And so it was a really kind of neat way to encourage collaboration while encouraging competition, which was inherent.

And it really seemed to get the team excited about moving along that race track and along their shared goals.

Sabrina
That's a great example of how to get your team motivated. And as a leader yourself, how do you set collaborative goals with your team and kind of motivate them to move forward?

Denise
Yeah, I think we hit the nail on the head when I add collaborative goals as part of their goals. I think I've had the experience where we're doing major gaffes and it turns out that's actually more of an organizational gift. And so we have to move it over. And so by being able to say, well, you're being measured against the goals that you're working together with another team on, you're able to still celebrate that they've been able to do that.

So move that forward even though the revenue doesn't align with them. And so for me, I have added collaborative goals to each of each of the fundraisers on my team and have kind of pushed that forward across the other leaders, across the team so that they also have collaborative metrics on working with our team because, you know, event participants are possible, major donors and major donors have corporate connections and corporate leaders are also possibly major gift donors. And so there is as you get into these larger organizations, we've split people in a way that maybe the donor doesn't see themselves in.

So how are we treating a donor as a full donor and providing them with all of the opportunities? And I think some of that is training. I think one of the keys to breaking down the silos is providing the right amount of training for everyone. So you can speak at least a little bit to anything that your donor might need and then bring in the experts that.

Sabrina
Going back to how you set goals with yourself, I would love to know how important it is for leaders to take the time to meet with their staff members one on one and set individual goals with them, especially now during covid that things have kind of taken everyone for a while.

And although it's been a few months, you know, it's still there's still a lot of instability. So how do you think it's a good idea for leaders to have that one on one time and continue to foster those relationships with their employees together?

Denise
Yeah, I think I think we've actually I think a function of what working from home is has done is that we've actually overcommunicated. So we know where I might have had biweekly meetings with team members. I now have weekly meetings. And so really just connecting and seeing how people are doing and how everything's working. And have they gotten on the phone and how are things working. So I think it's really important to have that one on one time.

And I think that one on one time is where we walk through kind of donor scenarios and strategies. But I also have team meetings and I encourage that there. And I think you brought this up of just diversity, of thought of people of different ages, gender and background and experience, being able to kind of share with each of the fundraisers on any of the strategies that they're having some difficulty with, I think is an important piece that maybe I have some ideas, but there are so many other ideas around the table that I want to make sure that they've also heard and provide more for each of the team members.

Sabrina
Definitely, and going back to the original definition of what a silhouette is like, collaboration really is the solution to avoiding this mentality. So I think giving your employees that one on one time and letting them know that their voice is valued will also help build their confidence. This way, when the team scenario does come, there's a lot more activity and collaboration. It's not so much, you know, a few select people continuously taking up the time and their voice is being more heard than others.

So, yeah, I guess it's just encouraging everyone to be themselves in the workplace.

Denise
Yeah. And I think too, I don't want to discourage I have set goals for my team. But even if you're not in the position to set your own goals, I think it's important to also look at ways where you can collaborate with others because everyone can really try and fight against the silos that they're in by working together and breaking them down themselves. It's obviously easier when it's coming from the top, but I do think that everyone has a part to play and I encourage people at all levels to really try and work together because it's only better for the donors and better for your own group.

Sabrina
So when staff or maybe volunteers begin to feel like A is forming in the organization, what can they do to feel less in the dark and more involved or bring up this issue with their leaders?
 
Denise
I think it's a really good question. I think regardless of the level that you're at in an organization, you sometimes feel this way. I know I was talking to my boss and she had said she wasn't quite sure what was happening at certain levels. And so I think, you know, especially now giving a little bit of grace to our leadership is an important thing. I know we've had to shift our planning into really 90 day periods versus one year or three to five years.

And so, you know, I think it's important to ask the questions, knowing that you may not get all the answers, but really having that open communication is key. And if you're not getting that open communication, then I think those are some of the things that you need to ask yourself is are you still aligned with this mission and are you still providing value to the organization and are you getting value from the organization? And those are some of the things that we have to kind of work through.

But I think it's important to really give grace and now that progress over perfection at a time like this.

Sabrina
Yes, and I love that you mentioned, you know, having a little grace with your leaders because. You know, it really is isolating working from home, especially when you're used to being in an office and sometimes you may feel like your voice is being left out intentionally, but it could be an accident. You know, a lot of people are under a lot of stress right now and they sometimes forget things or, you know, they actually overlook some things.

So I think that you brought up a really good point. And just having an open line of communication, being honest, asking those questions, not making any assumptions without hard evidence and just remembering that like you are part of the team and justice, you want your boss to be open and honest with you. You also have to be open and honest with your boss. Absolutely. Like you so much, Denise, for joining us. I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your knowledge with our audience.

And if you're interested in learning more about Denise's organization, Diabetes Canada, you can give them a visit at diabetes.ca. And if you want to learn more or offer your support again, this play in Canada. And if you want to get more information on the podcast to access previous episodes, transcripts or blog posts, you can visit us a trust donorengine.com. If you want to get notifications for when our podcast goes live or to know who our upcoming guests are, follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn at @DonorEngine. 

Well, that's all for today. Thank you so much for listening. And we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes.


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