How to break down marketing silos at your nonprofit

I spoke at the Bridge Conference here in D.C. in July, tackling something familiar to ANYONE who’s done marketing at or for a nonprofit: Silos, those pernicious, often impenetrable walls that divide and thus limit marketing efforts by development, membership, program and communications staff.

To prepare, I went and talked to several very smart people who’ve been successfully marketing their organizations. “How do you break down silos, or work around them?” I asked. “What causes them in the first place, and does knowing where they come from tell us anything about solutions?”

The answers I got were thoughtful and very pragmatic. And when I arrived at the Bridge Conference, I faced a roomful of people who needed those practical strategies. We turned the session into somewhat of a workshop (it was very early in the morning, and none of us wanted me to stand up there and preach). My stated goal was for each of us — myself included — to walk out with at least one new idea. I certainly did, and the participants told me they did too. The silo-busting ideas in the room were fantastic, ranging from strategies relating to personnel management, organizational alignment and — my favorite — the value of giving something up.

The bottom line is that an organization operating in silos is less efficient than it could be with both its program and marketing dollars. Staff who are thinking about strategic marketing — and those in that conference room ranged from mid-level to CEO — are aware of the missed synergies. They know that they are dribbling away the power of a unified brand every time stories don’t quite match up, or the website and the e-newsletter look different, or the ask from development is different from the membership ask.

So for all of you who want the most power out of your organization’s marketing effort: What’s YOUR latest silo-busting idea?