For nonprofits, the primary area of concern is siloed communication and collaboration. This occurs when certain employees or business parties aren’t able to effectively reach each other, and primarily communicate with a small selection of employees and stakeholders. Eventually, this causes problems with realizing the NPO’s mission, creates issues with internal and external messaging, and even results in the disengagement of donors and community members.
Organizational silos in NPOs occur for many reasons. For one, these organizations may struggle to keep their heads above water, particularly if they are utilizing older technology. This makes it difficult to focus on communication between departments and other efforts not directly related to the mission. Lack of modern technology also impacts communication and collaboration if departments are isolated physically—either in different parts of a building or from across the globe.
Because of this, many leading nonprofits have at least started their digital transformation undertaking, resulting in a growth in fundraising, social media exposure, and their ability to serve their community. However, this transformation can also introduce silos as departments and teams within an NPO tend to self-organize – particularly during periods of rapid growth – which leads to the compartmentalization of funding sources and program activities. Further, the data restructuring associated with a cloud migration may cause their organizational silos to become data silos. These silos can lead NPOs to ignore 88 percent of their customer data, hurting both their productivity and their bottom line, and can even result in instability and organizational breakdown.
Breaking down silos increases transparency, facilitates collaboration, and supports both the digital transformation and mission of nonprofits. Jean-Louis Echochard, VP and CIO at the Nature Conservancy, elaborates on why silos can profoundly affect nonprofit operations. “We have the systems, they hold information elements, but relating them in a coherent way is still a challenge—and the bigger our data, the more apps we use, the bigger the challenge grows,” he says.