Maximize Revenues By Working Outside the [Black] Box

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I recently shared that part of the reason companies waste huge sums of money on marketing is because they allow it to exist as a stand-alone black-box business function. And in many organizations, the same is true for fundraising.

What Is A Black-Box Business Function?

“In science and engineering, a black box is a device, system or object which can be viewed in terms of its input, output and transfer characteristics without any knowledge of its internal workings.” –Wikipedia

Black box process illustration
Black box process illustration

Businesses depend on black-box processes for reliability and efficiency, where outside of a select few people, there is little need for understanding the inner workings of the process.

For example, knowing the details of how payroll works is a waste of time for most team members. The same is true for many other operational functions. However, in fundraising and marketing, teams benefit from open or “white box” transparency and collaboration across the organization, and particularly between one another.

Surprisingly, many nonprofits encourage both teams–fundraising and marketing–to function as black-box processes, feeding them inputs of goals, autonomy, and compensation and expecting ever-increasing outcomes in return.

One of the more common reasons for this is that teams do it to themselves. They don’t want others nosing around in their business. Which makes perfect sense!

So Where’s The Rub?

Any strategic activity consists of four primary phases: Discovery, Planning, Execution, and Analysis.

In many cases, limiting involvement by others makes sense... in the execution phase. But it’s really hard to conduct the other phases without involvement from the organization as a whole. And because so few organizations systematically conduct discovery, planning or analysis, and most of their day-to-day work is execution, it’s easy to see how they might mistake collaboration with others as an unwelcome intrusion into their work.

Breaking the habit of random one-off tactics and adopting a more strategic process is one of the secrets to maximizing revenues.

It's also necessary to...

Open The Box

Successful fundraising and marketing depend on an appropriate level of collaboration with others throughout the organization. “Appropriate collaboration” takes place in four ways:

  1. Active collaboration between the two functions is essential, and at the very least should revolve around goal alignment, campaign priorities, messaging consistency, and direct feedback on effectiveness.
  2. An appropriate level of participation by leadership includes creating alignment between revenue-generating activities and top-level organizational goals, establishing clear expectations, defining what outcomes are needed, and making sure teams have direct access to necessary resources.
  3. Smooth interaction with other business functions is often needed for accurate record keeping, processing of gifts, timely reporting on outcomes and impact, and increasingly, for activities such as “social CRM.”
  4. Finally, within the teams themselves it is essential that all members be kept in the loop. Taking the analogy of working in a black box… In cultures lacking transparency and open communication, team members are often left "in the dark" and can’t see the big picture and the value of their contributions.

When fundraising and marketing teams exist as black-box business functions, the entire organization loses insight into what’s planned and misses opportunities to prevent mistakes and work efficiently.

Next Steps

  1. Align departmental goals with top-level organizational goals.
  2. Align departmental goals with one another.
  3. Begin encouraging appropriate collaboration within and among teams.

If you can make these changes, you’re on your way to maximizing revenues. If you need help doing this, let us know.