We’re All in This Together: Creating a Culture of Philanthropy

As a fundraiser in the rush of day-to-day operations, deadlines, meetings and metrics, it’s easy to lose sight of the motivations and interests of your donors. Sometimes, fundraising can become more about reaching goals than relating to donors. And it can be a slippery slope – the results of which we’ve seen documented in UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising,  which outlined various problems arising in the nonprofit industry, including decreasing retention of fundraising employees and donors. There will be no cure-all for the industry as a whole, but there are steps individual fundraisers can take to see better results in fundraising. Those steps have nothing to do with “doing more” or “doing better”…they are related to an organization-wide shift toward a culture of philanthropy.

While a culture of philanthropy can ultimately be adopted by the full organization, there must be one person accountable for driving the shift – the fundraising professional. If the chief development officer is not the one responsible for representing the donor perspective, who else would be? Conversely, fundraising professionals (no matter what they believe) are not all powerful.  To create a culture shift, each fundraising professional needs to lead and encourage others to lead through encouragement, advocacy, observation, participation, teaching, modeling, etc.

A culture of philanthropy asks all members of an organization – from the Board to executive staff to service providers to volunteers – to understand, prioritize, encourage, model and celebrate philanthropy. A culture of philanthropy requires that everyone understand what philanthropy is, its importance to achieving the mission of the organization and their role in helping to secure gifts or other forms of community support.

Philanthropy within any organization is about the donor and fulfilling the donor’s desire to create a specific impact in the world. A donation to your organization is a vote of confidence in your organization’s approach – but it isn’t necessarily about your work. Donors give because they are inspired by the possibilities of your work, and they should be recognized for sharing your vision – they should be recognized as partners aspiring to the same goal. This is the crux of the philosophy of a culture of philanthropy – it’s donor-centered.

What, then, does a culture of philanthropy look like? Instilling a culture of philanthropy can look different for every organization, but it will have some fundamental characteristics distinct from a culture where fundraising is simply a function. Here are some of the most important characteristics of a culture of philanthropy:

  • Understanding: Management, staff and Board members understand how philanthropy makes a difference. The CDO reports directly to the CEO, is a peer on the executive team, and attends and presents at Board meetings.
  • Prioritization: Planning for fundraising is long-term and featured in the strategic plan. There is a multi-year fundraising plan in place. Development is seen as a revenue center, measured by ROI, and is invested in accordingly.
  • Encouragement:  Staff and Board members are encouraged to network and continuing education is valued. Transparent and open information sharing takes place within and outside the organization.
  • Modeling: Philanthropy is modeled by the CEO and taught at all staff levels. Staff and Board refer potential donors, participate in cultivation and stewardship activities, and give regularly. There is 100% Board participation in giving and asking every year.
  • Celebration: Communications on philanthropy are ubiquitous. All publications feature donor stories, describe impact, tell how to give to the organization. The website features online giving and dynamic content about or for donors. Language about results is donor-oriented and celebrates outcomes/results and the spirit of giving. Asks of donors are based on shared desire of donor and the organization to meet community needs.

We’ve created an assessment tool you can use to determine where your organization falls on the spectrum between fundraising as a function and a culture of philanthropy. Use this tool with your Board and staff to get a sense of where they think the organization could use the most work most urgently. If you use the tool, please come back and let us know the results – did you find you are close or far from a culture of philanthropy? What do you feel you need to take on first? Leave a reply to give us your thoughts.

Culture of Philanthropy Assessment Tool