9 Ways to Build a Culture of Philanthropy at Your Organization
Are you the sole person responsible for fundraising in your organization? Running a one-person development department can feel like you're spinning 10 glass plates in the air. You're the grant proposal writer, database administrator, director of individual gifts, webmaster, event planner, social-media director and more! And every day it seems as if "they" — the trendsetters — are dangling more bright, shiny objects in front of your face.
When this topic recently came into scrutiny in a LinkedIn discussion, I found one respondent's answers so telling that I asked for permission to reprint. Frank Donaldson, president at the Institute of School & Parish Development in the New Orleans area, offered his thoughts on why development staff turnover is so great within Catholic institutions.
- The leadership of the Catholic institution (pastor, principal, board, pastoral council) does not really understand development.
- Everything is measured by the amount of immediate money that "must" be raised.
- There is no written strategic plan in place with measurable, reasonable outcomes.
- No training is provided for new development directors and continued professional growth.
- The development director is hired, and the people who have been involved in the past seem to wash their hands of the responsibilities and take the attitude, "I'm glad that's out of my court."
- The entire effort is simply one fundraiser after another fundraiser, and the "nickel-and-dime" mentality never ceases. Total burnout.
- Too many "guarded kingdoms" to overcome. Therefore there's a lack of acceptance of the new development director's vitality, energy and creativity.
- Not enough team building on all fronts, and this is really all about people engagement.
I think Donaldson absolutely nailed it — and I don't believe that these eight reasons are limited to Catholic institutions.
The good news?
You can avoid many of these pitfalls by heading them off at the gate. How? Start by creating a culture of philanthropy within your organization.
Fundraising is ultimately about building relationships. A culture of philanthropy is merely that — an attitude that embraces relationship building. Once everyone realizes that fundraising is, in many respects, everybody's job, your organization is on the path to sustainable funding. Shift your focus from money to building lasting relationships, and the money will follow.
How do you know that your organization has embraced a culture of philanthropy?
- Everyone understands the need to raise money and is willing to do what it takes to support the effort, regardless of his or her role in the organization.
- Everyone represents the organization — and everyone helps identify potential new friends.
- Everyone can articulate a case for giving and how a gift will be used.
- All of your internal processes are donor-centric.
- You welcome donor visits to your offices and program sites.
- Everyone takes turns welcoming at the front desk and phoning donors.
- Your executive director sees him/herself as the face of the agency.
- The executive director is 100 percent committed and personally involved in fundraising.
- Your organization's clients and donors are viewed as experts in how the organization carries out its mission and are regularly invited to share their stories.
- 100 percent of your board members contribute financially.
What are some signs that your organization hasn't embraced a culture of philanthropy?
- Your fundraising is constantly in nickel-and-dime crisis mode.
- Your development staff is paying for its own training and books.
- The responsibility for fundraising is assumed by one or a few people (usually the development director or your executive director).
- You rely on activities such as special events or direct-mail campaigns, rather than focusing on a comprehensive strategy embracing multiple streams of income.
- When major gifts or bequests do occur, they're surprises. There's no one in charge of making asks, and staff is rarely, if ever, out of the office meeting donors face to face.
- You've never surveyed your donors.
- You know that when the founder leaves next month she's taking half of the donors with her.
Where does your organization stand? Remember, as the development director (or executive director), you are primarily responsible for building a culture of philanthropy. Don't ask for permission to lead. Take the reins, and be prepared to lead your organization's staff, board and, yes, even your executive director.
What are some ways you can begin to lead?
1. Ask a program staff member his or her advice on an appeal letter. People love it when you ask their advice, and it's a lesson in the importance of story gathering. Please note that I didn't advise you to necessarily take their advice.
2. When you receive special "thank-yous" from clients, copy them and send them on to board members.
3. Keep a desk drawer full of cards — birthday, anniversary or "just because" — to send to your board members.
4. Schedule thank-a-thons, where your board members pen thank-you notes to donors. Make it a fun experience by scheduling 20 to 30 minutes within the course of a board meeting, serving refreshments.
5. Spend one-on-one time with board members getting to know them individually.
6. At every staff and board meeting, share your latest "story," whether it's about one of your agency's clients, a donor or even a recent visitor to your organization. Encourage staff members to share their stories as well.
7. Shadow a member of your program staff for several hours or even a day.
8. Think outside of the proverbial box. Recently I attended a United Way branding workshop on behalf of a client. Among the participants, I was delighted to see that one organization had sent program staff in lieu of marketing or development staff. I spent some time chatting with the program staffers, and it was clearly an eye-opening experience for them in terms of how they could better share their own work with their development department.
9. This tip came via my friend Andrea Kihlstedt, principal of nonprofit consulting firm The Kihlstedt Group. Create a habit of celebrating every little success. When you reach 100 percent board participation, celebrate it — perhaps with a pizza party at your next board meeting or by breaking out a bottle of champagne! Has a board member brought in three new donors? Send a thank-you gift or present a token of your gratitude publicly at your next board meeting. Celebrate what you want to see more of!
Building a culture of philanthropy absolutely will not happen overnight. It takes patience, consistency and commitment. But the rewards are well worth it. FS
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.