Don’t Give Up: Building a Culture of Philanthropy Takes Time and Effort
Richard and I believe that if your organization does not embrace a healthy culture of philanthropy, your organization will not survive outside the next decade. The donor landscape is rapidly changing and if you cannot turn your organization’s eyes toward understanding your donor’s needs and desires, you will not make it.
But, it doesn’t happen overnight.
A few months ago I was speaking to a group of development professionals at a conference about building a culture of philanthropy. It was as if the group was a massive balloon and I was the pin that popped it.
Folks all of a sudden talked freely about how hard it was to work at their organization. They had story after story of impossible leaders, bad boards of directors, terrible relationships with program people and no sense of camaraderie with their co-workers.
Many were just flat beaten-down. I kept thinking, “Imagine how their donors are being cultivated and stewarded when they have lost faith in their own organization.”
My response to them was not to lose faith. Building a culture of philanthropy takes time. It’s about patience and persistence. Just like cultivating your donors. A $1 million gift doesn’t happen overnight—neither does changing an organization's understanding of the role of philanthropy.
But, I also presented a picture of what an organization can look like if they have a strong culture of philanthropy. Take a look:
1. Every new staff or board member is educated on the role the donor plays in the organization—this means from the janitor all the way to the CEO.
2. All staff meetings have discussions about donors—too many staff meetings are just focused on “what you do” and metrics. Stories about donors need to be told at staff meetings so everyone understands how important donors are in carrying out the mission.
3. Program folks understand they will work with development to meet, talk and ask donors for gifts—yep, development and program actually become friends and communicate freely with one another and earn each other’s trust.
4. Development staff will work in the program to understand exactly what it is they do—this means getting your hands dirty and stepping into the shoes of those who do the work you are trying to raise money for. As a development professional you need to be broken by the work so you can effectively communicate that to the donor.
5. Over half of the president or CEO’s time is devoted to cultivating donors either onsite or wherever the donor is—this says that your leader embracing fundraising and is willing to boldly ask and convey his vision to donors. It’s critical that leadership embrace this concept or your organization will sink fast.
6. All board members are required to spend time working with program and development staff—this allows the board member to truly understand what is going on inside your organization and how they are critical to its success.
7. The organization creates multiple opportunities for staff, board and donors to engage together during the year—this creates understanding, and more importantly, trust with one another. Lack of trust always seems to come up with talking about the barriers to having a meaningful relationship between program and development.
8. Development staff is constantly communicating to the rest of the organization about how they are engaging donors—I don’t know what it is, but Richard and I don’t see development staff and MGO's doing a very good job talking about their donors and where they are in building that relationship. This can lead to a ton of confusion and miscommunication about how donors are being cultivated. Everyone in development should know who is doing what and what is going out to all donors.
Yes, this can all be attainable with your organization. And it starts with you. But, it will take effort, patience and persistence to get there—and ultimately everyone to get aboard the bus to create a strong culture of philanthropy.
It won’t happen overnight, but if you believe passionately in your mission, then working toward this vision is worth it, right?
If you like baseball, tennis, golf, Gregorian chant, jazz, rock, good wine and deep conversation, then you’ll like to hang out with Jeff.
If you are passionate about fundraising, Jeff will inspire you to be a true “broker of love” for your donors, helping you bring together a donor’s desire to change the world and the world’s greatest needs. Jeff believes that if nonprofits truly want to grow and obtain more net revenue for their mission, it will come through creating, building and successfully managing major-gift programs. The Connections blog will give you inspiration and practical advice to help you succeed. Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit fundraising experience and is senior partner of the Veritus Group.