The Most Important Part of Fundraising: A Culture of Philanthropy
According the Merriam Webster Dictionary definitions of philanthropy and culture, philanthropy is promoting good will to fellow members of the human race. It is also a sincere effort to promote human welfare or providing an act or a gift made for humanitarian purposes. The definition of culture is having the beliefs and customs of a particular society, group, place or time. Culture is also a way of thinking, behaving or working that exists in a place or organization. The culture of philanthropy means different things to different organizations.
Every fundraising professional constantly receives training on how to ask for funds. Whether it is an aspect of annual gifts, major gifts or planned gifts, you could literally receive an education every day of the year. It is all about generating time, talent and treasure. The "how to's" never seem to end. While this knowledge is very important, how many of us think about affecting change in the culture of philanthropy as an early step to the growth of the total long-term development program?
I contend that the most important aspect of our organizational responsibility is to create and maintain a culture of philanthropy. The key market segments for that learning experience consist of both internal and external target populations.
Some examples of these segments include the following:
- Current board members
- Former board members
- Recipients of services
- Government leaders
- Community leaders
Some examples of elements important to institutional culture development:
- Mission statement
- Values statement
- Stakeholders beliefs
- Case for support
- Accountability to society
- Marketing and branding institutional philanthropy
- Strategic and operational planning
While the culture of philanthropy must be launched and promoted in the development office, the CEO and other organizational leaders must lead and maintain philanthropic momentum. They need to stress that the process of identifying fundraising elements, stewardship of prospects, cultivation and solicitation of prospects, and relationship building of donors is everyone's responsibility throughout the organization. Marketing is a key element of this process.
The philanthropic culture needs to be an integral part of the ongoing operation of the organization. The "spin" must be positive and progressive investment-focused. Over time, the culture needs to develop seeds in tradition. Ultimate success occurs when everyone accepts responsibility for philanthropy.
In a recent Association of Fundraising Professionals article titled "Think. Say. Do. How to Build a Philanthropic Culture in Your Organization," author Karla A. Williams says you have a philanthropic culture when your organization embraces philanthropy as a core value. She notes with this mind-set that people build relationships that are mutually beneficial and have mission impact. There is an organizationwide investment in fundraising.
In my opinion, you must develop an internal organizational system of culture that lasts and evolves to engage external ownership knowing this process will ebb and flow over time. I completely agree with the Association of Fundraising Professionals leadership when it said the primary responsibility of development professionals is not to raise money; it is to build a philanthropic culture. The AFP notes, "fundraising professionals must be facilitators, catalysts, advocates, stewards and the conscience of a philanthropic culture."
Building a culture of philanthropy is the most important and dynamic program element fundraising professionals should do on a daily basis. As your organizational culture matures, your job becomes easier. Success of various degrees takes time, but failure in this area is not an option. Your organizational long-term philanthropic viability may depend on it!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.