How to Create a Culture of Philanthropy in your Non-Profit Organization

Philanthropy and fund development go hand-in-hand.

Four casual colleagues using computer

Most small non-profit organizations have one or two staff members who are responsible for fund development -bringing in the money!   Quite often the rest of the staff don’t know what it is ‘the fund development folks’ do or know why their job is so important. If your management and staff see fund development as a duty for one or two staff members, then your organization will be in trouble over the long term.

What does the term “culture of philanthropy” really mean?  In brief, it means what is your organization’s attitude toward philanthropy and fund development.  Does your organization see donors and fund development as a necessary evil that somebody has to deal with or does everyone on your team deeply value the contributions donors make?

It is true that in the past there was a very straight line between donors and the fund development staff.  It might not have been necessary for everyone involved with the organization to embrace a donor-centered model.  However, now that the digital landscape has changed much of the way we live, work, socialize and learn, it has also impacted how the world ‘gives’ to non-profit organizations.  It is critical the entire organization feel a responsibility for fund development, engaging and strengthening donor relationships.   More and more, donors are looking to feel involved and they want to be sure their donation has had the positive impact they were hoping for.

Engaging donors and the community to encourage donations, or fundraising, means the entire organization needs to be on the same page.    Donors may get involved with your organization through a volunteer opportunity, an online petition or maybe even re-posting a tweet that educates other followers with relevant statistics.  Means of engagement are multi-level and that is why everyone needs to work together.  The fund development staff should be supported by the organization’s leadership and be in constant collaboration with the entire team.

Creating a culture takes time. Here are some tips for creating a functional and effective culture of philanthropy in your non-profit organization:

Evaluate your organizational culture.

The culture of your organization plays a major role on its effectiveness in all departments, including fund development. What is the personality of your organization? How do your staff, volunteers, board members and supporters interact and behave? In some ways, your organizational culture is like a set of unwritten rules that govern acceptable behavior within and even outside of the organization. Is your organization’s culture supporting and promoting donor engagement?

Adjust your organization’s attitude toward philanthropy.

If you work for a non-profit organization, you probably already have an interest and likely a passion for philanthropy, taking voluntary action for the common good. You believe in the mission of your organization. Fund development is an essential function in achieving that mission.

Philanthropy is not all about strategy. It’s more than just finding out “how to raise those funds!” It’s about turning your organization’s culture towards “why it’s important for your organization to achieve its mission” and remembering that philanthropy and fund development go hand in hand. In other words, you can’t have one without the other.

It’s important for every individual involved or connected with your organization to know that they are an ambassador for your organization, it’s cause and service. Part of that responsibility is being an ambassador for both philanthropy and fund development. Your people need to tell the story of your organization to their families, friends and colleagues. When everyone is living and speaking a culture of philanthropy, your fund development efforts will be more successful.

Culture shifts need to be reinforced by leadership.

The board is ultimately responsible for the financial health of your organization. Sometimes, this is only the case in theory and not in practice. Your board should provide leadership to the process of fund development and should also engage in that process. Not only should they understand and promote the culture of philanthropy, they should serve as an ambassador for that culture within the organization and outside in the community. They should be financial contributors to the organization, help find and cultivate potential donors and volunteers, build relationships in the community on behalf of the organization and help out with fundraising tasks.   Training and ongoing activities might be required to reinforce this mindset.

How staff can help build a culture of philanthropy? All of your staff, not just your fund development staff, need to share the story of your organization with clients and the community. All staff should be expected to work together on things like grant applications, thank you letters, video creation and other activities related to the fund development program.  Leadership should work with their fund development staff to develop a plan with action steps that will help get your organization’s staff involved with fundraising-related activities.

Culture of philanthropy establishes effective fund development.

Your fund development staff should never feel like they’re in it alone or that they’re working in a silo. They need to be supported and collaborated with. Create that culture of philanthropy, an understanding and organizational-wide engagement with fund development, and your organization’s vision will be realized.

Do you have questions about creating a culture of philanthropy and an effective fund development plan? Contact us!