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Creating A Culture For Philanthropy

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Money. It’s probably safe to say that this is the key topic that keeps most advancement professionals up at night. For better or worse, it allows our organizations to fulfill on our missions, keep the lights on, and pay our salaries. NPOs that are consistently meeting or exceeding their advancement goals have at least one thing in common: a palpable Culture for Philanthropy. This is one of the most intangible, and yet most important characteristics of any non-profit institution. Culture is defined as the composite of thought, word, and action that express the fundamental values and priorities of any human community. To be sure, donors are influenced – both positively and negatively – by an organization’s attitude toward philanthropy.

So just what does a “Culture for Philanthropy” look like? These factors are prominent in organizations that place a premium upon institutional advancement:
  • Ambitious and consistent fundraising results;
  • Broad involvement of leadership, volunteers, and staff in the identification, evaluation, cultivation, solicitation, and stewarding of donors;
  • Precise language that clearly and unequivocally expresses fundraising as a positive, integral value;
  • Organizational-wide understanding that fundraising is one of the most important roles for leaders – both staff and volunteer;
  • Group ownership of institutional advancement goals, including complete by-in from advancement staff, senior managers, and volunteers;
  • Genuine respect for the voluntary and generous aspect of giving; appreciation for the dignity of those solicited; and appropriate gratitude and recognition for donors; and
  • Enthusiastic and celebratory atmosphere surrounding the fundraising enterprise.
Your organization’s true comfort level with philanthropy is expressed through every action, publication, and interaction by staff and leadership. Step back and take a close look – are you projecting what you want your constituents to know – and feel – about your organization?

It is entirely possible to augment – or even introduce – a culture of philanthropy in organizations without a strong track record in this area. Basic ways to do so are to include a giving angle to every feature article in your newsletter or annual report; add a “donate now” feature which appears on all pages of your website; and/or including a discussion of philanthropy as part of every staff meeting. And size doesn’t matter here; awareness of philanthropy and what it can accomplish can be instilled throughout a large and diverse workforce as well.

Here’s a good example. A very large multi-hospital system in the Midwest has been successfully working with Copley Raff for the last few years to improve their direct mail and marketing program and to further engage their 28,000 associates in the work and fundraising potential of the system’s Foundation. To design the strategy behind these initiatives, Copley Raff participated in broad-based, structural research to uncover their associates’ philanthropic knowledge, behaviors, and preferences. We then applied the research findings to the system-wide associate’s giving campaign and direct mail strategies, changing how these were presented, promoted, and stewarded.

Results? Associate giving has significantly increased year over year in both participation rates and average gift size. Finding associate leaders is easier. Staff leaders are giving earlier and generously, leading to greater overall success. And, no surprise, a re-energized culture of philanthropy is now as much of the DNA of the system as is superior medical care, compassion, and community engagement.

Your takes:

  1. All of your actions, publications, and interactions reflect your organization’s true culture of philanthropy, whether you are conscious of it or not.
  2. There are specific short and long term actions you can take to begin building a positive and inclusive culture of philanthropy in your organization. Remember, change does take time, but can be accelerated by leadership.
  3. Success breeds success; a culture of philanthropy and advancement success go hand-in-hand and complement and build upon one another.