By now, everyone has heard about how important a culture of philanthropy is to our organizations.
But how many are really building one?
First, let’s be clear about what a culture of philanthropy means. Philanthropy is “love for humankind”. Well, isn’t that what we’re doing every day? Isn’t that the point?
Culture has many definitions, ranging from the arts to intellectual achievement, to a sense of shared customs, to something that grows in a petri dish. I like these two Google served up to me (emphasis mine):
- Manifestations of human intellectual achievement are regarded collectively.
- Maintain (tissue cells, bacteria, etc.) in conditions suitable for growth.
Practically speaking, a culture of philanthropy means the organization (not just the development department) values philanthropy and sees it as part of the mission.
Think about that for a minute.
A culture of philanthropy isn’t the next new thing. It’s not a fad or a talking point.
It’s necessary for our organizations’ growth. And it’s collective.
To me, it means fundraising doesn’t stay locked in a back office, except when walking checks to the people in finance.
Everyone in the organization sees building relationships and spreading the message about the organization’s work as their work.
Philanthropy is mission. Everyone is involved.
Does that sound scary?
Let me make that s little less scary. No, everyone does not have to ask people for money.
But everyone does have a responsibility for welcoming people into your mission.
So how does that work? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Train everyone on staff to be great at customer service.
Good customer (or donor, or volunteer) service is crucial. Attitudes matter.
Be sure the person answering the phone doesn’t treat a confused or even upset donor by rolling her eyes, heaving a big sigh, and saying, “You’ll need to talk to someone in the development department about that. Hold on.”
Every time someone contacts your organization – whether in person, on the phone, or online – they should have a good experience.
That also means contact information on your site should always lead to real people. (Read here about my bad experience making a memorial gift. No contact information on the site for fundraising staff. None!)
2. Ask program staff to share.
You need stories. They’ve got stories.
And stories from the people up to their elbows in your mission are invaluable.
Be sure program staff know you need them. Be sure they understand you really are interested.
If you lead an organization, be sure program staff understand sharing information and stories is absolutely part of their job.
3. Thanks don’t have to come only from the fundraising office.
Think about the impact a thank you call or a note from someone who works with clients would have.
Or from a member of the artistic staff, or someone who cares for your furry clients.
“I can do this work because you made it possible.”
The closer you bring the work and the donor, the better.
4. Or better yet, involve all the staff in a Thankathon.
Invite everyone to a pizza party. Then get on the phones.
This is a two-way win: donors love it, and staff who don’t usually get to hear from donors will love it, too.
Donors give because they want to be part of the work, part of your team. Hearing from different people on the staff underlines that they are.
And staff have a chance to hear how valued their work is.
5. Be a student.
Have fundraising staff spend some time with staff from other areas.
You need to see the work first-hand to really communicate it well. You need to see how it all fits together.
And lending a hand to help is also part of a philanthropic culture.
Silos are bad news – do all you can to break them down.
6. And be a teacher.
You don’t do fundraising because you think it’s an onerous chore. (I hope!)
So help your non-fundraising colleagues to understand what it is you do – and why.
Talk about how donor relationships enliven your work. Share how good it makes you feel to contribute to the mission.
Make fundraising less mysterious, and it will be less scary.
7. Make everyone responsible for meeting fundraising goals.
That might sound unfair but think about it. Shouldn’t everyone feel invested in the organization’s ability to raise the money it needs?
(Doesn’t everyone like to get a paycheck? Doesn’t everyone like to have a budget that means the work can be done?)
Of course, fundraising staff has the primary responsibility. But when everyone is invested, it can make a huge difference.
Soon colleagues may start thinking: “Hey, I spend a lot of time with volunteers from Company X. Maybe I should introduce our development director…” Or “You know, I’d be happy to do a tour if you have anyone who’s interested.”
8. Celebrate together.
This is really important. Everyone needs to be on the same team. That goes for celebrating the wins, too.
Don’t high-five only the development team when goals are met or a big gift comes in. Credit everyone, and celebrate together.
People are much more likely to want to be involved with fundraising when you reward their efforts.
Organizational culture comes from the top, but you can lead the way, too.
If you’re a fundraiser, I know you understand how to push string.
So don’t back down on this one. Your organization’s future is at stake!
Make the case. Help leadership understand how important this is. And model the behavior that’s needed.
Philanthropy is more than an idea. It’s mission brought to life. It’s how you invite people into your mission.
Plus, breaking down department walls will strengthen your organization. Internal competition (for attention, for resources, for prestige) is not healthy.
Help your leadership (including your board) see that making philanthropy part of your mission is critical to your success.
So much of what I’ve learned about this topic, I learned from Simone Joyaux and the guys at the Agitator. Read a great article about your culture of philanthropy by Simone here. And subscribe to The Agitator – it’s great stuff, every day. So worth the $25 a year! Also read What’s a Culture of Philanthropy and How Can I Get One? by Lenya Bernstein for many more practical ideas.