You’ve read about how important it is that you have one.
You understand that this culture of philanthropy is a reflection of the key role fundraising plays, not just in income, but in the health of an organization.
And you know that treating donors as sources of funds and not people is a mistake. You also know that segregating fundraisers is a mistake.
This culture of philanthropy thing is a great topic of philosophical thinking and writing.
And it’s important to think about this.
But if building a culture where fundraising is mission stays a philosophy and doesn’t move into action, you don’t have a culture. You have a problem.
We all know we should eat more vegetables and get more sleep, but many of us miss those marks. In the same way, while we – especially fundraisers – understand how important working with donors is, in practice, old habits die hard.
So let’s move from philosophy to action.
Yes, for your organization to truly succeed, it’s important to embrace the idea of philanthropy. And for it to really take hold, this idea must be fully accepted by leadership – by board, the CEO and senior staff.
But if you’re there, but the boss is not, there are still things you can do.
Practice what you preach – and preach a lot
Well, OK, not preach exactly. Let’s say “share”.
People need time to get used to new ideas. Few will jump right in. Your co-workers will wonder, “How will this affect me?” Or “Does this mean I have to start soliciting gifts?”
So talk about how wonderful your organization’s donors are. Talk about how those donors have enriched your understanding of your mission. Talk about how committed they are.
Engage colleagues in a discussion about their own philanthropy. Not to solicit them. Just to help them see how transformative it can be.
And talk about your mission. We can often lose track of the mission in our busy every moment lives. Take time to refocus on why you do what you do.
Watch your own language
It’s easy to make fundraising a game. Or a hunt.
It’s fun to pump your fist and shout “We got it!” when an important gift or grant comes through.
But weigh your words. Are you talking about fundraising with aggressive language? (“Hit donors up”, for instance.) Reframe even your office conversations. Talk about donors’ generosity, not your trophy.
Build acceptance from colleagues
Think of the way you steward donor relationships.
Bring wary colleagues along the same way. Treat them with respect. Show interest in their work. Ask them to help you understand what they do. And importantly, why they do it.
Connect them to their own love for your mission. Remind them gently that their participation in widening the circle of support means more and better mission gets done.
Not every fundraiser has to ask for money.
Remind everyone they don’t have to ask for gifts to support the organization’s efforts.
Program staff can write down stories or come talk to you when something interesting happens.
The person who answers the phone can do so in a welcoming way – and be sure every caller feels important.
Everyone who works with volunteers (remember, they are also donors – of time) can be encouraging and grateful.
Fundraising doesn’t have to be scary. Help your colleagues see the joy of it.
Share the credit
Yes, you can’t force leadership to evaluate everyone on the organization’s fundraising success… yet.
It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.
Harry Truman was right.
So share the credit with everyone. Sometimes, it helps to take that first step.
Be willing to say thank you. Be willing to shine the spotlight on the program staffer who shared a remarkable story. And with the volunteer coordinator who introduced you to that amazing donor.
Positive reinforcement works. Be generous with praise. Pour all the love on, and soon your co-workers will feel part of the team.
What about the board and CEO
Can you have a great organizational culture without buy-in from the top down? Not really. To succeed, you want your organization fully aligned.
But you can help leaders see the benefits. Accept that change is hard. Inertia is easier. But when the benefits of changing are evident, change happens.
Would they like to have happier donors? To raise more money? See more staff collaboration and less competition?
Wouldn’t the CEO love to look great to the board? And wouldn’t the board love to brag about their success?
And the benefits are not just financial.
This is important, too.
There are real emotional benefits for everyone when the organization celebrates philanthropy and its donors.
Giving is emotional. And we give because… it feels good.
Fundraising shouldn’t be transactional. It’s all about relationships. And relationships work both ways. As fundraisers, we’re used to getting to know our donors. Sure, some are challenging. But so many are lovely people with a sincere commitment to your cause.
Why in the world wouldn’t your colleagues enjoy them, too?
A virtuous circle
When an organization is committed to philanthropy, when it’s embedded in your culture, silo walls come down. Internal competition eases. Everyone gets to pull in the same direction.
And when you do that, the walls between inside and outside also come down. Donors and volunteers feel like an integral part of your work.
They feel great. They give and tell friends. You feel great, too. And most of all, your mission succeeds.