adopting a culture of philanthropy

This post on adopting a culture of philanthropy is part six in a six-part series. Read part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five

In part one of this series, I outlined my top six fundraising strategies for 2021: 

  1. Investing in digital-first fundraising and marketing communications
  2. Mastering online user experience and messaging
  3. Mastering relevant content marketing
  4. Mastering personalized, customer-centered philanthropy facilitation, especially mid-level and major donors, to increase donor lifetime value
  5. Mastering an analytic approach to strategy and planning
  6. Organization-wide internalizing and externalizing an attitude of adopting a culture of philanthropy

In this post, I’ll explore the final strategy.

Internalize and externalize an organization-wide culture of philanthropy.

I have to begin with the famous quote attributed to Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Stop for a minute and consider your nonprofit’s values. Do you have a values statement that accompanies your vision or mission statements? Is it included in your employee handbook and board manuals? Included on your website and/or facility walls? 

That’s a great start, but how do you actually practice your values? Are you kind, generous, and true with donors but mean, stingy, and inauthentic with your own staff? Are you especially nice to major donors but not particularly attentive to mid- or lower-level supporters?  

Whenever there is a disconnect between your values and the way you practice them, the culture can begin to feel fraudulent or even toxic. Donors will run from fraud. Staff will run from toxicity. Everyone will be frustrated by inconsistency and ultimately made to feel unhappy. Unhappiness does not inspire productivity. And it doesn’t inspire passionate philanthropy.

Get everyone on board the “love train.”

Good employee and donor morale are by-products of a culture of generosity and abundance. Think of this as getting everyone on board the “love train.”

I believe adopting a culture of philanthropy is one where everyone is on board that train, and I carry the following quote with me to remind myself what a true culture of philanthropy looks like:

“When anyone walks through the doors of the organization what is felt is love, empathy, righteous anger, grace, hard work, personal care, and…more love.”

— Jeff Schreifels, It’s Not Just About the Money

The importance of this is it takes you away from the mercenary “all we care about is your money” or “all we care about is working you to the bone” perception and shifts you to a critically important “we care about you” culture.

Everyone’s job, in part, is building satisfaction, commitment and trust among and between all constituents. The decisions your people make, and the actions your people take, translate into daily experience for your donors and supporters.

Come from a place of service.

Become a servant leader by focusing on the needs of your followers, whoever they may be. Servant leaders don’t subsume their own need for impact by serving others. They know when you help others achieve their fullest potential, you’ll often achieve yours as well (individually and collectively).

Plus people around servant leaders will be more committed to the organization and the role it plays in the community—and commitment and loyalty are extremely valuable commodities.

Build goodwill.

Goodwill is the favor or advantage a business has acquired through its good reputation and the kindly feeling of approval and support given by people of goodwill. This aligns with one definition of philanthropy: “Goodwill to fellow members of the human race; especially: active effort to promote human welfare.”

The relationship between the concept of business goodwill and goodwill towards humanity is clear. If you don’t have goodwill internally (in how you treat your colleagues) you’re unlikely to have goodwill externally (in how others perceive you).

This is where we see how goodwill and philanthropy are inextricably linked. If you want your organization to be sustainable over the long haul, you must incorporate the goal of building goodwill into your values and planning.

Know that adopting a culture of philanthropy is essential. 

A culture of philanthropy is not just “nice to have.” It’s essential.

Embracing a culture of philanthropy will bring all sorts of benefits, including recruitment and retention of talent, stronger development plans and infrastructure, a better understanding of the board’s role in fundraising, and a shared understanding of the importance of fundraising across functional silos.

How close, or far, are you from having a culture of philanthropy? Make it a priority this year to at least find out! Then develop a plan to play to your strengths and ameliorate your weaknesses by downloading this free Nonprofit Culture of Philanthropy Checklist

Embrace this fundamental fundraising truth.

On top of the five trending strategic priorities I’ve covered in this series, never lose sight of this fundamental fundraising truth: It costs money to make money.

Building a culture of philanthropy that comes from a place of abundance begins with your investment in fundraising because among the core values driving a philanthropic culture is a focus on fundraising as engagement and strong donor relationships. With that in mind, fundraising should be framed as a revenue center, not a cost center.

For example, imagine you have a $250,000 reserve. Let’s say you invest it conservatively and earn 4.8% or $12,000. Now imagine you take half of it to invest in fundraising. You don’t hoard. You don’t cut. You generate! Maybe you use $100,000 of that reserve to hire a development staff person, $20,000 to cover benefits, and $5,000 to pay for fundraising expenses.

This is lean, to be sure, but how much might this investment yield? Sure, you’ll reduce your investment income, but you’ll likely be able to generate a lot more than that through added contributions. And, over time, if you retain and upgrade your donors, you’ll do better and better. In my experience, the ROI on fundraising can easily exceed 1,000%

Embrace a culture of philanthropy and one that looks at fundraising as a revenue center and you’ll be on your way to having your best fundraising year yet. 

Download this Culture of Philanthropy Checklist loaded with action tips to determine if your nonprofit has one in place, and how to get started with adopting a culture of philanthropy.

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.