adopting a culture of philanthropy

Don’t think of yourself as a “fundraiser.” That sounds like it’s all about money. And money is one of the top taboo topics in our society. Think of yourself, instead, as a “philanthropy facilitator.” That makes it about love. “Philanthropy” translated from the Greek literally means “love (philos) of humanity (Anthropos).” 

When you ask for a philanthropic gift you’re coming from a place of love, inviting donors to join you. 

You have an opportunity –a privilege – to open people up to the joy of giving

MRI studies show people get a warm jolt of ‘feel good’ dopamine when they contemplate giving. Would you deny this to people? 

Consider this ‘giving’ example: What happens if you love a new restaurant? What do you do? What happens when you see a movie that ignites your passions? What do you do? 

Chances are good you tell others about it! Essentially, you gift them the information they need to share in the wonderful experience you enjoyed.  

Sharing is caring. If you love your charity, why wouldn’t you gift your friends, neighbors, colleagues and anyone else you can think of with the opportunity to join with you in this joyful experience? Why would you be stingy about sharing your passion? You have power to give people purpose and joy.

Asking is not begging

It’s not taking something away from someone by asking them to fill your tin cup. Rather, it’s giving an uplifting opportunity to enact a passionately held value. Through this process, you actually fill the donor’s cup.

Sure, it’s possible the person you talk to won’t share your interest in your organization’s vision, mission and values. Sometimes that happens; that’s okay. Just don’t say “no” on their behalf. People are perfectly capable of saying no on their own. Don’t deny them this opportunity by making assumptions about what may touch and inspire them. Most people are complicated, enjoy a breadth of interests, and have open hearts. Don’t rob them of their autonomy.

Asking is a passionate endeavor

When people ask me the secret to successful fundraising, I tell them there are three secrets: 

  1. Passion. Get in touch with your passion for your cause. Do whatever you must to remind yourself why you got involved. Maybe get out in the field to see your work in action. Or read thank you letters from those who were helped. 
  2. Passion. Enact your passion. Make a meaningful (for you) gift. If you won’t enact your passion, it’s difficult to ask someone else to do so.
  3. Passion. Ask others to join you by enacting their passion. Take whatever ‘feel good’ you possess, and share it!

What you say matters less than how you say it. Your passion is an opportunity for more passion. Passion is contagious. 

You will never feel bad if you come from a place of passion and love

For this to work, you have to genuinely love your cause. You have to feel passionate about your case for support. 

Love and passion are the basic preconditions for successful fundraising; sadly, they too often aren’t in place. For example:

  • A board member really “isn’t that into” your mission.
    • Their place of employment offered board service as an opportunity; they joined to please their boss. 
    • They joined to add board service to their resume as a stepping stone to something else.
    • They joined to have something to do in retirement; for them it’s more about process than passion.
    • A friend asked them to join; they joined to do a favor.
    • They were coaxed to stay on the board, even after their passion had flagged.
  • A staff member – maybe even you – isn’t really passionate about your cause.
    • It’s “just a job.”
    • It’s more than “just” a job, but not the place they/you would most like to be.
    • They/you are passionate about the cause, but distrustful of the organization due to a toxic work culture.

When the love and passion preconditions to success are not in place, you’ve got other work to do before you’re optimally positioned to generate philanthropy. Don’t give up; just get to work on addressing your culture and your board and staff recruitment and development.

When your ask is apologetic it won’t be successful 

You may not be aware you’re coming from a place of “like” or “lukewarm” instead of “love” and “passion,” but that’s what happens when you say (or think):

  • I know no one likes to receive this call, but… it’s that time of year again.
  • I’m sorry, but it’s time for me to hit you up for a gift.
  • Is it okay if I twist your arm a little?
  • With everything happening in the world, I know this may not be your top priority. But…
  • I know this is a big ask, but every little bit helps.
  • I hate to impose on our friendship, but would you consider…?
  • How about if I rub your back, you rub mine?

Don’t fall into the trap of making giving seem onerous, obligatory or quid pro quo. 

Those motivations are the opposite of joyful. While you may receive some gifts this way, they won’t be as freely given, passionate, and ultimately sustainable as they could be. People aren’t apt to repeat the types of gifts that come from an apologetic ask.

Lead from love and passion

Believe in the transformative opportunities you are offering. People’s attitudes about fundraising can completely change based on how you frame the task and approach the ask. 

Make it about philanthropy facilitation – easing the way for people to joyfully, lovingly and passionately enact their own values.

Once you present the word previously known as “fundraising” to your board members and staff in this manner, you’re one big leap closer to getting them excited about raising money for your nonprofit.

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.