Having a culture of philanthropy is a phrase often used in fundraising circles, but what does it mean, how do you know if you have one, and what difference does it make?
In simple terms, to have a culture of philanthropy means that you in an environment where fundraising is not just tolerated, but it is respected, appreciated and celebrated. In this two-part series, we will look at the signs that could indicate that you do not have a culture that is conducive to fundraising and what you can do about it if you don’t.
But first, how do you determine whether you are working an organization that is enabling your fundraising to thrive?
Sign 1: Fundraising is viewed as a “necessary evil” by everyone but the fundraisers.
You cannot escape the fact without fundraising, many organizations would not exist. Yet in so many organizations fundraising is experienced as something that has to be “put up with”, rather than supported. These are environments where fundraisers are seen to be only about chasing money or even using approaches that work against the cause. In my experience this is very rarely the case. Many of the fundraisers I’ve been fortunate enough to work with are passionate, dedicated individuals who are engaged in the work because they care deeply about making a difference. They, rightly so, see their role as a crucial cog in the wheel of making change happen.
With the right pieces in place, fundraising can be a very positive experience for everyone involved. By following a clear code of ethics that relate both to the industry and your organization, proper training on fundraising strategy (and indeed, having a strategy), and by being donor-centred, fundraising becomes far from evil. It’s the means by which we can all make a contribution towards making the world a better place.
Sign 2: People don’t understand what fundraising is
The “necessary evil” sentiment can also stem from the disconnect that often exists between what people assume fundraising is and what (successful) fundraising REALLY involves. In the course of my work I’ve interviewed many staff and board members and I often find that people assume that fundraising is about strong-arming friends to give or begging. If that is really the case, then it’s no surprise that people don’t feel good about it!
In reality, the fundraiser’s role is much more about facilitating the relationship between donors and the organization, with a view to providing opportunities for donors to make a difference in something that they care very much about. In fact, the most successful fundraising programs come from this relationship-based approach, where connections are nurtured and built, and the donor is able to feel good about their philanthropy because they know exactly what difference they are making in the world.
Sign 3: Fundraising is not integrated into other aspects of your organization
The next recipe for failure is where fundraising is seen as completely separate from all other functions of the organization. Internal communications are poor and fundraisers do not have the opportunity to engage properly with other staff, the board or even the work that the organization is carrying out. One such example was where a fundraiser I know needed to update a funder on a particular program that they were funding. Despite the clear need for this information, the program director flatly refused to meet the fundraiser to talk about it, saying “It’s not my job to fundraise!”. This is despite the fact that he was the only person with the necessary information, and the fact that without this funding, his program wouldn’t exist!
In the many non-profits that I’ve worked with, the ones that truly excel are those where fundraisers are able to work in partnership with program managers and administration and there is proper communication between teams. This way there is a strong flow of information and other staff become strong advocates of the organization, both internally and externally. This results in an increased reach as well as helping to create more opportunities for a deeper connection between your organization and the donors.
Sign 4: The Board is not engaged with fundraising
Board members are the people with ultimate responsibility for the organization’s success or failure. Bringing in the resources to enable the organization to function is crucial to any organization’s success, yet so often I hear how boards are not engaged in fundraising in any way. In some cases they, or at least some of its members, actively hate fundraising, which can result in the staff not receiving the backing they need in terms of approach or allocation of resources for fundraising to thrive. In effect, this can mean that not only are they not helping fundraising, they could be actively standing in its way.
There is no doubt that this can have an impact upon fundraising success. As highlighted in a previous post on board engagement, board involvement can make a considerable difference to your fundraising program, from providing resources and connections, to ensuring that they stand behind your fundraising initiatives so that they have every chance achieving their goals.
Sign 5: Fundraising is not properly budgeted for
I’ve lost count of the times where I have gone to speak with organizations that are looking to recruit a new fundraiser, I’ve asked them about the budget for fundraising, to be told and have been told “the fundraiser’s salary is the budget”. In other words, the fundraiser would have no funds at all to drive the fundraising program. This means no funding for events and meetings, travel, donor cultivation, donor communications, research databases, training or strategy development. This is a recipe for failure, since it means that the fundraiser is effectively being ask to operate without the tools it needs to succeed.
A further issue is that timing is not considered within the budget, leading to unreasonable expectations. Depending upon where your fundraising program is within its evolution, and the kind of fundraising that makes the most sense for your organization, it can take some time for the funding to come. For example, expecting significant funding to come from major gifts within a year when you do not have any well-cultivated prospects, or a strong case for support, may be too ambitious and a longer-term return on investment should be considered within your financial plan.
So how do we work towards a culture shift that means that fundraising is fully appreciated by all those connected with the organization?
It starts by creating a level of organizational buy-in where everyone sees fundraising as part of their role, even in some small way, and where all members of the team celebrate the successes together. In the next post, we’ll explore the ways in which you can start to do this, and how to create a culture of philanthropy throughout your organization that is nurtured and contributes towards a healthy fundraising attitude!