Welcome back to the Major Gift Challenge. If you’re unfamiliar with the Challenge, check out the introductory video here.
Culture is the heart of an organization. If your organization’s culture doesn’t include philanthropy, it’s going to be a challenge to raise funds — especially major gifts — and address the needs of your cause.
What is a Culture of Philanthropy?
A culture of philanthropy means everyone is willing to participate. It starts with board members, all staff (not only administrative staff), clients and volunteers understanding that fundraising is fundamental to the success of the organization.
This means everyone who works for and cares about your mission is working toward the goal of raising funds. Everyone must feel a sense of responsibility for fundraising.
Why a Culture of Philanthropy is so important
I worked for an organization where the receptionist was constantly grumpy. She answered the phone “yeah” or simply “what?” or “speak!” It was crazy. For reasons that aren’t important, she wasn’t fired. Imagine volunteers, potential donors, and others calling in being made to feel like a nuisance!
Your nonprofit may decide they can’t afford someone to answer the phone. If there’s no culture of philanthropy they may not consider this scenario:
When donors call and they enter an endless series of voicemail menus, and have to Press 1, or Press 2 or know the department, or last name of the person they are trying to reach. They may wish they hadn’t called, or forget they called to donate or volunteer. It’s not exactly warm and welcoming.
Board Members also need to embrace the culture of philanthropy. Have you prepared them to be great advocates for your organization with their friends and family members? Do they understand exactly how they can help and what is needed of them? Are they prepared to advocate on behalf of your organization with specific, concrete tasks and needs?
One more example of why a culture of philanthropy is important. Let’s say you have amazing programs and services. You’ve asked program staff on several occasions to let you know of success stories, but they just don’t. Not only that, they receive testimonials and letters from clients occasionally, but they don’t pass them along to the development team, so you can’t share them with donors.
These are just some examples of why you need a culture of philanthropy throughout your organization.
3 Steps to Create a Culture of Philanthropy
Here are three things you can do to create a culture of philanthropy at your organization.
1. Eliminate “it’s not my job” mentality.
Fundraising is EVERYONE’s job …
- It’s the job of the person answering the phone to make all callers to the organization feel welcome and cherished.
- It’s the custodian’s job to make all visitors feel welcome and that the organization is clean and inviting.
- It’s the program staff’s job to alert the development staff about successes big and small, in addition to challenges and needs.
Your staff is coming into contact with potential major donors on a regular basis, whether they know it or not. They are your volunteers, your visitors, and maybe even your clients. Staff behavior and attitude is reflected throughout the organization and can be felt and heard by others throughout the organization.
It may not be everyone’s job to ask for money on a daily basis, especially when it comes to raising major gifts, but fundraising is fundamental to the success of the organization.
The sooner everyone understands this, the better it is for everyone. Your cause cannot benefit without a culture of Philanthropy. Everyone’s job literally depends on it.
2. Put the FUN in fundraising.
The idea of fundraising is scary to most people.
If you want your staff, volunteers, and clients involved in fundraising, you’re going to need to make it fun, engaging and easy. Sure, that’s a tall order, especially if they see fundraising as hard, complicated, time-consuming, and scary, there’s little chance they’ll get involved.
I dread fundraising events as much as the next person, but if you’re going to have one, why not make it the talk of the town? Think about how you can weave your mission into your fundraising event.
An example — A soup kitchen I support has a “chef’s night” where local restaurants donate food and supporters can eat the night away. In addition, there are several “booths” from the organizations’ culinary school, where clients are learning to be sous chefs.
Another example — A domestic violence shelter I worked for has an event where guests “experience” what it’s like to be a family in crisis, from listening to a hotline call to seeing the garbage bag “suitcases” that women and their children show up with when fleeing a violent situation.
I realize that events aren’t major gifts, but they are the gateway into your organization for many new donors — donors that have the potential to become major donors. If they have a great experience with you, it’s more likely they’ll stick around for future involvement and gifts.
You can also have a letter signing party. Yes, make fundraising into a social event! Bring people together for food and fun, while personalizing appeal letters and thank you letters.
Invite your volunteers, board and staff members to bring their significant others and teenage children to help with letter writing. They can also bring their younger children to draw thank you pictures. Get the entire family involved! Adults and older children can also help with phone calling.
Try a little gamification. Make fundraising fun by turning it into a contest or game. The one with the most contacts wins. It doesn’t simply need to be about who raises the most money, but who brings the most volunteers, or who sends the most letters.
3. Step into your donor’s shoes.
When considering a solicitation of any kind, think about it from the donor’s perspective.
As I think back on Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Texas a few months ago, I remember seeing all the posts in my Facebook feed about donations. Well-meaning folks around the country were sending supplies and household goods. Used clothes and teddy bears arrived by the truckload to rot in parking lots without an established system of distribution. Even food and water went unused, as there was no way to distribute it to the people in need.
Education is key. Organizations need money and donors want to send things. Get to work – educating your donors about what you need and why, but also try to be sensitive to their desire to help.
It’s frustrating for donors to think about sending money which might go unused. However, they may not understand that sending bottles of water and medical supplies, which ultimately get thrown in a dumpster, are more expensive and a waste of resources.
We need to meet in the middle and provide lots of donor education.
People give because it feels good. They should be getting as much out of the gift as you are. They should go away wanting to tell all their friends and family about what an amazing organization you are and how great it felt to give.
If your donors are not feeling great about giving, you’re not doing a good enough job to educate them and understand things from their perspective.
Challenge Yourself Action Item
Step 1: Choose ONE topic to address.
Pick one of these three topics to discuss at your next staff or board meeting:
- Eliminate the “it’s not my job” mentality
- Make fundraising fun
- Step into your donor’s shoes
Make sure everyone understands the purpose is to develop and amplify a culture of philanthropy.
Step 2: Brainstorm and carry out some ideas.
Take 30 minutes to come up with a list of ideas. Get together with staff and board members, and select two ideas to tackle in the next 3-6 months.
Remember, these are not short term solutions, but rather long term strategies to help create a lasting culture of philanthropy at your organization.
Going Further with Major Gifts
There’s more details on how to create a culture of philanthropy at your organization, in my online course on Mastering Major Gifts. In the course, I emphasize how you can follow specific steps to create a culture of philanthropy with everyone from staff to volunteers.
Act, Comment and Participate
Now it’s your turn to share your progress with the Major Gifts Challenge. How do you create a culture of philanthropy at your organization? What has worked well and what hasn’t worked?
Share your success stories in the comments.