A Culture of Philanthropy: 10 Tips to Ensure Your Organization Has One

Mahatma Gandhi said “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Nowhere is this clearer than in non-profit organizations. For a non-profit, in order to bring vision into reality, its staff, volunteers and donors, must take action first and lead by example, demonstrating their own commitment.

This commitment is the basis for a culture of philanthropy. It is the platform from which a non-profit can ask the rest of the world to join them in their efforts. In essence, it all begins inside.

So, how, exactly, can a culture of philanthropy be nurtured and take hold in an organization? Following are 10 time-tested tips:

1. Define a Culture of Philanthropy.

A formal definition of the term says it is a culture that synergistically motivates a giving response and investment from those who can relate the organization’s mission and worthiness. The word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek words philos meaning loving, and anthropus meaning human kind, combining to convey “love of humanity”. The word culture means simply a collection of an organization’s core values, beliefs and behavior norms. So, a culture of philanthropy promotes the love of mankind…caring for others.

A philanthropic culture says to the rest of the world “we exist to fulfill a gap or need that is significant to advance a cause that is critical – will you join us?

2. Understand the characteristics of a philanthropic culture.

Organizations that have embraced a philanthropic culture see philanthropy as an opportunity to advance their very worthy mission, and they’re excited about presenting this opportunity to the world. Following are characteristics to look for:

  • Everyone behaves as an ambassador, helping to identify new friends and partners.
  • The organization operates in a donor-centric fashion, making it easy and comfortable for donors and creating a dialogue.
  • Everyone can articulate a case for giving and describe how contributions are used.
  • Beneficiaries are viewed as the focus of the organization and invited to share their stories.
  • The leadership of the organization is visibly involved in leading fund raising efforts.
  • Board members are personally invested and contribute financially.

Ask yourself this important question: does fund raising permeate all levels of my organization? Successful fund development starts on the inside with the people who care most about the organization.

3. Educate the organization about their role in Development.

Ninety percent of the work that is done in Development is preparation, and only ten percent is actually asking. The truth is, no organization could ever hire enough development staff to adequately develop all the potential donors in the donor universe, and yield maximum fund raising results. Organizations need an army of people involved in that ninety percent work to ensure that asks will produce positive results. That is where the culture of philanthropy plays such a crucial role…it is where the army is built.

4. Give joyously!

Staff, volunteers and others closest to the organization must give first. And it should be a stretch gift. The idea here is to demonstrate that your organization merits philanthropic support. Challenge staff, volunteers and others to make your organization one of their top three philanthropic investments.

5. Share your stories.

Encourage supporters to speak from the heart and know the facts about why supporting your organization is an investment worth thoughtful consideration.

6. Connect others.

The Donor Development Cycle takes a donor from discovery to having a philanthropic profile. This is done primarily through conversations with the prospective donor about values, interests, and motivations. It’s done in exchanges that focus on the prospective donor and not on the organization and its objectives. Fund development requires everyone’s involvement. Relationship building takes a long time.

7. Show gratitude.

With frequent, authentic, personal acknowledgment!

8. Increase engagement to increase investment.

Our constituents are those closest to us…they are familiar with our mission…they may have heard our story. So, constituents make up the best of our universe of potential donors. But how do we move them from simply knowing us to supporting us?

The answer is this: the more we engage them, the more likely they are to make a gift.

9. Prepare your ambassadors.

Help staff, volunteers and donor advocates feel prepared for conversations by arming them with the case for support or “elevator speech” about your organization. If you have an annual report, it’s another excellent reference tool for discussions with prospective supporters.

10. Apply the rules of fund raising.

A review of the basic rules of fund raising is always helpful in guiding our work as fund raiders. Here are my favorite three go-to rules:

  • If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.
  • People give to people.
  • It’s easier to renew support than acquire new support.

As we’ve established, a strong culture of philanthropy will support an organization’s fund raising efforts becauseeveryone is involved in fund development.

In non-profit organizations, a philanthropic culture has an attitude that champions relationship building, which is the very essence and foundation of successful fund raising. In this culture, you’ll see an inclusive approach to fund raising that emanates from the heart of the organization and is embraced by every person in the organization. There is a clear understanding and respect for the way in which philanthropy helps an organization advance its mission.

Creating a culture of philanthropy begins with those closest to your organization, and it is truly the first step toward building a strong fund development program.

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