Almost every good business book over the last two decades has at least one chapter devoted to company culture. And building a company culture generally includes getting staff buy-in for the overall vision of the company. Makes complete sense, right? Everyone needs to be moving in the same direction together as one team to create a great company.

So, why is this so difficult for non-profits?

I mean, we talk a good game. Spend any time on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) and every non-profit development team and the consultants that serve them will be talking about their donor-centered approach, how they have a culture of philanthropy, and how everyone understands the role of the donor in their non-profit.

But in reality, Richard and I find this is not the case. Non-profit leaders are still asking major gift officers to increase their revenue by a set percentage of growth; development is still sending generic marketing and fundraising communication pieces out to major donors; there is no system to report on impact; it takes weeks to send out a thank you letter; and the board often doesn’t represent the community that the non-profit is serving.

These are just a few things we see that shows us a non-profit doesn’t have a culture of philanthropy. But the main issue I want to focus on is how non-profits fail to create a culture of philanthropy because they are not inviting the entire organization to help create that culture. In other words, not everyone is on the bus and it’s creating a bad culture that’s ruining your organization.

I think you can agree that if everyone at your organization isn’t committed to the same goal and vision, you’re not going to have a culture of philanthropy at your organization. So, how do you get there?

  1. Take the time to educate your entire organization about the role of the donor in your organization. Take them through the entire lifecycle of a donor from acquisition to a planned gift. Show the staff the ROI of each stage of the pipeline so they understand how this works. Help them understand that donors want to know the impact of their gifts. Most folks outside of development don’t know any of this. They’re left in the dark and consider fundraising to be a necessary evil. Just getting everyone in your staff to understand this basic stuff will be an awakening for them.
  2. Bring in donors to talk about why they support your organization. For most staff who don’t work in development, this will be an eye opener and it can be highly emotional. Hearing from the donor will create empathy, which can be turned into understanding and, ultimately, action when you need help from non-development staff to do your work.
  3. Celebrate gifts with everyone. Most non-profit staff never know when a big gift comes in or when a particular donor strategy worked. (Sometimes that’s the case even within the development department itself!) If you want to create a culture where all staff understand the role of the donor, you must communicate about awesome gifts. And tell donor stories!
  4. Leave room for communication. Make sure everyone has a voice in the process and act on what the team shares as you work to shift the culture.

Also, understand that culture change doesn’t happen overnight. Just like developing a major gift program, you won’t see results immediately. Know that non-profit staff are skeptical of fundraising, and they don’t get it. I mean, how much do you know about what finance does?

By showing compassion and implementing change over time, you will gain the trust of your staff. Just don’t be discouraged when you don’t see change happen right away. It will come, but you must keep working at it every day. And when you do, the results will be astounding.