A Culture of Philanthropy
From your CEO down to the janitor,
your non-profit embraces your donors as central to your mission,
as central as your organization’s programs to change the world.
I put our definition of a culture of philanthropy right at the beginning to remind you of our radical approach to your non-profit’s donors (major and all donors) and their relationship to you.
Part one had to do with you. Essentially, I asked whether you have the passion to do this amazing work. This means, do you have a love for major donors and understand they have the ability to transform your organization and be transformed in the process? I also asked if you believe you can help bring about this culture of philanthropy.
I want to be clear. I do believe you have the ability to help make change happen. You may not be able to move your mountain of an organization, but you have the ability to change your own attitude and situation, which has the potential to change the organization. I’ve seen amazing organizational change happen from people who are the least likely.
Donors Are Your Mission
Richard and I are aware that this is a radical concept. But it’s a concept whose time has come. Organizations that view donors as just a means to an end will not flourish and grow. In fact, they may become extinct in the next decade, if they don’t see donors as an equal part of their mission as what they do to change the world.
If you have worked with major donors for any length of time, you should be well aware of what happens to your donors when they make a gift. It makes them happy. It helps them feel they are helping to change the world. It transforms them.
That is powerful stuff. Unfortunately, the non-profit world hasn’t grasped this quite yet. If we did, we would change the way we relate to donors. We would make them our mission. If we made donors our mission, we would radically change the entire way we communicate our policies, how we spend our resources and how we report back the impact we are making.
Here is what it would look like if you made donors your mission.
- Your mission statement (yep, dig it out of that file under your desk), would actually include a mention of donors. To date, Richard and I have not seen a non-profit mission statement that says anything about donors. I would love someone to show us one.
- Your focus would be on impact, rather than Impact is what donors care about. Ratios is what watchdogs care about. Just a warning: if you make donors your mission, your overhead is going to go up. But your impact is going to increase too, because you will be accountable to donors, not watchdog groups.
- Half of your time, resources and energy as an organization is devoted to donors. Yes, this is a radical statement. But if you truly report on impact, provide great customer service and give the donor an amazing experience as they deepen their relationship with you, it will take time and money.
- Donors will have a seat at the table. Making donors your mission means allowing them to have input on what you do and how you do it. That’s really scary to some of you! But think about the impact this would have on your organization, to have donors who are really engaged with what you do to change the world.
- Everyone in your organization would have relationships with donors. This would no longer be exclusively the CEO, Development Director or MGOs. It would mean program people, finance, and the front desk person too. All people in your organization would know that donors are just as important as what they do every day.
- Donors would be celebrated in your organization. Just as you celebrate certain milestones or accomplishments in your organization, so too would you celebrate donors in a myriad of ways to show the donor how central they are to your mission – and to show employees this as well.
- You will boldly ask for your donors’ support. If donors are your mission, then asking them to fund what you do is expected. In this type of culture, your donors will be overwhelmingly supportive of your efforts to make a difference in the world.
Understanding that your donors are your mission puts YOU in a special place. You as the MGO are put in the unique position to be that bridge between your donors’ greatest desires and needs to change the world, and the need your organization is trying to alleviate.
That is an awesome responsibility, and one that can only be fully expressed if your donor is your mission. Not just your mission, but also the mission of everyone in your organization.
Make donors the mission of your organization.
- Getting Your Head and Heart Right
- Donors are your Mission
- Leadership Must Be On Board
- Telling Your Story
- Get Everyone Involved
- Expressing the Need
Also, see our free White Paper: Building a Culture of Philanthropy
Love your work, and to be the exception that proves your rule, here is our mission statement:
“By bringing caring people and charitable endeavors together, we make donor dreams shine for the good of our community.”
Brenda Rigdon, CFRE
That is awesome, Brenda!!
In 1995, the mission organization of the Mennonite Church went through a transformation of people and structure to change our mission from doing mission “for” our donors to doign mission “with” our donors. That has kept us strong through a denominational merger and subsequent power struggle. Our current vision is that “every congregation and all parts of the church will be fully engaged in God’s mission, from across the street to around the world.”
I would just note that it continues to be a struggle to keep that kind of focus. As professionals, we staff members always think we should go do things and that people will send us money because we are doing such a good job. Keeping constituents engaged is really a whole organization task and can’t be done just by the advancement staff.
Thanks for your good words. I’m still mulling over the half your time, resources and energy piece. I’m not sure how I would explain that annual report to our constituent partners.
Mennonite Mission Network
This blog is helpful.