need 2014-Sep29

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 hope that this series will help you as you seek change in your nonprofit organization. Its one thing to write about creating a culture of philanthropy; it’s another to actually put it into practice and make it happen.
Before I get to the last part of our conversation, let’s recap the other five steps to creating a radical culture of philanthropy:

  1. Getting Your Head and Heart Right — Before you can make any significant change in your organization and serve your major donors (in fact, all of your donors) you have to examine whether you have the passion to do this work.
  2. Donors are Your Mission, TooMajor donors don’t just to allow you to “do” your mission, they are your mission, too. This is a radical concept that, when put into practice, changes the way your entire organization runs.
  3. Leadership Must Be on BoardWithout leadership embracing a culture of philanthropy, it will be extremely difficult for the organization to make it work. It’s not impossible, but it’s nearly impossible. However, that should not stop the staff from making change. Sometimes it takes a bottom-up approach to make leaders change.
  4. Telling Your StoryEveryone in the organization must be able to tell the organization’s story. No exceptions. Your story is emotional. Major donors give through their emotions, so the story has to be told and understood by all in the organization.
  5. Get Everyone InvolvedAs we mentioned in our definition of a culture of philanthropy, everyone from the janitor to the CEO has to embrace the culture and live it out within the organization.

Step #6: Expressing the Need

If your organization truly wants to have a culture of philanthropy, then staff will be bold and non-apologetic as they speak with conviction to major donors and stakeholders about the need you are trying to alleviate.
Richard and I have witnessed too many non-profits whose staff, for one reason or another, have a very difficult time talking to major donors about the needs addressed by a project or program. It’s almost like these folks are embarrassed or ashamed to express the need outside the organization. This is not donor-centered, and it certainly is not seeing the donors as your mission. Frankly, if you cannot talk about the need, then you are not honoring your donors. Here are some thoughts around how to better express the need to your donors.

  1. Be able to describe the need in emotional and human terms — Don’t sugarcoat the need. Major donors want to know the truth, and the truth can be messy and difficult to express. But if you want donors to really respond, they have to know the real stuff.
  2. Know the facts about the need — Do your homework. Along with the emotion of the need, major donors want to know the facts, statistics and the long-term financial implications.
  3. Identify the causes of the need — Why do we have this need? You must be able to give your donors context about why the need exists.
  4. State what will happen if the need is not met — It’s not a threat; it only honors your donors to help them understand the negative consequences that will arise if the need is not met. Sometimes, you don’t need just the ability to talk about it, but you can actually show a donor what some of those consequences look like in real life (see our free White Paper on this subject).

The above is absolutely critical to honor your donors and to view them as mission. But if you find yourself hesitant to talk about need to your major donors, you should ask yourself a few questions: Do you not know the facts surrounding the need? Is it emotionally too difficult to be close to the need? Are you allowing the PC police to govern how you talk about it? Do you not think a difference can be made?
These are important questions. You have to get this right – your donors deserve it.
I encourage you to be a change agent in your organization, to move it toward a culture of philanthropy. You can be the difference in helping your organization thrive. Too much is at stake not to embrace your major donors as your mission.
Series details:

  1. Getting Your Head and Heart Right
  2. Donors are your Mission
  3. Leadership Must Be On Board
  4. Telling Your Story
  5. Get Everyone Involved
  6. Expressing the Need

Also, see our free White Paper: Building a Culture of Philanthropy