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.

Just to recap so far: In this series, we have talked about how YOU need to be passionate about major gift fundraising, and that your organization has to make donors their mission as much as what you do to change the world.
If your donors are your mission, then Richard and I believe that your leadership (the executive team and board of directors) has to embrace it and show the whole team that they’re on board.

Leadership Must Be On Board

I have to be honest with you – in a majority of the non-profits we work with, we find that leadership is usually the barrier to creating a radical culture of philanthropy. Usually the executive team and board are so consumed with the running or the governance of the organization that they have lost sight of who fuels it: the donor.
Fortunately, we have witnessed courageous folks on the front lines of non-profits who are so passionate about donors that they make change happen from the bottom up. And we have seen some leaders in those situations embrace that change, see its value and start leading – but it doesn’t happen often.
However, we have seen a few rare occasions where the leadership has embraced a culture of philanthropy, and it’s a beautiful thing to witness. When you walk into a non-profit where leadership actually leads on building a culture of philanthropy, you can feel a palpable difference in the energy of the organization.
Over the many years we have been fortunate to work with non-profits, this is what we’ve seen great “leading” look like:

  1. Leadership is passionate about philanthropy and donors. Leaders know donors. They are actively cultivating and nurturing relationships. These leaders invest in fundraising, and especially in major gifts. They understand that cultivating a relationship with a donor takes time. Leaders do everything they can to reach out to others and invite them to support the organization.
  2. Leadership welcomes asking for support. Both the executive team and the board of directors actively give and get others to financially support the organization. They are not only trying to make sure the non-profit is running correctly; they look at themselves as true ambassadors of the mission. Leaders like this are constantly talking about what their organization does and why it’s so important to support it. Have you met either an executive director or board member who was so enthusiastic about their cause you couldn’t help but want to pull out your checkbook?
  3. The executive team reaches out to donors. They see the value in actively engaging donors in the problems and concerns of the non-profit because they know that as stakeholders they want to be part of the solution. Leaders who embrace a culture of philanthropy are open and honest about the good and the bad with donors. They don’t hide things.
  4. The entire Board of Directors gives financially to the organization. Good leadership also provides gentle peer pressure to all members of the board to give financially. But more importantly, a good board has this written in their handbook before anyone even becomes a board member. There is a training session for all new board members on the importance of philanthropy and how donors are part of the mission of the organization. The board is the development team’s greatest cheerleader, and they actively reach out to help promote the organization.
  5. When looking for a new leader, the job description of that position stresses that half of their time will be devoted to donors and philanthropy. Great organizations that have a culture of philanthropy will not hire anyone who doesn’t embrace or feel comfortable with reaching out to donors and asking for support. The board influences the executive team in this way, and the executive team builds a board with people who embrace it. They go hand-in-glove.

I’m telling you that an organization that runs like this not only has great donor support, but is also run incredibly efficiently and with true impact. Donors are drawn to it not only because of what the non-profit does, but because of how it invites them to be part of it and tells them repeatedly how they are making a difference.
Organizations where leadership leads in creating a culture of philanthropy will be the non-profits of the future that will thrive and grow. Will yours be one of them?
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