This year, nonprofits are facing a host of challenges and opportunities they never could have anticipated. We have been hit by the COVID-19 crisis, an economic recession, and racial-equity issues in the US. This has dramaticallyimpacted how donors are thinking about where to give.
Many organizations in the health, human services, and civil rights sectors are seeing their donations spike. Some are grateful for this unprecedented support. Yet, many are unsure how to best collaborate with their colleagues to nurture their growing donor base.
At the same time, nonprofits in other areas are struggling. They want to retain their current donors and gain new ones so they can keep moving the needle on their cause. But in this challenging climate, it can be difficult to know how to collaborate with their co-workers.
Regardless of which camp your nonprofit is in, it’s never been more important to build a strong culture of philanthropy. In good times and bad, it keeps your work rooted in strong relationships and focused on financial sustainability. Read on to learn more about what a culture of philanthropy is, and how you can build it to help your organization succeed.
What is the culture of philanthropy?
An organization’s culture is its set of common values and behaviors. It’s easy to see because it’s evident in how your colleagues interact with each other. But sometimes it’s tricky to pin down how to improve it.
As your team members work together in service of your mission, does the word “philanthropy” get used a lot? Many nonprofits use philanthropy to name or describe their fundraising work and their donor partnerships. Yet the term isn’t widely understood.
Philanthropy means “love for humankind”. It comes from the Greek words “Philos” (loving) and “Anthropos” (humankind). And love for humankind is precisely where you should focus if you’d like to improve your culture.
After all, love for humankind gets to the heart of what matters most—caring for other people. Organizations with strong cultures of philanthropy show their love of humankind by embracing relationship-building. Both internally among colleagues and externally with donors. And quality relationships are the key to generating more support for your cause.
Why do you need to build a culture of philanthropy
A strong culture of philanthropy can help grow your organization’s fundraising. Focusing on relationship-building will encourage your colleagues to become more empathetic and responsive.
A person who listens well and communicates is more likely to have a large circle of friends. A nonprofit that understands its stakeholders’ needs and reaches out to them is more likely to have a large number of loyal donors.
As you consider the connection between philanthropy and fundraising, remember that fundraising is a noble pursuit. Your donors want to make the world better, but they can’t do it by themselves. By inviting them to support your work, you enable them to live out their most deeply held personal values. The marriage of their values with your mission is what makes your donor relationships important and meaningful.
Involving Your Organization
Your organization should imbibe the culture of philanthropy across all your employees and volunteer, as well as your executives, board members, finance managers, and program staff.
Collectively, your colleagues hold the stories, facts, and figures in their minds and on their hard drives. The donors need this information to be inspired to give. Unless that information is shared freely, it won’t reach those who are best-placed to help you expand your outreach.
Your colleagues are also the hands and feet that represent your mission to the public. Each one has a unique community of friends and family members—so they each have the unique power to help you retain key donors and welcome many others into your mission.
They have to view themselves as ambassadors of your work, demonstrating their love of humankind internally and externally. They should also recognize that by putting more focus on philanthropy, your organization will raise more money. And with more resources, they will be able to do their jobs more effectively and create a better world.
How to Build a Culture of Philanthropy
To create a culture of philanthropy, you have to infuse your love for humankind into your organizational language and operations.
1. Understand that fundraising is a noble pursuit
Your leaders need to share why fundraising is an imperative and noble pursuit with all employees. They should emphasize the vital role of donors in your mission. Also explaining how your organization helps them live out their values through giving. They should also highlight the power that each employee has to share your organization’s success. The impact with others, as this can help generate significant support for your work.
2. Understand the goals and progress
Your employees need to understand the work of fundraisers and others across your organization. Provide them with frequent fundraising updates so they understand your goals and progress in this crucial area. Hold cross-departmental meetings so various teams can share what they do and what they’re most excited to be learning.
Your employees also need the communication tools to share your mission outside the four walls of your building. This could include an elevator speech to customize and memorize. It could also include print and digital assets to share with their communities, whether in person or on social media.
Help each employee understand how they can contribute to fundraising within their unique roles. Develop shared goals between departments, particularly fundraising and other teams. Include fundraising responsibility in each employee’s job description.
Does your organization create employee working groups or committees to tackle special issues? If so, start a culture of philanthropy committee and invite one person from each team in your nonprofit to take part. After all, members understand the benefits of building a culture of philanthropy, ask them for ideas on how to bring about change. If your organization doesn’t create cross-functional teams, establishing a culture of philanthropy committee is an excellent first step toward making your culture more collaborative.
A thriving culture of philanthropy is critical to your nonprofit’s success. It doesn’t just boost your fundraising so you can keep the lights on but also enriches your interactions with colleagues. It shows your donors and partners that they are part of something that transcends their everyday lives. And it enables you to give hope to the populations you serve.
Allison Weber is passionate about helping mission-driven organizations tell better stories. Before launching Allison Weber Consulting, she spent nearly ten years helping nonprofit organizations. When she’s not working in the social impact sphere, you can find her chasing the sun, searching for the perfect cookie recipe, or enjoying a book from her ever-growing reading list.