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Want to create a "culture of philanthropy" within your nonprofit? Really?

In the report Beyond Fundraising: What Does It Mean To Build A Culture Of Philanthropy? author Cindy Gibson interviews experts to help clarify the meaning of a “culture of philanthropy” and shares examples of nonprofits that have adopted the approach.

If your organization is considering adopting a culture of philanthropy, here are eight key questions, adapted from that report, to help guide you in the process.

1. Do we have staff leaders who believe in a culture of philanthropy?

Monona Yin, a program consultant who leads the Capacity Building Initiative at the Four Freedoms Fund, has observed that the most important factor in ensuring success in building a culture of philanthropy is having “some kind of leader or person with power in the organization who ‘gets it.’ You can’t just train people in this stuff; you have to make sure they have ongoing support. It’s a leadership issue.”

It’s especially important that the executive director is committed to this process because it’s impossible to build a strong culture without the executive leading it. According to the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund’s study UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, the director has to be “an instigator, a champion, and a role model to bring fundraising into the heart of the organization and keep it there.” Fundraising consultant Gail Perry agrees: “If it doesn’t come from the top, it may not be successful.”

2. How can we get the board to become champions of a culture of philanthropy?

Boards need to take responsibility for leading and modeling a culture of philanthropy in the organizations they govern. As Terry Axelrod, CEO of the consulting firm Benevon, notes, “You can have great development staff, but if the board doesn’t care about developing this kind of philanthropic culture, it will become staff-driven and, ultimately, not be as successful.” Ask board members what their philanthropic story is. Carve out part of every board meeting to talk about fundraising. Bring in people to help train board members in all aspects of development. Give board members the opportunity to interact with program staff and clients.

3. Beyond our board and staff leaders, do we have other champions in our organization who can model and monitor our progress in developing a culture of philanthropy?

Who are the influential people in the organization who are eager to move to a culture of philanthropy—including staff, volunteers, and donors? They can help bring others along because people will start believing in it when they actually see the new behavior at work and working.

4. Is our mission clear and easy to communicate?

It is good to have a clear mission that reflects shared values, and it is just as important that everyone in the organization can communicate it compellingly to potential donors and others involved in your work.

5. Does everyone in the organization understand philanthropy’s role in advancing the organization’s mission and values and have opportunities to participate in development activities?

Staff members need to be able to see how fundraising “fits” with the organization and how fundraising is essential and noble work. As more staff members understand that development enables the organization to sustain and strengthen its service to others, you should see greater cooperation toward reaching the goals.

It also helps to give staff members and volunteers a limited number of clear and simple things to do to help the development staff take the organization in this new direction. The more hands-on experience people have with these activities, the more they will see how important their participation is in helping the organization get the resources it needs.

6. Do we have a vision of what the organization would look like with a culture of philanthropy that everyone can get behind?

Because change is personal, it is important to address individuals’ natural desire to see what’s in it for them and how the shift will enhance the organization’s work. Use the mission and vision to remind people of where the organization is headed in its path toward a culture of philanthropy when interest or commitment seem to lag. Ask people to describe a culture that motivates its employees and volunteers, stimulates creativity and respect, and generates enthusiasm and collegiality.

7. How would we nurture and sustain this culture over time?

Culture transformation takes a long time, so it’s important to assess progress at regular intervals. What kind of process would help your organization evaluate its organizational culture, define desired changes, and make those changes? One core element, for example, is that fundraising efforts are donor-centric and focused on building deep relationships over time, not just asking for money when it’s needed. How can you build this mindset into all your fundraising efforts?

8. Can we develop policies, procedures, and measurable goals for making the plan concrete?

Codifying things in writing conveys that the organization is serious and intentional about changing, and it provides a more formal blueprint for staff and the board. Include creating a culture of philanthropy in performance measures. Reward and celebrate progress. And establish clear and measurable goals. For example, if none of the senior program staff give, a goal might be to achieve 100 percent giving by a specific date. Create the strategies and tactics you’ll use to achieve those goals. Invite everyone—staff, donors, board, volunteers—to participate, and make it the focus of a regularly scheduled meeting.

Adapted from Beyond Fundraising: What Does It Mean To Build A Culture Of Philanthropy? published by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.

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