There are some non-profits where fundraising seems like a constant drag… with staffers and board members always complaining about fundraising, and everyone tired of talking about development (even if the organization is raising enough money). These non-profits don’t have a strong culture of philanthropy.
At other non-profits, fundraising is a source of pride and excitement, where new donations are celebrated, people are happy to lend a helping hand to the development office, and where fundraising programs seem to hum along. These non-profits have a strong culture of philanthropy.
As you might imagine, organizations with a strong culture of philanthropy tend to raise more money, retain more donors, prevent staff and board burnout, and grow their fundraising each and every year. In this article, I’m going to show you how to build a culture like this at your non-profit.
What is a Culture of Philanthropy?
A culture of philanthropy is a non-profit culture that values and prioritizes fundraising. Non-profits that have such a culture in place offer the development staff the support and resources they need to succeed and recognize that fundraising enables the organization to do everything else that it does. Without fundraising, there is no money for programs, staff, overhead, or anything else.
The best fundraising organizations in the world don’t compartmentalize their fundraising… they see fundraising as integral to everything they do. The fund development staff interacts regularly with (and are seen as equals by) the program staff, and everyone works together to make sure both programs and fundraising succeed.
Why Does Building a Culture of Philanthropy Matter?
Building a true culture of philanthropy is the only way to build a strong and sustainable fundraising program that doesn’t lead to constant hassle, frustration, and stress. The truth is that in my experience, over half of all non-profits lack a culture of philanthropy. That’s why the average organization loses over 50% of its donors every year, and why the average Development Director at a non-profit will leave after just 18 months on the job.
The good news is that there are plenty of organizations that have figure it out… there are thousands of non-profits that have built a great fundraising culture and as a result, have improved their donor and staff retention rates and raised more money with less stress and frustration.
The truth is that building a strong culture of philanthropy doesn’t take lots of money, but it does take time and work. Changing the culture at your non-profit comes down to changing your organizational mindset – and change like that takes time and sustained effort.
How to Build a Strong Fundraising Culture at Your Organization
After working with thousands of non-profits, I’ve found that there are four changes that every organization needs to make if it wants to build a strong culture of philanthropy:
#1: See Fundraising as a Definite Good
At most non-profits, fundraising is seen as either a hassle, or something that needs to be done in order to get to the “good stuff,” which means programs. At these organizations, fundraising is viewed as a “necessary evil,” something that we hate doing but have to do if we want to keep our favorite programs afloat.
This is the exact wrong way to see fundraising. If your staff and board thinks of fund development as a necessary evil, you will never be able to build a culture of philanthropy at your organization. Instead, your non-profit needs to start celebrating fundraising. Your board, staff, volunteers, and donors should all understand just how important development is to your organization. Without fundraising, your programs wouldn’t even exist.
It all starts by changing your language (fundraising isn’t a hassle, it’s exciting… it’s an opportunity… it’s the most important thing you do!) You also need to prioritize fundraising. Don’t relegate development to the last 10 minutes of your board meeting or the final bullet point on your staff meeting agenda. Celebrate fundraising, and give it the pride of place that it deserves!
#2: Make Sure Your Community Understands that You Rely on Fundraising
In order to build a culture of philanthropy at your non-profit, you need to make sure that your entire community understands that you are a non-profit that relies on fundraising in order to survive. This is doubly true for schools, hospitals, performing arts organizations, and others that charge a fee (or sell tickets… or charge tuition…) in return for services.
Make sure that everyone knows that the tuition you charge or the tickets you sell to your performances don’t cover the cost of doing what you do. Don’t be embarrassed about the fact that you rely on fundraising… celebrate it and make sure that everyone knows it! Your organization does great work, and people should want to invest in that work.
Even if your non-profit doesn’t rely on fee-for-service as part of your revenue stream, many people only see the programs you provide, and never think through how they are funded. Be proud of relying on fundraising, and make sure that everyone who comes into contact with your non-profit (including those you serve) knows that you are a fundraising organization.
#3: Train Everyone to Be Fundraising Ambassadors
There are likely a lot of people who want to see your organization succeed, and would be willing to help with fundraising, but they just don’t know how. The best way for board members, staff members, volunteers, and other friends of your organization to support your development program is for them to become fundraising ambassadors for your non-profit.
Being a fundraising ambassador is simple: it means introducing your organization’s fundraising staff to as many people as possible who might be interested in supporting the non-profit’s work. It’s low-pressure and effective. If you want to build a strong culture of philanthropy at your organization, ask your supporters to be ambassadors, and then train them how to do so. Teach them what to say, how to connect their friends and colleagues with your staff, and how to think through everyone in their network who might be interested in your non-profit.
#4: Give Your Development Office the Resources it Needs to Succeed
The vast majority of non-profit fundraising programs are under-resourced. This means that they don’t have enough staff or a big enough budget in order to meet their goals and objectives. Some organizations tell me they want to raise $1 million per year but refuse to hire even one full-time fundraising staff member. Other organizations are trying to increase the amount they raise while at the same time penny-pinching on every single development program.
You certainly don’t want to waste money, but in order to build a strong culture of philanthropy at your non-profit, you need to make sure your development programs have the budget and staffing that they need to succeed. I know I may be biased, but I believe that if there’s one area at your non-profit where it’s actually okay to over-resource a department, it’s fundraising. Fund development is an investment, not an expense. If you want to raise more money, invest more resources in fundraising.
Build a Stronger Culture of Philanthropy this Year!
There’s never been a better time to build a strong culture of philanthropy at your non-profit. This year, start celebrating fundraising, resourcing your development program, training your team to be fundraising ambassadors, communicating the importance of fundraising to your entire network. Doing so will allow you to raise more money than ever before – and do it in a sustainable and scalable way.