Building a Culture of Philanthropy; A Six-Part Series: #4—Telling Your Story

Do you know your organization’s story?  Do you know how it began and why it exists?   Have you ever considered why people support your organization?

When I ask these questions of staff at non-profits I’m amazed at how many can’t answer them.  I’m not blaming them for not knowing.  This is endemic in non-profits everywhere.

If your organization desires a true culture of philanthropy, your story must be known by everyone.  It’s your story that brings you together as a team around a common mission.  It’s why you exist.  Telling that story on a regular basis is critical for your staff, board and donors.  It keeps you focused on who you are and prevents you from straying off course.

So, what is telling your story all about?  Quite simply, it’s the collective acts that bring together all constituents: staff, board, donors, volunteers and community around a shared mission.  You tell your story in many different ways; in written form in all of your communications, in presentations to donors, in the way your organization treats its staff and those you serve.  The story is about who you are and what you are doing to make the world a better place.

I think Gary M. Cole says it very well in his article “Rethinking a Culture of Philanthropy-Key Concepts to Assess an Organization’s Culture.  He writes,

“Purposeful and authentic storytelling is vital in any organization, but it is increasingly necessary in philanthropic organizations seeking to engage external support in order to advance the organizational mission. Consensus building, a shared vision, and inclusion in the process are required by both internal and external constituents.Unfortunately, stories are far too often more monologue than dialogue. Gaining ownership of and commitment to the organization’s vision becomes much more difficult when leaders develop a vision for the organization without first soliciting feedback from all key stakeholders. Key stakeholders who are critical to the success of the vision are then relegated to the role of spectator rather than an engaged, respected, and active participant.

This practice creates both a disincentive for staff to offer feedback and a diminished desire to engage in the success of the organization with any degree of passion or enthusiasm. As a result, staff simply waits for further instructions before proceeding with any tactical assignment. The result for the organization is a less creative, less autonomous, and less committed staff.

The same concept holds true outside of the walls of the organization. Storytelling must be about meaningful, authentic, two-way conversations when engaging volunteers, advocates, and those willing to make philanthropic investment in the mission. We must spend more time being interested instead of simply trying to be interesting. Our stories must have a goal. They must be memorable and they must be actionable.”

The key here is the role leadership must play in creating a dialogue with staff, board, volunteers and donors.  This is not just about talking to, but hearing from.

Here are six practical ways to “tell your story.”

  1. Spend quality time getting your story right.  Make sure it’s written well, that it can be told by leaders with passion and conviction, and that it stirs the heart.
  2. Place your mission, vision and values prominently in the foyer of your office space.  That way anyone walking into your office knows what you are about.
  3. Create an “our story” piece that goes into your employee handbook, your board orientation folder and a place on your website.
  4. Every staff and board meeting should start with a “your story segment.”  This reiterates over and over again your mission, vision and values as an organization and WHY you exist.
  5. Create, “engagement” events and touchpoints for donors and volunteers to hear “your story” and invite involvement and dialogue.
  6. Tell your story over and over, to everyone that will engage with you, lest anyone forget.  Tell it in meetings, in the elevator, at galas, on face-to-face donor visits, to your significant others…this is important.

Hey, building a culture of philanthropy is not easy.  But it’s critical if you desire an organization that thrives and is effective for addressing the need and engaging your donors. Telling your story is one of the building blocks.

Put your hard hat on and get to work!



About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Major Gifts, Mission, Non-Profits, Philanthopy, Storytelling and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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