Building a Culture of Philanthropy; A Six-Part Series: #5—It Takes a Village

If you have been reading this series, you’ll understand that building a culture of philanthropy is really hard work.  No doubt about it.  But, if your organization wants to survive over the next decade, it’s absolutely necessary.

So far, I’ve talked about the role of donors, leadership and the importance of telling your story.  Now I want to focus on your staff and all those connected to your organization.

In order to build a positive philanthropic culture you need to have everyone “on the bus” with you.  This is not just about leaders.  It means everyone, including:

  • Development Staff
  • Board and Committee Members
  • Program Staff
  • Support Staff
  • and  Donors.  Don’t forget them!

Richard and I inevitably run into this conversation when we meet with clients: “Those people in program want nothing to do with fundraising.  They think all we care about is money.  They are constantly complaining about how we talk about “their” work.”

Then when we go talk to program folks, this is what we hear: “Those people in development have no clue what we do.  They never come around unless they want to show us off to a donor.  It really bugs us.”

Does any of that sound familiar?  Folks, this kind of thing has to stop.  If your organization has a true culture of philanthropy, all will need to sit together at the development table.  We need everyone to have a clear understanding of the importance our donors play in the mission.

Conversely, all of you in development need to understand program…feel it, taste it and live it to appreciate it on a regular basis.  You have to know what you’re asking donors to support.

Let’s also talk about support staff.  Many times these folks are forgotten.  Yet the impression they make on donors is incredibly important.

Do your front desk people know how to speak with a donor who walks through the door?  Do they really understand why they need to help hand-address envelopes to donors?  That may sound trivial, but it’s not.  I’ve been in situations where support staff get all “up in arms” when they are asked to help with certain tasks that involve donors.

That tells me that the organization has actually done these people a disservice by not communicating the importance of fundraising and the role of the donor.  The attitude you want from all staff is one of service to donors and those you serve on the front lines.

Here are some concrete ideas to build a culture of philanthropy with your staff:

  1. When you hire a new staff person you need to have an extensive discussion on the role donors and philanthropy play in your organization.  Actually, in most cases that discussion needs to happen in the interview process.  You do not want to hire someone who is uncomfortable with donors.
  2. Codify, in your employee handbook, how you work with donors and what the role of fundraising is in your organization.  Things like…
      1. Thanking donors properly—why this is important
      2. Taking all staff to see and experience the need you are addressing
      3. Understanding the role of staff at events
      4. What the board does – how it’s crucial to the health of the organization
  3. Invite donors to some of your staff meetings to hear a new perspective.
  4. Invite donors to a planning meeting.  They will have a lot to add.
  5. Take program staff on donor visits and solicitations.  Use the great expertise of your program folks to “sell” the donors on a project.   Richard and I have seen this done very effectively and it does two things: 1) It’s sells the project and 2) It creates trust between development and program.
  6. At staff meetings tell donor stories.  We do a great job with telling stories about our programs, but we often overlook the stories of our donors.  Tell them.
  7. Invite donors to your organization’s celebrations.  The more opportunities you provide for staff, board and donors to share, the more appreciation there is for each other.

These are some concrete ways to create a thriving culture of philanthropy at your organization with your staff.  As I said earlier, you literally have no choice but to create this type of atmosphere or YOU WILL NOT be around in ten years.

You can make this happen.



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 Development Directors, Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Non-Profits, Philanthopy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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