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Creating a philanthropic culture, Part 1

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By Karla A. Williams

While all nonprofits are reasonably successful at generating philanthropic support, most are not raising what they could or need.

The determinant of extraordinary success is the presence, or absence, of a philanthropic culture.

If an organization feels entitled to people’s contributions simply because it does good work, donors will never have a meaningful partnership role or valued connection.

But if philanthropic contributions are stewarded as extraordinary resources, donors will be abundant in number and forever generous in their support.

Philanthropy is a complex spiritual and democratic ideology, which demands an organization’s strategic investment, education, involvement, and renewal.

Building a philanthropic culture requires an inclusive approach to fundraising that emanates from the center of an organization and is embraced by every person in the organization.

Fundraising is not the primary responsibility of development professionals; building a philanthropic culture is. The rest will follow.

Culture is the “substance” that causes people to bond with an organization. It dictates how people think and behave and is so influential that it defies contradiction.

Culture is the force and the spirit that brings internal values, attitudes, and beliefs into sync, giving an organization the power to connect with external constituents and to secure financial resources.

Culture can be an asset when healthy and a hindrance if it is dysfunctional.

Philanthropy is essentially the litmus test of the public’s concern for your organization’s mission and worthiness. A philanthropic culture is one that synergistically motivates a charitable response from all those who can relate.

The face of philanthropy is diverse and democratic, not the exclusive purview of those with wealth.

Donors are regular folks — you, me, and the person next door — doing what is right for us in partnership with others.

In a philanthropic culture, everyone shares the responsibility for creating it, sustaining it, and celebrating it.

Fundraising is not relegated to the development office; philanthropy is an organization-wide value.

The development program is as important as every other program because it is a “client service” to the donor public, and as such, it is fully funded.

Characteristics of a philanthropic culture include:

* Everyone has some contact with donors.

* Board members participate in fundraising, but not all in the same way.

* The CEO is the primary advocate for donor-focused philanthropy.

* Every major decision asks: “What would our donors think?”

* Donors are sought for their expertise and input, not just their money.

* Emphasis is placed on retaining donors, rather than acquiring new ones.

* Funding reports are sent to all donors, a few months after the gift.

* Donors are thanked immediately and personally – never with a stock letter.

* Every campaign is led by a volunteer from the same constituent group.

* Personalization replaces boiler plate communications; gone is “indirect” mail.

Other article in series:

Part 2: With the right commitment, you can give your organization its most important legacy.


Karla Williams is principal of The Williams Group in Charlotte, N.C.

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