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Creating a philanthropic culture, Part 2

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By Karla A. Williams

The idea of creating a philanthropic culture is to promote philanthropy as a donor-focused activity and to shift thinking from quantitative statistical outcomes, such as how many donors and how much money, to qualitative relationship outcomes, such as donor-duration and donor-designation.

How long will it take to build a philanthropic culture?

It may take two to six years to shape a culture, if all goes well.

Culture can be altered if a handful of people are committed to it and enough time and energy is expended to achieve it.

Imagine that your eventual measure of success is donor satisfaction, not the amount of money you raised. A change of this magnitude takes engagement, education, experience, patience – and a sophisticated “change process.”

You don’t need to wait a minute; you can begin at once by doing the following:

* Understand and teach the differences between charitable and philanthropic fundraising methods – every chance you get.

* Involve others in defining the exact role of philanthropy for your organization and put maximum resources behind it – take nothing less.

* Utilize external market assessments and strategic planning, and write your Plan of Action – put everybody’s name on it.

* Meet donors’ needs and interests by soliciting only donor designated gifts – and refuse to accept gifts that are NOT intentional.

* Ensure that all communications focus on how the mission is accomplished, not how much it cost: Use mini-cases to keep the mission alive.

* Take your development expertise into the community and help build a community-wide philanthropic culture: Give away everything you know.

What is the result of a philanthropic culture?

Not only is there a sense of pride in fundraising within a philanthropic culture, but everyone’s preeminent objective is a “culture of caring”; no apologies are needed.

People will give naturally, wisely, and generously.  There are higher fundraising goals, greater programmatic achievements, more community outreach, and more philanthropists of all levels and kinds.  There is self-actualization of the highest order.

The impact of a philanthropic culture goes beyond your organization’s walls, too.

Your donors become better donors elsewhere; your employees volunteer more elsewhere; your board members take what they have learned to other worthy charities; your volunteers are better equipped to improve their corner of the world.

Like a pebble in the pond, the ripples go on and on.

You also have something to lose by not building a stronger philanthropic culture.

Board members will say they care but won’t raise money; program staff will say they value what you do, but won’t give you leads; CEOs will demand more money be raised, but won’t visit donors; and your development department budget will have aggressive revenue goals but meager expense ratios.

You will be the only one raising money.

Building a philanthropic culture is the most important legacy you can give your organization and your community.

Money can’t buy this, and you really don’t have anything to lose.

Other story in series:

Part 1: Extraordinary stewardship can spell success in generating support.


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

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