Everyone has heard the expression “Building a Culture of Philanthropy.” Before you sigh, roll your eyes and click away, take just a few seconds to think about what does it really mean to have a culture of philanthropy at your institution or organization? Do you have one? Does it matter if you don’t?

Too often the phrase comes off as cliché and outdated. The fundraising world has been changing – and continues to change – on a regular basis. What worked 10 years ago, doesn’t always work today. What worked just last year doesn’t necessarily work again! Between crowdfunding platforms, Facebook, Twitter, nontraditional donors, new social entrepreneurs and the ever-growing “need” in the non-profit sectors, keeping up with the latest and greatest ideas, trends or jargon can be dizzying (and often distracting).

What has not changed much at all, however, is the need for successful organizations to invest in strong, stable, sustainable fundraising programs. These types of programs do not happen overnight nor do they disappear overnight. Strong, sustainable programs develop and thrive primarily because of an internal culture that supports fundraising in all its aspects – its people, its programs, and its place of business. Much like a tree needs soil, water, and sunlight to take root and grow – successful fundraising requires that everyone within your organization collaborates in some fashion to support the efforts of fund development.

At its core, a culture of philanthropy can be defined as a set of practices that nurture and support fundraising at your organization. Included in that definition are often some basic, generally agreed upon, principles:

  • Everyone, no matter what their role, can act as an ambassador and engage in relationship building;
  • All stakeholders can articulate a case for giving;
  • Fundraising is viewed and valued as a mission-aligned program of the organization and systems are established to support donors;
  • The leadership of an organization or institution is committed to and personally involved in fundraising.

What happens when the focus of senior leadership is only on asking (raising the dollars) rather than on the nurturing or stewarding of your constituent relationships? Perhaps like a tree without enough sunlight or water, growth would slow and branches might fall off. When an entire community values the donors or prospective donors, the level of engagement and measurable outcomes are inevitably stronger, more sustainable and result in greater participation rates and/or greater philanthropy over time. Development staff come and go – sometimes quickly. Staff turnover on the front lines is still a big challenge in our industry. In an organization where there is an authentic culture of philanthropy from the bottom to the top – turnover in key front line positions is often minimized or mitigated entirely. Constituents might not even notice some transitions. And when turnover does occur – the fact that an organization and its entire staff offer wholehearted support to those that donate, as well as those that do the fundraising – will not only enable fund development to remain secure – but ultimately raise far more money than those organizations without a culture of philanthropy.