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By David Drake
Lots of people at nonprofit organizations talk about a culture of philanthropy, but what is it, really? I’ve worked in some places that have a great culture of philanthropy and others that have a terrible one. Here are few things in my experience that make a great culture of philanthropy.
It starts at the top. No way about it, there will never be a strong culture of philanthropy unless the board president strongly supports fundraising – in word and deed. A board president who is reluctant to insist that every member give, that board recruitment consider fundraising ability and capacity, and respects the advice of development professionals, will never get very far. The chief development officer mustattend all board meetings and be included in any strategic planning processes that the board conducts.
The Development Director should have a place on every board meeting agenda – in tandem with the Development Committee chair – to provide updates on successes and ask for help when needed.
The board development committee must clearly communicate to all potential board members exactly what the expectations are surrounding fundraising. If the organization has a minimum board “give or get” (which I don’t recommend), that needs to be spelled out. The committee also needs to understand that it is perfectly ok to have people on the board who have lots of money and are generous, even if they are not as involved in the board’s activities as you may like. Ideally, the development director, along with the Executive Director, attend board development meetings and are encouraged to submit names.
The Executive Director understands it is her job too. Any Executive Director who thinks that the job of raising money can be delegated entirely to the Director of Development will not have a positive culture of philanthropy. The Director of Development needs to be involved in the annual budget process. Telling the development director, “Here’s your number for the year, go out and raise it,” is not serious about developing a positive culture of philanthropy. There are two parts of developing an annual budget – what the organization needs and what the community will support. The development director needs to have input in the latter. Executive directors need to be willing to pick up the phone and call donors or meet with them and be enthusiastic about it. Executive directors should expect to spend at least 1/3 of his or her time on fundraising activities. In the best case scenario, the executive director and development director work in close partnership moving prospects along.
There is adequate budget to do the job. I spoke with one fundraiser who said that her (now former) organization would only send mail appeals to 500 people a year. This was for a major cultural institution that had thousands of names in its database. Why only 500 letters? That was all that they budgeted for. It wasn’t based upon results at all. Organizations that expect 10 percent or more growth in fundraising every year while keeping the budget flat aren’t serious about building a culture of philanthropy.
There is a connection between the organization’s need and its fundraising goals. I worked at one organization that raised money for programs that didn’t need it. This ethically questionable practice was driven by the need to “hit” an arbitrary number. What the money was raised for didn’t matter.
The Finance Department gets it. Fundraisers and accountants look at numbers differently. Yes, 2+2 always equals 4, but how fundraising results are counted and reported to donors may need to be different than what the auditors require. As long as the methods are honest and rational, there should be no problem with this. Finance and fundraising also need to work together closely to provide budget information for grants and to provide clear explanations to donors about the organization’s finances. A finance department that doesn’t cooperate with fundraisers can have a series negative impact.
HR Policies are flexible. Fundraising is not a 9 to 5 job. There are weekends, late nights and lots of stress, especially at event time or year-end. Any organization that will dock leave when the development staff come in at 10 a.m. when they were working until 10 the night before does not have a culture of philanthropy. I once worked for an organization that closed between Christmas and New Year’s. This was in the days before email or cell phones, and there was no way that development staff could respond to year-end gift questions or keep up with the heavy volume of gifts that needed to be processed and deposited. I always wondered how many gifts were lost because of that.
Program staff understand why the organization raises money. The organization with the strongest culture of philanthropy I worked at took time at least once a year to give a presentation to the staff about fundraising. Staff were walked through the organization’s budget and saw where fundraising fit in and how the organization would be positively or negatively impacted based upon fundraising results. This explanation went a long way in building cooperation and trust when development staff needed help from the program staff or a special event disrupted program activities.
Development staff share the responsibility. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum with development staff – some who apologize for raising money and others who throw their weight around when they don’t get their way “because I keep this place afloat.” Neither attitude is helpful. Nor is the attitude that program are not people but a means to an end. For an organization to have a true culture of philanthropy, fundraisers must be respectful of everyone in the organization, regardless of their level, and to take a genuine interest in the organization and its work. If fundraisers are just in it to hit their numbers, they should go sell timeshares.