October 31, 2022

Never Fundraise Alone, How to Build A Culture of Philanthropy

Do you do the heavy lifting of raising individual donations alone? If so, you bear a heavy burden. Worse, the nonprofit you serve is probably missing out on a great deal of reoccurring revenue.

Your income strategy includes raising funds from individual donors. (See alternative nonprofit revenue options). So creating a culture of philanthropy is an excellent cultural choice because, with this culture, you generate long-term involvement, donor loyalty, enthusiasm for lofty causes, and, candidly, more contributions.

Why? Because a culture of philanthropy creates and sustains a structure to generate more relationships. More relationships mean more people talk about your mission and the opportunities you offer donors to change lives. And, if you’re fundraising alone, individuals to help you carry the load.

A Culture of Philanthropy: Just Another Example of Nonprofit Jargon?

Many nonprofits seek to create a culture of philanthropy. Lots of nonprofits claim they have a culture of philanthropy.

Many development staff use the words to mean that their development staff is donor-focused. Donor-focused development staffs are good, but they are not the same as creating a culture of philanthropy organization-wide.

Others like the phrase, culture of philanthropy. Yes, a philanthropic culture sounds nice. Most commonly, “culture of philanthropy” represents another example of nonprofit slang, like build a relationship, capacity building, give, get or get off, and triple bottom line.

Unfortunately, when nonprofits fail to figure out what people will actually do differently in a culture of philanthropy and how they will measure specific behaviors they want in their culture, achieving a philanthropic culture remains a wish. (One way to start your “dig” is to take these four quick culture of philanthropy quick tests to determine the extent of your philanthropic culture now.)

How to Build a Culture of Philanthropy

To help grow your culture of philanthropy– this post provides a high-level overview of how to construct a nonprofit culture of philanthropy. Ahead, discover six fundamentals.

1. What Does a Culture of Philanthropy Look Like? Future Evidence

Cultures are sets of behaviors and norms that run through groups. With this sentence, I am trying to explain something real but not easy to put into words. For instance, traveling on an airplane exposes you to various cultural expectations. Airplane norms include sitting compactly in your seat, grumbling once about how tight the seats are to your seatmate, and not yelling the Pledge of Allegiance out at the top of your lungs.

To create your culture of philanthropy, identify the outward signs you seek.

Here’s one list.

A culture of philanthropy exists when everyone involved in a nonprofit organization, including the board, staff, volunteers, donors, clients, and other supporters understand:

  • the importance of philanthropy,
  • how donors benefit by participating in the culture and philanthropy,
  • that everyone can be a donor, and
  • behaviors honor, celebrate, and encourage everyone to donate.

To learn more, watch this video to discover how cultures of philanthropy differ from traditional fundraising. 

How can you build your culture of philanthropy? Begin with how you will know it when you see it.

2. Why Are We Doing This Hard Thing? Impact of Contributions

In a culture of philanthropy, people (board, staff, and volunteers) associated with your organization know how you derive your income. They recognize why individual donations are critical. This knowledge generates energy and commitment to pull the oars together to change your culture to make it more philanthropic.

Even if your primary revenue streams are other sources (i.e., government funds or service fees), your leaders grasp the importance of donations. In this culture, supporters realize how philanthropy impacts your nonprofit and can provide resources when other sources dry up, as many nonprofits discovered during the pandemic.

How can you build your culture of philanthropy? Make sure your leaders, that is, everyone who hangs around your nonprofit, know why contributions are a priority. Ask them to cite specific events, programs, or incidents where philanthropic donations made a scalable difference in your work.

3. Why Would Donors Want to Give Up Their Money? Benefits of Donations

Besides understanding the impact of donations, in a culture of philanthropy your supporters understand how growing philanthropically, that is, developing, changes donors’ lives for the better. The benefits include:

  • greater empathy
  • more emotional intelligence
  • increased self-esteem
  • additional social connection
  • increased ability to step in other’s shoes
  • learning how change is made
  • greater sense of belonging
  • enhanced sense of personal power
  • the opportunity to be a role model to others, especially to young family members
  • greater happiness and
  • enjoyment. 

What’s going on inside us when we give? One study found that the brain is satisfied when you donate money. Understanding that donors benefit–tremendously by practicing their philanthropy lifts the burden of asking for money and encouraging philanthropy. 

No More Yuck

What do unethical car salespeople, unscrupulous telephone solicitors, dishonest roofers, and nonprofits with a culture of philanthropy have in common? Nothing.

In a culture of philanthropy, you delete two common yucks, the idea of begging for money and the fear of asking. Your supporters realize the value of invitations to get involved. Inviting people to donate offers an opportunity to grow their philanthropy and obtain the benefits of giving and moving with you toward your vision.  

Since nature abhors a vacuum in a culture of philanthropy, you replace the two common yucks with the fact that your nonprofit offers donors incredible returns on their investments. Everyone works to ensure this is true. In this culture, supporters understand they can invite others to change lives by being philanthropists. You offer your donors fantastic value, and they know it because you tell them and provide testimonials from other donors.

How can you build your culture of philanthropy? Teach that everyone around you is philanthropic and on a development journey. Invitations to give are opportunities to express your philanthropy on your journey. And, you would be remiss not to offer them.

In a culture of philanthropy, refrains about collective participation in philanthropy play in the minds of your supporters. Support of donations becomes part of everyone’s job description, volunteer or paid. Everyone gives, regardless of whether the gifts are five dollars or one million. On a deep level, you value collective participation.

To answer the question, who is in charge of getting individual donations? Everyone responds, “We all are.”

Who gives? “We all do.”

For more about this, read this free chapter of Let’s Raise Nonprofit Millions Together. For details about fundraising tasks everyone can do and those for specific roles, purchase your copy of the book here.

5. Donor Stewardship: Improving Donors’ Experiences

In a culture of philanthropy, nonprofits frequently step into and out of donors’ shoes. By this I mean, leaders shift their perspectives to discover opportunities to upgrade donors’ experiences. They ferret out ways to best serve donors and the nonprofit. In traditional philanthropy, most development efforts focus on the next (and the next after that) gift. It’s all about the nonprofit needs.

Being a donor in classic fundraising is a bit like going to the doctor and feeling like you are a means for them to access your health insurance reimbursement.

Making donors your heroes is akin to going to a doctor and having them listen to you and developing a laser-clear action plan for your health. Even though insurance reimbursement remains part of the interaction, it’s a mechanism to support the relationship–not the focus of the experience.

How can you build your culture of philanthropy? Spend more time in donors’ shoes. Options include shopping your organization, giving to other organizations, capturing donor feedback, imagining how it would feel to receive specific communications, and more.

6. Affirmation for Actions that Support Everyone’s Philanthropic Adventures  

In a culture of philanthropy, affirmation and rewards are for actions that support donations, regardless of initial success. Reward activities under your supporter’s control. A culture of philanthropy recognizes that much of the process of obtaining donations rest with donors and honors that control. Cultures of philanthropy are built for the long haul. And this long-term view is often tricky to maintain. An affirmation process helps make it sticky. 

How can you build your culture of philanthropy? Affirm supporters for staying the course of reaching out, suggesting ways to engage, and keeping doors open, even when the rewards fail to appear in the bottom line.

How Can You Build Your Culture of Philanthropy?

If you seek individual contributions, consider building a culture of philanthropy. This article listed several characteristics and mindsets commonly found in a culture of philanthropy. (Follow this link, to hear a podcast where Karen’s discusses more about Culture of Philanthropy.) Your nonprofit may need other attitudes or actions. Great. Use and adapt the above list. To build a culture of philanthropy, determine what behaviors you seek in your “culture of philanthropy” and how you will measure your success.

For more answers, explore Karen’s Nonprofit CEO Library.

And sign up for Karen’s CEO Solutions for answers delivered to your inbox two times a month.

Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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