Signs Your Organization Has No Culture of Philanthropy

This post is Part I of a 2-Part Post.  Part 2 is here.

Lots of people want to lose weight. They’re really sincere. As evidence of their sincere interest in weight-loss, they join gyms and weight-loss programs, collectively spending millions of dollars each year.

The problem is they also don’t really want to permanently change the way they eat...or the amount they exercise.  

For some organizations, fundraising is much the same.

I’ve talked to and worked with many organizations that really, sincerely want to raise more money. They are definitely interested in having more funds.

The problem is that they also really, sincerely don’t want to make substantive changes to create the requisite Culture of Philanthropy.  They like, and are comfortable with, the status quo.

A Culture of Philanthropy, like a healthy diet, is a foundation for fundraising.  Creating a Culture of Philanthropy requires treating fundraising as an integral part of the organization’s fiber

Too many organizations want to treat fundraising as an add-on, like an extra appendage sewn onto the body. Imagine attaching a limb—say an arm—to the body, but not connecting it to the circulatory and nervous system and not re-wiring the brain to recognize the new arm.  How uselessly it would flop around!  Eventually, without blood, oxygen, and the protection of the nerve system, the limb would die.

For fundraising to work – that is, for fundraising to be done as sustained, donor-centric development, rather than as an episodic, short-term, organization-centered fundraising, fundraising requires changes with which many organizations are simply not comfortable.

If fundraising hasn’t been an integral part of the organization’s life from its beginning, it has to be skillfully grafted on in a way that wires it to the brain and connects it to the body’s major systems.

This is part 1 of a 2 part blog post about the ways that an organization reveals it isn’t any more serious about creating a culture of philanthropy than most people are about changing their eating habits for the rest of their lives starting with the board of directors:

1.       Your board members aren’t raising funds.  Worse.  Maybe they’re even raising funds for your competitors. I once worked with an organization whose board chair introduced me to people from around the country for a talk about their national fundraising event. In that introduction, he spoke about his fundraising efforts for a different national organization (a sort of “rival” or “competitor” in that organization's social sector’s space). I stood frozen at the front of the room not sure what to say or do because of how shocking and inappropriate his introduction was.

At another moment, on a conference call, this same Board President, told the Development Committee members that he didn't have time to participate in the national fundraiser because he was too busy raising funds for the other organization.  I kept thinking "Why is this man the Board President? He sets a terrible example" (as well as “When is this man going to quit shocking me into silence?” (Something that those who know me well, know isn’t easy to do). Fundraising has to involve all levels of the organization and an example has to be set by your organization's leaders.

2.       Your development office isn’t allowed to be involved in board recruitment and orientation. If board members aren’t properly briefed about their fundraising responsibilities from the very beginning, they won’t understand later why they are expected to fundraise later. (Don't expect your Executive Director can "properly brief" your board members about fundraising.  I've seen far too many Executive Directors really flub this. Involve the development office).

3.       Your development office doesn’t have regular, unfiltered access to board members.

4.   This is my personal favorite:  You have fundraising events that the development staff isn’t allowed to operate in ways that actually result in making money (“We’ll have this event, but we won’t charge anyone for the tickets!”). I once worked for an organization that had a huge carnival-like fundraiser every year. It didn’t net any money, but everyone who attended loved it. The board refused to kill the event because those who attended it loved it so much.  For years, the staff (not just the development staff, but all staff) hated this event because it took up months of time and didn’t actually make money. Yet, the board insisted it be done and stubbornly refused to listen to staff input about how the event be done.  There were things the development staff could have done to restructure the event so that it could make money, but change wasn’t allowed. It became a distracting, time-wasting "friendraising" of a fundraiser that took the development staff away from making progress away toward their goals. 

5.   The fundraising staff is constantly having to debate with board or staff members about whether or not you’re asking too often

If an organization says it would like to raise funds but isn’t ready to boldly, proudly, fearlessly, and frequently ask, they’re lying to you and to themselves about whether or not they really want to raise funds.

Or maybe they’re sincere in the same way many are sincere about dieting.  They really would like to raise more money.  They would like to; it would be nice to; if someone else made it magically happen it would be great, but if it really requires change, no thanks. The reality is they like things just fine the way they are.

In part 2 of this series, I write about 8 additional signs you can tell there isn’t a Culture of Philanthropy at your organization. Have you seen other indicators of a lack of a Culture ofPhilanthropy? Let me know! I’d love to hear your stories! Post them here in the comments below or email me at rebecca at davisnpc . com.

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