It’s been nearly a year since the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund released “Beyond Fundraising: What Does It Mean to Build a Culture of Philanthropy?” by Cynthia Gibson. Designed specifically as one of the follow-up responses to the “Underdeveloped” research report from 2013, this excellent and comprehensive report explores in useful detail how nonprofits have been attempting to address the important issues raised in the 2013 report.
Gibson reviews the forces that are driving the increasingly widespread shift to a culture of philanthropy (such as changes in the nonprofit ecosystem and the increased competition for resources,) and she articulates four distinct core components that comprise such a culture. They are 1) Shared Responsibility for Development, 2) Integration and Alignment with Mission, 3) A Focus on Fundraising as Engagement, and 4) Strong Donor Relationships. “Beyond Fundraising” is an outstanding report, and I highly recommend that if you haven’t already done so, check it out, download it, and immediately share it with as many colleagues as you can.
Gibson also provides a series of highly useful tools and guidelines for how any organization can jumpstart an effort to establish a culture of philanthropy. She poses some highly thought-provoking questions that can be used to create a framework for discussing these critical issues. Of those, two of my favorite are “How can we get the board to become champions of a culture of philanthropy,” and “Does everyone in the organization understand philanthropy’s role in advancing the organization’s mission and values and have opportunities to participate in development activities?”
The board’s role in creating the success conditions for a solid, sustainable fund development program is essential. They must both drive and model the values, attitude and commitment inherent in a culture of philanthropy. They play a critical role in serving as ambassadors for the organization in the community. In fact, I have often used the concept of “ambassador” as an easy entry-point for board members to discuss and ultimately embrace solid development practices. It is also essential that board members are provided with opportunities to learn about why and how philanthropy works. I feel that we do our board members a disservice when we focus fundraising training solely on the solicitation, rather than on the broader concept of resource development and donor engagement. They must be shown exactly how philanthropy makes the organization’s work possible in ways that both enable them to effectively communicate this to the community, as well as to make sound, information-based decisions that affect the resource development program itself.
“Beyond Fundraising” concludes with a discussion of the need for consistent and widely held indicators that can enable organizations to assess their progress toward establishing a true culture of philanthropy. Gibson acknowledged that many people she interviewed in preparing this report agreed that developing such indicators should be a top priority for the future. She helped to kick such an effort off by sharing suggestions of a wide range of potential powerful indicators. It is an excellent list and merits thoughtful review and consideration. I will highlight a few that are my favorites:
Selected Indicators from Cynthia Gibson’s “Beyond Fundraising:"
- Executive Director/CEO – The executive director’s expectation of development staff isn’t solely to raise more money, but to help build a better understanding of the role philanthropy plays in the organization.
- Staff – All staff – from the top to the bottom and regardless of position – see themselves as ambassadors for the organization and its philanthropic goals; they value the role of philanthropy, talk about its impact and are involved in fund development.
- Organization – There are many opportunities for staff, board, donors and others to learn and talk about philanthropy and its impact on the organization’s mission.
- Development Staff – The development director reports directly to the CEO, is a peer on the executive team, and attends and presents at board meetings.
- Board – The board is committed to and involved in fund development; they are ambassadors, not bystanders.
- Donors – The number of new, retained and upgraded donors improves each year.
- Internal Systems – The organization invests money in strengthening its development/fundraising infrastructure, including professional development, training and technology.
Are any of these in place at your organization? If so, what factors have led to their successful adoption? If not, what barriers are impeding progress? These issues should be discussed at the staff and board level on a routine basis. They are essential to an organization’s long-term viability.
If you are a funder, are you looking for these and other similar indicators when you assess a potential grantee? Are you being sufficiently engaged by the nonprofits you support? Have you communicated to these organizations your needs and expectations in ways that facilitate a true, thriving philanthropic partnership?
The communities and constituents served by nonprofits organizations are counting on the services, programs, advocacy and initiatives they undertake every day. Organizations – large and small – owe to them to make every effort to ensure that their work is sustained and supported. Only then can nonprofits feel the most confident that they are doing what they can to make a lasting impact.
It is never too late to start building a culture of philanthropy.