Real and Lasting Good: A Culture of Philanthropy in Sustainability Planning

The numbers are in.

I know that you know:  Giving USA data was released this week. Researchers predict it will take at least five more years to raise as much as before the recession. When we look at imagesgiving over time, we see that bad economies can wreak havoc on our not-for-profits. Some die. Some cut services. Slashed government support doesn’t return at the same levels. How should NGOs protect themselves from the vagaries of the economy? How can YOU do better than the numbers predict over the coming six years?

Create a culture of philanthropy at your organization.

This isn’t pie in the sky stuff. It is powerful, successful, and sustainable.

First, let’s define our terms: a culture of philanthropy exists when everyone — your staff, your board, mission staff members like physicians, program leaders, faculty members, the CEO and other members of the c-suite – understands, believes in, embraces and acts on his or her roles and responsibilities in philanthropy in an investor-focused and co-ownership manner.

It starts at the top. Your CEO must be the first to get it. Philanthropy is a crucial component of the organization’s resource engine and therefore is everyone’s responsibility. Believe it. Embrace it. Act on it.

Co-ownership is the key. According to Cowan Global Consulting describes five levels of working partnerships starting at co-existing and moving past collaboration to the point five-degress-of-partnership-workingwhere everyone has stake, a share. Working with the fundraising team is an embraced responsibility, not a favor or something ones does when there is time.

That requires the CEO modeling the desired behaviors, celebrating successes, defining metrics, holding folks accountable and stewarding and rewarding outcomes.  Give yourself three years to achieve a true culture: 100% inspired, joyful, and generous giving from all staff, volunteers and board members;  everyone actively helping identify, engage, and steward donors and potential donors; everyone able to participate with adequate skills and understanding. Along the way, however, you will reap many benefits, starting in year one.

Here are seven steps to help you achieve a culture of philanthropy!

  1. Begin with a clear, compelling, aspirational and urgent organizational vision undergirded by shared, stated values. The mission and vision are the reasons the organization desires a culture of philanthropy. A driving institutional vision provides the urgency for change.
  2. Change requires a vision as well. Imagining the organization once it achieves the culture of philanthropy paints a picture all constituencies can embrace. What will everyone do differently with what results? Change is personal. The change vision must speak to what’s in it for the individuals who need to change. Get the word out. Spread the vision often and throughout the institution.
  3. Start with champions and modeling behavior. John Kotter, leadership guru, calls these champions a “guiding coalition.” Who are those influential people who already understand, embrace, believe in, and act on his or her roles in philanthropy and stewardship? We need them to help bring along the others. According to change expert, Jeanie Daniel Duck, “People believe because they actually see the new behavior at work and working.”
  4. Wow your team.  It is hard to make others feel great about giving and participating in philanthropy, if the proposed change agent feels beleaguered or under-appreciated. We must invest in our people first. Demonstrate great customer service internally if we want our staffs to provide it to others. Solicit your board, volunteers, and staff members in personal and inspirational ways. Provide them with impact reports, data, stories, and visuals. How can they help you achieve this with others, if they’ve not experienced it?
  5. Develop a plan. A vision without a plan is just a pipe dream. Assess your current strengths and weaknesses. Develop concrete, measurable goals for achieving a culture of philanthropy and stewardship. For example, if none of the senior administrators give, a goal might be 100% generous giving by a specific date. Strategies and tactics follow. Make sure the strategies include removing obstacles, changing systems, or structures that undermine achieving the desired culture.
  6. Institutionalize the new changes. Kotter stresses this. Document the new policies and procedures. Put philanthropy and stewardship on the institutional dashboard. Include it in performance measures. Make it a stated part of the values statement.
  7. Reward, steward and celebrate success.

The benefits of a culture of philanthropy are awesome: Faster recovery. Sustainability. Increased giving. Higher donor loyalty. Strong donor satisfaction. Viral marketing. Joe Connelly of the Wall Street Journal reported, “Donor retention is the new acquisition and customer service is the new marketing.” Achieve a culture of philanthropy and you’ll be on the cutting edge.

To request a copy of “The Common Thread”, from the April issue of CASE Currents magazine, where Karen speaks on this topic in greater detail, please visit our website.

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