Building a Culture of Philanthropy

I was recently asked to be a presenter at a major regional conference. My topic is to be “How to Build a Culture of Philanthropy.”  As I have prepared for this presentation, I have become aware that this topic appears to be fairly straightforward. But it is, in fact, quite complex.

My first thoughts immediately turned to staff. What do they need to learn? Do they realize the importance of developing relationships with donors?  Do they understand having a personal commitment to the organization’s mission is crucial before they can communicate it to potential donors?

Moves Management

Next, my thinking proceeded to what is called “moves management:” moving a donor from a repeated annual gift to a larger annual gift, then moving the donor to a capital gift, and, ultimately, to a planned gift. This process is achieved by increasing the donor’s involvement and commitment to the organization over a period of years. Utilizing moves management strategies enhances all levels of an organization’s financial development program.

In order to be successful, donors at all giving levels must have a good “giving experience.” Generally, the process begins with annual gifts that develop a habit of giving to the organization over time. The process “moves” donors on to special gifts for events, or perhaps for a capital campaign. These larger gifts are more infrequent and are up to10 times the annual gift amount. Ultimately, the donor is moved to a once-in-a-lifetime significant gift. Usually, this is a planned gift that can be up to 2,000 times the annual gift amount.

An organization needs to decide how to focus its staff and volunteer time in order to reach potential lifetime givers through relationship strategies. For the greatest potential for a substantial gift, the organization has to work on a core group of its most generous contributors. This requires clearly knowing:

  • Who the organization is trying to reach;
  • The interests, past involvement, and needs of these potential donors;
  • How to target messages and materials from the organization to fit the needs and interests of the potential donor;
  • How to get the donor to care enough about the organization to become committed;
  • How to connect the right people to the donor;
  • How to keep in touch and continue to build the relationship over time; and
  • That people give to people.

Volunteer Leadership Roles

At this point in organizing my presentation, I knew I had to address the need for volunteers in an organization—particularly the board and related financial committees—to clearly understand their roles in the success of the organization’s financial development. The volunteers who serve on the board, the finance committee, annual support committees, capital campaign committees and endowment committees have an awesome responsibility for developing and monitoring policy and master planning to increase contributions. They also have a responsibility to help identify, cultivate and solicit prospects.

In turn, these volunteers also help educate their constituency regarding deferred giving, and they help set policy regarding investments, spending and gift receipts. Wow! We need some savvy community leaders if we want our organization to be healthy and successful in the very competitive world of fund development.

Ultimately, I have come to realize the following key components are critical to developing a culture of philanthropy in your organization:

  • Cultivation is a partnership. It is a partnership among staff, board members, other volunteers, and donors.
  • All those involved in financial development must have a clear understanding of, and passion for, the mission of the organization.
  • There needs to be a systematic plan. Whether the leadership and staff decide to use “moves management” or a donor cultivation program, you cannot get where you want to go without a target, and a process to hit that target—and there has to be follow-through.
  • Many staff and volunteers will need training to support their efforts. We are not all born solicitors, nor are we all good with the details. Careful training will help us know who should and should not make a request for a gift, who should do the planning and logistics, and who should develop policy. Our donors do not fit one mold; neither do our staff and volunteers.
  • We must have a strategy for each and every donor prospect. Our friends each ,have different needs and we need a follow-up plan that meets those needs.
  • We must learn how and when to ask. We are developing friends with a lifelong relationship to our organization. We have to be sensitive to what the donor wants and when it is appropriate and timely to ask for the gift. If we have done our homework correctly, and gotten our donors involved, they will be ready when we ask.
  • We must recognize our donors in an appropriate manner. Our recognition has to be ongoing and unique. We have to thank within our donors’ comfort levels and we cannot thank them enough.

Developing a culture of philanthropy in an organization is a complex process that takes years to develop. All levels of leadership within the organization must be involved for it to be successful. It will take time, but it is worth the effort. If the mission of your organization is paramount to staff and volunteers, then the effort needed to achieve financial stability by developing a strong financial development culture will be worth it to all those involved—especially to the donors who will make the future of your organization possible.

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