Is your “Culture of Giving” helping or hurting you? A deeper look at what makes for a healthy fundraising culture

Is your “Culture of Giving” helping or hurting you? A deeper look at what makes for a healthy fundraising culture
June 2013 by Emily Anthony and Julie Edsforth

Every organization has a unique fundraising culture, a story that they tell themselves and their donors about giving at that organization. While some of the assumptions organizations make about fundraising have developed because they have been successful in the past, others can create barriers which get in their way when they go to raise money. Having a clear understanding of your current “culture of giving” will help your organization break down some of those barriers and work to intentionally create a culture that will foster fundraising success.

Culture of Giving

In our last issue we referenced the interesting Compass Point article Underdeveloped and invited you to take our self-assessment quiz as a way to start thinking and talking about your organization’s Culture of Giving. This time, we wanted to take a more in-depth look at the characteristics and traits of healthy and not-so-healthy giving cultures that we most commonly see. We have presented these ideas at a few trainings and have found the framework to be useful for staff and board members, so we share them again now as a way to keep the conversation going about these important topics. You might even recognize yourself in one of these comments overheard at the water cooler . . . .

We think of an organization’s Culture of Giving as being made up of three central components:

  1. Attitudes toward Fundraising: How do people in the organization feel about doing the actual work of fundraising? Is it an opportunity or a necessary evil? Who is part of the team, and are they valued and given the tools and support they need to be successful?
  2. Attitudes toward Asking: How comfortable are people in this organization with asking for money? Is “just asking” a primary fundraising strategy, or is asking avoided through events and other approaches?
  3. Attitudes toward Donors: How are donors perceived and included in the organization’s work? Are donors “part of the family”, or are they outsiders who are tolerated so the "real work" can happen?  Is a donor's treatment based primarily on his or her net worth?

We have found that an organization’s beliefs and attitudes in each of these three areas will predict the strategies they choose and the behaviors we see with regard to giving . . . and some attitudes and beliefs are a lot more helpful than others. The charts and quotes below describe the extreme positive and negative ends of the spectrum, but thinking about which end feels or sounds more like your organization is a great place to start as you identify your strengths and see opportunities for improvement.

Click here to download a more graphically interesting printable .pdf version of the following charts.


 

Attitude Toward Fundraising – Positive
Attitude toward fundraising refers to how fundraising is valued and integrated within an organization

Beliefs & Attitudes

  • We believe fundraising is an opportunity to talk personally with people who care about what we do, and learn about their interests and concerns.
  • We have a “culture of abundance”: we believe that if we are doing good work that serves an important purpose in our community, there will be enough money to support us and we will be successful.
  • We believe that how we do fundraising is an important reflection of who we are as an organization.

Strategies

  • Individual donors are central to our revenue strategy, not just because of our budget but also because we need wide community support for our organization to succeed.
  • We invest time in building long-term relationships with our donors and prioritize donor follow-up like creative thank-yous, invitations to program activities and letting donors know about ROI
  • We invest both money and time in fundraising, for staffing and other infrastructure (like a data base, administrative help, etc)

Behaviors

  • Although we have people whose primary responsibility is fundraising, we treat fundraising as a “team sport”: everybody plays an important role
  • Our development people share valuable expertise that is critical to our success as an organization
  • Our board shares their passion for our organization with others who they know.

Overheard at the Water Cooler:

  • “That donor meeting was great –whenever I meet with donors I come away with new insights into our work!”
  • “Hey Susie Development Director, are there any donors we can invite to our upcoming program celebration – I’d love for our participants to meet some of our donors!”
  • “Our budget is tight this year, but I’m unwilling to cut expenses in fundraising”

 

Attitude Toward Fundraising – Negative
Attitude toward fundraising refers to how fundraising is valued and integrated within an organization

Beliefs & Attitudes

  • We have to fundraise so we can run the program, but it takes time away from our real work.
  • We have a “Culture of Scarcity” – we are always struggling for every dollar, and wenever know if we are going to succeed or not.
  • Fundraising is separate from the rest of the organization -fundraising staff don't really get the work we do.

Strategies

  • Focus tends to be on foundation, corporate, government, or other sources of money rather than individuals.
  • Fundraising efforts are based on bringing in the dollars as quickly and efficiently as possible, rather than cultivating donors and getting to know them over time.
  • We spend as little as possible on fundraising, since it is not a core part of our work.

Behaviors

  • Fundraising is the sole responsibility of a single (or small) dedicated staff, OR, we don’t pay any staff to be responsible for this. May have a lot of development staff turnover.
  • The board is willing to help “with anything but fundraising”, unless you really twist arms
  • May not be a lot of follow up with donors after a gift has been made.
  • May have insufficient tools and infrastructure in place

Overheard at the Water Cooler:

  • “If only our board was better connected to people with money, we wouldn’t have to work so hard at all this.
  • “I’m willing to help with anything except raising money.”
  • “We should really think about (an endowment, a planned giving program, a fee-for-service product, winning the lotto) so we never have to think about fundraising again.”
  • “I’m a program person – I don’t do fundraising”

 

Attitude Toward Asking – Positive
Attitude toward asking refers to how comfortable the people in an organization are with asking for money

Beliefs & Attitudes

  • The best way to raise money is to simply ask people who care about what we do to invest in us.
  • The worst someone can say is no, and if no one is saying no, we are not asking enough people.
  • We are doing important work, and asking people to join us is offering an opportunity, not begging for money.
  • People will say no when they want and need to, and that is OK.

Strategies

  • Individual donors are a central component of the organization's revenue strategy.
  • Events and mail campaigns have their place, but they are labor intensive and we know asking one-on-one is still the best strategy.
  • Invest in training and support for all our key leadership to become comfortable asking.

Behaviors

  • One-on-one donors meetings involving key board and staff members happen often.
  • All board and staff members in key leadership positions are comfortable asking.
  • Events and mail campaigns do not take up the bulk of our dev staff and committee’s time, because it is not the most important thing we do.

Overheard at the Water Cooler:

  • “Meeting with donors is one of the best parts of my job!”
  • “I am SO GLAD we don’t have an auction here!!!”
  • “I’d love to come with you to your next donor meeting with the Nickels”

 

Attitude Toward Asking – Negative
Attitude toward asking refers to how comfortable the people in an organization are with asking for money

Beliefs & Attitudes

  • Nobody ever likes being asked for money. And being the asker is even worse.
  • If we ask too much of our donors, we will offend them and they will reject us. Or they will say yes and then resent us.
  • Having to beg for money from donors and constantly justify that we are doing good work is tiring and demeaning.
  • Donors are considered "other", can be intimidating either because they are idolized or resented.

Strategies

  • Individual donors are a small component of overall revenue strategy OR, a few very major donors (who get asked over and over again) make up the bulk of our donor revenue.
  • Reliance on events or mail campaigns to bring in bulk of individual dollars
  • Ask approach is “soft” in hopes of not offending. Hope is that people will realize on their own what the organization needs.

Behaviors

  • Very few people in the organization feel comfortable asking for money, so a few identified people do all “the dirty work”.
  • Most board/staff time spent on events, while comparatively little time spent thinking about exactly what messages people will respond to in giving.
  • May be significant inertia or procrastination when it comes to making time to meet with donors one-on-one.
  • Lack of individualized follow-up after events or house parties.

Overheard at the Water Cooler:

  • “When I think about asking for money from someone, I feel sick to my stomach.”
  • “Let’s do that as an informational event. We’re a non-profit . . . it’s obvious we need money, right?”
  • “When we meet with our major donor committee, we always come away with a plan to hold an event instead!”
  • “Why don’t we go back to the Pennys, they usually say yes . . . ”

 

Attitude Toward Donors – Positive
Attitude toward donors refers to how donors at any giving level are perceived, related to, and integrated into the organization’s work

Beliefs & Attitudes

  • Donors are "one of us" - they reflect who we are as an organization and are part of our family
  • How much money someone has does not necessarily predict their values, culture, or preferences, nor does it tell you if they will give.
  • Everyone has something to give and should get to make the decision for themselves how they want to engage with our work based on their passion, regardless of how much money they have

Strategies

  • Donor strategies are articulated and robust at every giving level
  • Donor relationship building is central to all strategies - we offer lots of opportunities to get to know our donors through various cultivation strategies
  • May include client or staff giving campaign

Behaviors

  • Many in person donor meetings and other opportunities to interact wtih your "donor family"
  • Donors are integrated into existing program events, and donor visits are in keeping with the rest of the organization
  • Open and honest "give and take" with donors, including owning our expertise about our work even when donors disagree.

Overheard at the Water Cooler:

  • “I am so grateful for loyal donors like the Pennys, they can't always give a lot but they come through for us year after year.”
  • “We achieved 100% staff giving in record time this year”

 

Attitude Toward Donors – Negative
Attitude toward donors refers to how donors at any giving level are perceived, related to, and integrated into the organization’s work

Beliefs & Attitudes

  • “The rich” are fundamentally different than we are, with their own culture which most or all of us here don't really understand.
  • It is insensitive to ask low income individuals for a charitable gift.
  • A prospective donor’s income level is the best predictor of if they will make a gift and for how much.
  • It is very important not to offend rich donors, because they are the key to our success.   -OR
  • Very wealthy donors could corrupt and change our organization.

Strategies

  • Lots of effort to romance high end donors, regardless of their real interest in the cause 
  • Little or no effort with lower (or middle) income donors, especially if they are clients
  • Constituencies targeted based on perceived wealth
  • More strategic focus is put on non-donor related revenue streams

Behaviors

  • Anxiety about and/or avoidance of people with high giving capacity
  • Over-preparation for, or avoidance of, in person meeting with donors
  • Hesitance to contradict high-end donors; may even craft programs around their interests and input
  • Donor visits or events are kept separate from other parts of the program and may have a very different feel
  • Resentment about the time and effort put into major donors, especially when they are not as generous as hoped

Overheard at the Water Cooler:

  • “We met with the Benjamins and they said they are not really interested in the kind of work we do.  Can you believe that people who have so much would be so stingy?”
  • “I’m worried about a bunch of rich people joining our board and changing us, but we do need more big donations. Do you think we should start an advisory board?”
  • “Should we really invite the Bucks? He has a new job and she seems to be working less, so it could be a hard time for them.”