Signs Your Organization Lacks a Culture of Philanthropy – Part II

In an earlier post, I wrote about some of the ways that a board of directors reveals that an organization does not have a Culture of Philanthropy. Here I write about how some of an organization’s Executive Directors and staff members similarly make visible that an organization lacks a Culture of Philanthropy.

6.       Your organization’s staff members shy away from being direct about asking.  Your staff members are really more comfortable with a “Support Us” button on your website than a “Donate Now” button (and the Support Us button may be buried three layers deep on the website.  When you bring up that it would be helpful to change this, you’re told—maybe not in these terms (or maybe in exactly these words) to mind your own business.  Your organization would like to soft-sell fundraising and make sure it’s not “in your donor’s face.”  Fundraising in someone’s face, afterall, is rude. Your organization’s staff members (probably the board members also) are not proud fundraisers.

7.       Your organization wants to talk about “raising awareness,” but not about fundraising.  You refer to your events as “awareness raising” events (and then wonder why they don’t raise funds).

8.       Your development officer or development department is not involved in communications, marketing, and branding decisions. You don’t understand the connection between communications and fundraising and how one is integral to the other (See my earlier post on the connections between fundraising and communications here). You keep the two sets of operations separated. In the for-profit world, this would be like marketing and sales not working together (I know this is sometimes a challenge in the for-profit world also, but cooperation between these two departments needs to happen there, too).

9.       Your Executive Director isn’t actively fundraising, doesn’t pick up the phone and call top donors and sponsors (or visit them), and doesn’t treat the development office as a trusted partner (or worse:  undermines him or her).

10.       Your program and administrative staff don’t give and don’t raise funds. It’s not important to them or they don’t have time or they’re not passionate about giving and asking or they don’t want to be bothered….

11.       Your program and administrative staff don’t attend fundraising events. It’s not part of their jobs. Maybe it’s not in their job description; it should be. Even if it isn’t in their job descriptions, it should be such a clear expectation that everyone knows that they’ll be there and they’re going to participate.  Instead, everyone on staff believes that a development director alone (or a development director with his or her department) can single-handedly execute a fundraising event. Executing a fundraising event requires a small army of foot soldiers. Unless you have hundreds or thousands of staff members, you probably need all your staff deployed to help with an event and, if they’re not helping behind the scenes, they probably need to be helping by being cheerful ambassadors for the organization, milling with the guests.

12.   Fundraising is viewed as something one person (or one department) does, not as something that everyone plays a role in. Fundraising is a team, contact support. No one person, no matter how many super powers he or she has, can do it alone. Help. Play together nicely. It should so be on everyone’s mind that everyone who is a part of the organization has ideas and moments that they meet people and think, “I want to tell our fundraiser about this person,” or “I need to tell our development director about what this client just said” everyone “gets” that fundraising is a part of what needs to happen and does happen and nobody minds. And these things are not done grudgingly.

13.    Finally, no one understands why the fundraising staff is interested in or cares about the content and delivery of programs.  “Mind your own business, fundraiser.” In a podcast with Tony Elsicher during the 2014 International Fundraising Congress, Rory Green (a.k.a. Fundraising Grrl), spoke about “having her hand slapped” at her organization for expressing interest in anything other than fundraising. I immediately knew (and I’m sure other fundraisers did also) exactly what she was talking about. We’ve probably all experienced this. Knowing that some aspect(s) of how our organization is run is/are depressing donations, finding the courage to mention it, only to find that we’re told it’s absolutely none of our business. 

Seth Godin writes about how the new marketing paradigm is that marketing should not be the last consulted, but the first; that marketing is essentially about having an exceptional product and brand promise (a “Purple Cow”). He cites Apple as an example.

It’s the same in fundraising. Development staff shouldn’t be the last to be consulted in an organization about anything. When a new service or program is being created, restructured, or the delivery of service is being designed, development should be part of the conversation. If there’s a Culture of Philanthropy, it shouldn’t be “Hey, you in the corner, come sell what all the rest of us have created and are delivering.” It should be about involving the development team in offering insight and input into the structure and delivery of programs, letting the rest of the organization know up front what is and is not fundable. This does not mean mission creep (the dreaded writing a grant to start a new program simply because a grant was available) or creating a program or delivering a service just to make a donor happy, but it does mean, for example, that program directors can’t grump on the phone (or ignore phone calls) and expect donors to still fund the program and there has to be a way for development directors to communicate that kind of feedback when donors report it to them so that it’s incorporated into service delivery. It means service affects funding and that development can’t fund a product that’s fundamentally flawed.

One of my very best fundraising friends works for an organization that has no mission (yes, there is a mission statement, but no functional mission) and no authentic programs. The organization doesn’t really do anything of value. Try fundraising for that. She’s trying desperately (as she should be) to get out of that situation, to find a new job. No matter how gifted a fundraiser you are, if the product is flawed, you can’t “sell” it.

The signs above and in Part 1 of this 2-part post identify indicators that (1) the board, (2) the Executive Director, or (3) the staff aren’t on-board with fundraising.  The good news is that if one or more of these people/groups is committed (but not all three), you have a toe-hold with which to work to create change. 

If you’re a development officer where there isn’t a serious fundraising commitment from at least one of these three parties, run.  Seriously.  One person alone cannot create a culture of philanthropy.  In these organizations, the arm is attached, but not wired to the brain of the body.

If the Board is the problem, work with the E.D. to change the board. If the staff is the problem, work with the E.D. to turn the staff culture around. You can work on this at the margins without the help of your E.D., but you can’t do it alone. The tone and culture for an organization begin with the organization’s leadership.

If the E.D. is the problem, the Board should fire him or her. If the board doesn’t, then the board is part of the problem also so you, the Development Director should leave. Seriously. Get out.

As the Compass Point, Underdeveloped report says, you cannot accomplish change in a fundraising culture without the support of a committed Executive Director. “It’s impossible to build a strong culture without an Executive Director; she or he has to be an instigator, a champion, or a role model to bring fundraising into the heart of the organization and keep it there.”

If the development director is the problem, woe be unto you.  The Board should fire you. (Warning: this might happen to you anyway, whether you’re the problem or not, especially in an organization that has no Culture of Philanthropy. If an organization with no Culture of Philanthropy comes face to face with an actual fundraiser, they’re likely to tell you that “you don’t fit” – and, in fairness, you won’t). According to Compass Point’s Underdeveloped report, one-quarter of all development staff are fired. Our business is a harsh one. (See, for more information, the Nonprofit Quarterly discussion of this phenomena “Firing Your Development Direct? Join the Club”)

“Trying” to diet is frustrating.  “Trying” to fundraise is also.


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