Shifting from a fundraising to a philanthropic culture

publication date: Jan 15, 2013
author/source: Andrea McManus

Does your organizational culture have a philanthropic focus? If your answer is “no,” you need to ask yourself why not. Organizational culture reflects the way an organization operates. Charities rely on philanthropy to fulfill their missions. Fund development is the gateway to philanthropy.Andrea McManus

Why, then, do so many organizations fail to understand the value of philanthropy and the connection between philanthropy and fundraising? Even worse, why do they isolate fundraising in a corner that is all too often occupied only by the development staff?

Impact matters more than cost

We are continuously dogged by the simple-sounding question, “What does it cost to raise a dollar?” There is no simple answer, and furthermore, it is the wrong question. How much a charity spends to raise a dollar tells you absolutely nothing about how effectively that charity fulfills its mission. Efficiency without effectiveness is a lonely and useless measure.

Public scrutiny continues to increase. Fundraising is becoming more competitive and strategic. And our donors are more and more knowledgeable. That’s why fundraisers must proactively nurture, promote and explain the relationship between fundraising and philanthropy both within and beyond our organizations.

We must help our boards, staff, volunteers and donors understand the impact of the philanthropic relationship on fulfilling the mission. It’s up to us to help them connect the dots and cultivate a widespread culture of philanthropy within our organizations.

The difference is monumental

But why should we care about philanthropy? Why shouldn’t we just care about getting the money in the door? Why should we care about creating an environment where philanthropy can flourish rather than focusing more narrowly on fundraising?

When we focus on fundraising without the bigger context of philanthropy, we tend to focus on the problem rather than the solution. Our goals become entrenched solely in what our organization needs, rather than what the community wants and needs.

“Charity” is a limiting concept that suggests crisis and weakness. It ultimately leads to “tin cup” fundraising – begging, impulsive, emotional, and worst of all, token.

Philanthropy, however, is a much broader concept. Its goal is to systematically solve problems. It is based on carefully thought-out plans, built on previous successes and focused on the community. It benefits many people. In a philanthropic culture, everyone in the organization is comfortable with two definitions of ROI – the traditional “return on investment” and the mission-focused “results, outcomes and impact.”

How are you doing so far?

To rate your charity’s philanthropic culture, consider these ten indicators:

  1. Your board and leadership can both pronounce and spell “philanthropy.”
  2. When someone calls to make a donation, the receptionist knows who they are.
  3. Accountability is a word your organization lives by. Lip service is not enough.
  4. You recognize that your primary role is not fundraising – it is building the philanthropic culture in your organization so that philanthropic relationships can survive and thrive.
  5. Your leaders understand and acknowledge the difference between philanthropy, development and fundraising.
  6. You have a statement of philanthropic values.
  7. Development is a core function that is long term, strategic and responsive to community needs.
  8. Fundraising is everyone’s job.
  9. Every member of your board makes annual philanthropic gifts to your organization. They demonstrate ownership of fundraising, and they all participate in fundraising in some way.
  10. Your organization views donors as stakeholders.

Igniting cultural change

How can we nurture this shift in thinking? Here are some ideas gleaned from years of speaking and leading discussions on this topic:

  • Start with yourself – what does philanthropy mean to you?
  • Shift thinking from exclusively short term results to quality relationships and long term (3 – 5 years) philanthropy plans.
  • Next time you are presenting your fundraising plan to your board, couch it in terms of “growing philanthropy.”
  • Talk first about donors, opportunity and giving. Then talk methodologies.
  • Negotiate your role as a philanthropic professional in advance.
  • Change your language.
  • Find a champion.
  • Understand and teach the differences between charitable and philanthropic fundraising methods.
  • Involve others in defining philanthropy in your organization.
  • Promote philanthropy as a donor-focused activity.
  • Ensure donors know at least three board/staff members by name.
  • Put everyone’s name on your action plan.
  • Focus on how the mission is accomplished, not what it cost.
  • Make sure every meeting agenda includes philanthropy issues.

Not all of this may be for you or your organization. But on the continuum of “charity tin cup” to “philanthropic culture,” where would you rather be? I know how I would answer that – because in the long run, organizations that succeed do so because they have healthy, dynamic philanthropic cultures. 

Andrea McManus is President of The Development Group, a full-service, Calgary-based philanthropic consulting firm which has worked with clients throughout Canada and the Caribbean to build their internal capacity and philanthropic culture. She was the first fundraiser outside the United States to serve as Chair of the AFP International Board (2011-12) and is a passionate believer in and speaker on the role fundraising plays in growing philanthropy worldwide.

For more information, email her, follow her @Tdgandrea, or visit

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