Building a Culture of Philanthropy Within Your Organization
by Barbara Maduell
When development professionals want to learn about how to engage volunteer leadership and donors, there is a wealth of resources from which to choose, yet when it comes to getting fellow staff members more involved in development efforts where do you begin? Colleagues can often feel that any and all fundraising is your job, not theirs. How can you build buy-in among your co-workers to help them understand that you are all ambassadors for the organization?
Whether you’re a one-person shop or supervise a large staff, here are five tips for building greater understanding and buy-in among those stakeholders inside your organization:
- Get out, inside. Fundraisers know that time spent out of the office, face-to-face with board members, donors, and prospects creates loyal relationships based on shared values and vision. Yet does everyone on your staff understand what you do, how you do it, or why? Take time to sit with your professional team and others with whom you interact to explain your strategic and tactical responsibilities, and how your work supports theirs.
- Let fellow staff know that there are no small roles to play. Now that others know more about the development department, reinforce how they play a critical role in your work through their own. How does your receptionist greet visitors? Are your program staff willing and eager to discuss your supporters’ interests during site visits? Does your finance team understand all the factors that go into projecting soft income?
- Take everyone for a ride in the elevator, even if your building doesn’t have one.
Despite working long hours, every staff person in your organization has a life outside of the office. Carve out staff retreat time to share key messages and then help everyone create a personal “elevator statement” to use with friends, family, and acquaintances. As caring stakeholders who implement the mission each day, it also will be an invaluable way to inspire each other.
- Start at the top. A culture of philanthropy is built from the top down. Suggest to your CEO or Executive Director that they report on development successes and challenges at every staff meeting – not just during peak fundraising season, and not just when you’ve met, exceeded, or fallen short of a budgeted philanthropic goal. If your professional leader puts development front and center, chances are others will follow.
- Take what you’ve learned inside, outside. You may not be an expert in your program area, but you believe passionately in the positive impact it has in the community. Ask questions regularly, eat lunch in the staff lounge, and whenever possible, experience your program firsthand. Not only will you have meaningful information to share with supporters, but your fellow staff members will come to learn how “the development office” includes everyone in your organization. And be sure to thank them for their hard work and their support!
Barbara Maduell, CFRE, is a former development professional in Seattle’s Jewish community; she is currently a senior consultant with The Collins Group.