Three years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Marcy Heim, the Artful Asker. Marcy was the dynamic keynoter for the Arizona Association of Fundraising Professionals Conference. I have been reading her newsletter ever since.
Marcy recently wrote an article that really struck a chord with me. She was discussing what she referred to as a “culture of generosity.” I have always used the language “culture of philanthropy.” The idea is essentially the same – having a nonprofit organization in which all the stakeholders grasp, adhere, and celebrate philanthropy.
Imagine how the atmosphere in a nonprofit would change if all the stakeholders embraced philanthropy. Everyone would be laughing and smiling, breathing in the rarefied air.
Philanthropy is an activity; the activity being the charitable giving of money. Successful giving includes everyone associated with the organization and the implementation of its mission. Most often the task for planning and implementing philanthropic giving at an organization is assigned to one person or a team. This person is given unrealistic expectations, inadequate resources, and is swimming against a current that does not support giving. Therefore, we are not surprised when research shows that across the country the average tenure of a development officer is sixteen months.
To change this trend, we need to look at the other aspect of philanthropy, philanthropy as an attitude. When all the stakeholders embrace a positive attitude regarding philanthropy, then fundraising strategic plans are implemented, giving increases, and the organization is positioned to do more of what it is supposed to be doing, its mission. No one makes statements like: That’s not my job or I don’t like asking my friends for money.
Convincing a person, let alone an organization, to change its attitude is not easy. Anyone who has had a teenager can vouch for that. Attitudes can be changed in organizations by sharing information, both successes and failures; by having a clear vision of what a culture of philanthropy will look like; and by setting realistic goals that staff and board agree to and work toward.
The board of directors and key staff need to step forward and lead by making their gifts first. Leading by example is a cliché worth following and will set the tone for a culture of philanthropy. An attitude change will not happen overnight, but it will happen with patience and perseverance.