Wednesday, December 4, 2013

3 Tips for Developing a Culture of Philanthropy

By Lenita Dunlap, MPA, MA
CNM Development Manager

One of my philosophies of fundraising is to build on the culture and impact of your cause.  In other words, assess your organization’s value.  How are they perceived? Does your executive director or president have a good reputation with the community?

As a new development director, it’s very important to understand and evaluate your organizational culture.  Why? Fundraising is a collaborative effort.  From the board of directors to the administrative staff, fundraising has to be a part of everyone’s work. The funding goals are not your burden to bear alone.  If you’re going into an organization that doesn’t respect your craft and isn’t cooperative, you’re fighting an uphill battle and your reputation is on the line. 

If you properly assess the organizational culture you can save yourself a lot of heartache. You can realistically ask yourself, am I set up to succeed? A development director’s primary job is to set strategy and work with the board and staff to build a fund development plan that’s viable and realistic. If you don’t have a supportive environment, you will have difficulty making your goals.

If you’re like me, you’ll seek challenges. If you have an environment willing to learn, you can drive to create a culture of philanthropy and be amazed at the results.  Some tips:

  1. Work with your program staff.  The program team of your organization has to collect data and implement evaluative systems, logic models, and establish realistic goals. 
    • Why is this important for development? 
      • You can write fancy grants and have the best relational fundraiser on board but if you can’t justify your impact, then you will always have the stress of finding new donors because you can’t sustain relationships with current one.
      • You have to report and share success and failures.  This can’t be done with integrity if there aren’t evaluative tools in place to measure the impact of your organization’s work.

  1. Implement a fund development strategy tied to your mission and strategic plan.  I’ve worked with organizations where most employees can’t identify their strategic goals.  Often times if asked, they don’t have a clue how their work ties into mission and strategic plan. 
    • Why is this important for development?
      • As a development professional, this is where you can shine.  When you produce a plan, ask the executive director how the funding goals tie into mission and what’s the current campaign. If they can’t answer these questions, as a development professional you can push until you get the answer because, again, it’s very difficult to raise funds when you don’t have clue what direction the organization is moving.

  1. Have fun and be creative.            
    • Why is this important for development?
      • When you can help set strategic direction, spark evaluation in the program area, implement a fund development strategy tied to mission and strategic plan, then you’re well on your way to work your plan and see some amazing results.

I’ve worked the above tips in my professional career and have seen the results.  There’s more work to be done, but by understanding the organizational culture, you can save yourself time and energy. 


  1. I'm proud of you Lenita. Continue to walk in your path to fulfill your destiny.

  2. Great list of tips. Thanks for sharing. Would be nice to include stuff like this along with nonprofit softwares.