The Weekend Briefing

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The CEO said, “Let’s get my Leadership Team together. I want to see a Culture of Philanthropy at our organization by the end of the year.”
I thought, “Good luck. I want to break par for 18 holes next summer, but that’s not going to happen, either.”
Within Advancement’s role at every nonprofit organization, nothing is less understood than how to develop a culture of philanthropy.
What it is: Understanding what the fundraisers do and how gifts make an impact. Supportive. Responsive to opportunity. Low-key. Integrated. And somewhat self-serving. More on that later.
What a culture of philanthropy is not: Pressure. A mandate. A task to complete. A meeting. A box to be checked.
Like most things, when an idea never goes anywhere, or is confusing, it’s because of poor communication. It’s a good bet that very few people at your organization know what you do or care about what you do.
And so we want them to embrace a culture of philanthropy? I don’t think so. Figuring out how to grow understanding of, and interest in what development is about, how it can help the organization; that’s the key to growing a true culture of philanthropy.
The type of organization where a culture of philanthropy is most broadly accepted is healthcare. Hospitals. In the last 20 years, “grateful patient fundraising” has soared to the top of every hospital’s gift income statement.
I introduced the concept of grateful patient fundraising to Loyola University Medical Center in 1990 and before I knew it I was teaching the concept at the Association of American Medical Colleges with my friend Jay Frey from the University of Chicago Medical Center.
I never understood what was so difficult about it. Think of a rugby ball. Oops, the doctor or professor or staff member has it. Don’t drop it! Run a step or two and then throw it to me!
A culture of philanthropy is just common sense. Who wants to help? People who’ve been touched by the organization’s mission. How do we find them? Colleagues on the front lines; the doctors, teachers, et al, cited above.
How do we get our colleagues to connect us with those “mission-influenced” people? Make it simple. A head’s-up and an introduction. Something in it for them.
I’ll stop there for a second. “What’s in it for me?” is not a bad thing. It’s human nature. My doctors knew if that patient or their family made a gift, their department would benefit. Someone who understands how critical philanthropy is to keeping their organization’s doors open will feel the same way.
We’re not asking our colleagues to do our job for us. When they make a connection for us, we remember to say thank-you. We keep them in the loop. Whatever happened with that gift?  We let them know.
We share good, inspiring stories across the organization about donors and giving and the impact those gifts make on the organization. Above all, we keep it simple.
A culture takes a long time to change. A culture changes when people want change, when they understand, when they see the benefit, not when they’re “told” to do something. People don’t like to be told what to do.
Take baby steps to help everyone at your organization know the beauty of philanthropy. This time next year, look back and you may be surprised to see a culture beginning to change.
Have a good week, my friends.
Rob Cummings coaches gift officers, consults on capital campaigns and helps nonprofit organizations build strong, sustainable fundraising programs. You can reach him at

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