Creating a Culture of Philanthropy


My recent post on the fundraising responsibility of a Board generated some really good comments and conversations. I still believe that assuring an organization’s fundraising activities is first and foremost the responsibility of the board of directors. Of course there are a myriad of ways that a Board can fulfill that fiduciary duty and most take a very common route: hire staff and expect them to take care of it.

In my experience, committed and professional Executive Directors/CEOs take most of the responsibility from the board and end up acting like they “own” the nonprofit. I don’t mean this in a negative sense, but in the sense that they take the lead in creating and maintaining a culture of philanthropy. But despite how much control a board gives to their executive or fundraising staff, it is the board as an entity that “owns” the organization and bears ultimate responsibility for its success or failure.

Therefore, I think that it is the Board’s primary responsibility to create, maintain, and support a culture of philanthropy that allows the organization to significantly advance the mission.

How can they do this? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Every Board member must support the organization financially and commit to developing relationships on behalf of the organization.The Board sets the pace for others and should be expected to make lead gifts above what’s normally expected. Leading by example means that regular giving and “stretch” gifts can convince others to give.
  2. Ongoing Board development is also a central characteristic of a culture of philanthropy. As the Board considers its own growth and the cycling of its membership, it should look for individuals who understand the importance and the necessity of fundraising to the survival and growth of the organization.
  3. All Board members must be expected to participate in some capacity with the activities in the Strategic Fundraising Plan. That can include a wide range of activities from helping to plan a special event and/or recruiting a friend to get involved, to assembling packets for a fundraising mailing, to finding new names to add to the mailing list, to cultivating potential donors by hosting them at an event or inviting them for a meeting over lunch or coffee. Some will have to be involved in the actual invitation of gifts, but not all.
  4. The Board needs to adopt the Donor Bill of Rights I wrote about in a recent post.
  5. The Board must create a Development Committee with the charge to develop and oversee the implementation of the Board’s fundraising strategies. In addition, the committee will work with the Executive and Development staff to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the Strategic Fundraising Plan.
  6. The Development Committee, or whatever you decide to call it, helps the Board carry out its due diligence function related to assuring fiscal health through philanthropy and development. It partners with staff to institutionalize the philanthropic culture within the Board and its individual members, assuring a donor-centered effort.

Finally, the organization’s Executive Director/CEO and fundraising staff must be a partner with the board in supporting a Culture of Philanthropy. It’s a team effort.

All I’m saying is that it’s the Boards responsibility and duty to make sure it gets done. There are many strategies they can employ, but nothing takes away the fact that it’s their responsibility.