Building a Culture of Philanthropy

Building a Culture of Philanthropy


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


I’m interested in your thoughts about building a “Culture of Philanthropy.” Give it some thought – maybe we can do a Rally presentation on the topic someday.

One promising definition goes something like this:

Culture of Philanthropy is a set of organizational values and practices that support and nurture development within a nonprofit organization.

Most of the time, fundraising is seen more of as a necessary evil. Something we are just as happy not to have to do. Like cleaning toilets. We all appreciate it when it’s done and done well, but we’re also very happy to let someone else – anyone else – actually do it. Ironically, these feelings are sometimes married to something akin to envy – for fundraisers, it’s all just a big party. Some of us have to actually work here.

Not exactly a Culture of Philanthropy.

OK, but what does that actually look like?

  • Most people in the organization act as ambassadors in their communities and engage in building relationships with donors. They talk about how important the mission is and how important donors are to the mission.
  • Everyone can articulate a case for giving.
  • Most Board members are committed to and personally involved in fundraising. This explicitly includes giving themselves.
  • The Executive Director is also committed to and personally involved in fundraising. S/he has a small portfolio of donors of their own.
  • Donor engagement and cultivation is viewed and valued as a program of the organization.
  • Organizational systems support the act of giving.


It seems to me that there are at least two questions that might make for an interesting Rally session:

  1. What practices (organizational habits) are you doing right now that contribute to a Culture of Philanthropy?
  2. What can you do to create a Culture of Philanthropy if one does not exist now?


I did a quick internet search and assembled the following list from multiple sources, especially the Passionate Giving blog from Veritus Group. Each represents an idea that might foster a Culture of Philanthropy. See what you think:

  1. Know your donors. Have a set of donors whom you are personally cultivating for future giving. Make a plan for each one, framed in terms of what they will see from you over the course of the next year. Share the list and the plans internally, and talk openly about your progress.
  2. Manage other people who are also raising money. One person can do a lot – especially getting out mail and preparing grant proposals. But it’s going to take more than just one person to build enough donor relationships to support an organization. In addition to the set of donors you are getting to know, make sure your Executive Director and several of your Board members have similar sets. Make sure they have everything they need to engage, solicit, and steward their donors. Monitor their progress, celebrate their successes, and ask them to talk openly about their progress, too.
  3. Help everyone practice telling organizational stories. This sounds daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. A dinner party, a letter to the editor, a presentation to the civic club, a hosted event on the land – these are all things everyone should be doing every year to help spread the word about the land trust and the value of conservation. Helping Board members and other staff find their voice will be rewarded many times over.
  4. Help someone (your boss?) manage you. Meet with someone else on a regular basis to review each of the donors you are getting to know. I put “boss” in parentheses because depending on your organization, it could be a Board member or even a peer. You could also manage them at the same time. This built-in accountability is important for maintaining focus.
  5. Make a presentation at every staff meeting and every Board meeting. Tell stories about donors. Talk about what donors give to be sure, but also talk about WHY they give. Demystify the process.
  6. Change the fundraising paradigm. First think about the land trust helping donors achieve something they want to see done instead of the other way around. But second, instead of finding good ideas and asking where will the money come from, find good ideas and think through the people we know who might be interested. Help Board members and other staff make these changes as well.
  7. Periodically take a Board member to lunch. Use the meeting to discuss fundraising in general and specific donors in particular. Perhaps the Board member knows them or knows them well – seek their advice. Perhaps they do not know them at all – might they be willing to go with you the next time you get a meeting?
  8. Participate in program work. Break down the silos. Integrate. Make it a point to visit new projects. Participate on volunteer work parties. Visibly celebrate programmatic successes. Buy lunch or beer (or champagne!) every once in a while.
  9. Bring donors into the office. Introduce them to program staff. Ask them to share stories about why they first decided to give and/or why they still do.
  10. Bring the donors into the organization, too. See Campfires and Warmth and Donor Communications.


I’m interested in what a “Culture of Philanthropy” looks like at your land trust. What practices (organizational habits) are you doing right now that contribute to a Culture of Philanthropy?


Cheers, and Have a great week.




Photo by Matthew Henry, courtesy of Burst


Related Posts:

What is a Donor? And What is “Donor-Centric”?

More Counterpoint on Donor-Centrism

Share this!
  • Chris Krieg
    Posted at 11:25h, 09 August

    Helpful, Thank you Carol and David! Carol, want to help our board to LOVE fundraising?

    • David Allen
      Posted at 15:40h, 09 August

      Any time Chris – Give me a call!


    • Carol Abrahamzon
      Posted at 08:23h, 12 August

      Baby steps Chris.

  • David Allen
    Posted at 10:55h, 07 August


    Love, love, love this. Sometimes the main trick is just to start – however small. Note that Board member involvement does not decrease the work you will need to do – in fact, it arguably adds to it. But the overall leverage has multiple benefits. And as you said, the extent of your own involvement is not sustainable for the organization. Redundancy in contacts is an important core concept. Donors should not know only one person at the organization.


    • Carol Abrahamzon
      Posted at 15:27h, 07 August

      Agreed, it adds to my work load to notify them, record their notes and manage all of it. But it also builds a stronger community of philanthropy in the organization as a whole.

  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 08:53h, 06 August

    Interesting post today David. I wear 2 hats, ED and Fundraiser for our organization. I happen to LOVE fundraising, my board, not so much, at least not “asking”. That said they are engaged on a couple of levels. They are very good at thanking donors in various ways and some at introductions and deeper engagement as well. Recently I conducted an organizational risk assessment and I realized that I’m the only person with a relationship with our major donors and that’s a huge risk. So until the time comes that we hire a Development Director I have assigned each of our board members to 4 donors as their relationship managers. Another name for the donor to become familiar with and recognize. The board member is asked to make a thank you call when the donor gives a gift, send an email or note at other times regarding thanks or an event. I provide some personal information about the donor and let the board member know when a gift comes in. We just started this month so I’ll let you know how it goes.

    I like some of your other suggestions and look forward to stepping up our Culture of Philanthropy.