10 Easy Things a Board Can Do to Create a Culture of Philanthropy

Tips for how an organization's board can help create a Culture of Philanthropy.

by Laurie Herrick, Mentor, JCamp 180

Originally published on the Rainmaker blog

The holy grail of fundraising is the elusive “Culture of Philanthropy.” A Culture of Philanthropy is when everyone including the board, the executive director and the staff are all part of connecting the agency to individuals in the community who want to support the cause. When that happens, donors become part of the agency, instead of outsiders.
The board of directors, as the governing leaders, have both an obligation and an opportunity to show up as strong stewards of the mission through the development effort. When someone gives their hard-earned financial resources to your cause, they are entrusting you to deliver the services that they are ‘investing in’ with their gift. Communications from and connections to the board of directors reinforces the message that their gift has made a difference. When a donor understands that their gift made a difference, they will come back again and again to support your cause. When that message is not reinforced, they will go away to another agency that does a better job at communicating. While it is the staff’s job to send thank you notes, it is very powerful to hear from a board member acknowledging the contribution and the difference it makes.
There are many small things that board members can do to be good stewards and support development.  Here are ten. Choose one or more to take on!
  1. Make sure that the board has an active development committee. If there are limited skills or limited interest from the board, bring non-board members to the group who have these skills and interests. A non-board volunteer can model how to work in development and could be a potential board candidate. Use this team to support the efforts of the development staff. (Don’t go rogue!)
  1. Have time devoted to development at every board meeting. Report on the development committee’s efforts. Invite development staff to show up and share their progress. Be certain this is NOT the last thing on the agenda and that you give it at least 20 minutes. Use 10-15 minutes where everyone helps with personalized thank you notes or thank you phone calls.
  2. Have board members set goals for themselves in personal giving. If you don’t already have a required 100% participation giving policy for board members, enroll the board in taking on a policy where everyone makes a ‘meaningful gift” (no minimum or maximum amount, just an amount that feels meaningful to the board member).
  1. Think about how you can help development. Reflect on what skills and passions you have. Are you great at writing and want to help with thank you notes? Are you very social and want to host a gathering for people at your home? Ask the development staff for a laundry list of things they’d like help with. Have the list include a variety of options from introducing friends to the organization to inviting people to educational programs, attending donor meetings, signing and personalizing thank you notes to donors. Don’t choose an activity that is not in your skill set.
  1. Stop suggesting that the organization coordinate fundraising events.  They are labor intensive and usually take away from building a culture of philanthropy. This includes galas, golf tournaments, and silent auctions! Instead, help development staff build relationships with individuals who might be interested in what you are doing.
  1. Have the board get trained in how to build a culture of philanthropy. Do an organizational self-assessment in this domain.
  2. Get in touch with why your organization is so important in your community. Then, get really good at articulating why your organization exists – and what would happen if it didn’t! Volunteering for your organization’s programs will have you get to know the firsthand impact stories.
  3. Share passionately about why you care so deeply about your organization with people you know! If someone expresses interest, find out what it is that grabs them. If you have the opportunity, find out how they might like to be involved. Make an introduction! 
  4. Notice your language and attitude about fundraising. Is it coming from a place of scarcity or from abundance? If it is abundance, spread the joy! If not, see what you can do to get a fresh perspective. “Words make worlds,” as we like to say. Development needs a ‘yay-sayer’ not a naysayer. Need help with this?
  5. Infuse your strategic plan (or your SP process) with a Culture of Philanthropy. Then, work that plan! Use board meetings to check in on your progress to assure that you stay on track!