Donors to non-profit organizations have over 1.6 million choices.

According to National Center for Charitable Statistics, charitable contributions in the U. S. in 2014 were $358 billion.  In addition, nearly 25% of adults volunteered with an organization in 2014.  These volunteers contributed 8.7 billion hours, worth an estimated $179 billion.

Philanthropy has been a major part of cultures and societies throughout history.  Today, the nonprofit sector is a huge part of our economy, supporting causes and providing employment to nearly two million people.  Not-for-profit organizations are different than for-profit organizations.  But in one way, they are alike.  They both need to value the culture of the organization.

Research shows that an organization’s culture dramatically impacts its effectiveness. Culture is all-encompassing throughout the organization, and for nonprofits, this includes fund development.  Philanthropic culture is a subset of organizational culture.  A culture of philanthropy refers to your organization’s attitude toward philanthropy and fund development (fundraising).

Some people define philanthropy as voluntary action for the common good or the love of humanity.  Many talk about fund development as the engine that drives philanthropy.

As a charitable organization, an essential part of your organizational culture must include philanthropy.  First, focus on culture, not strategy.  Effective organizations embrace a culture of philanthropy.  Each volunteer and every employee feels it.  Clients and donors recognize it whenever they connect with the organization.

Everyone in the organization embraces the concept of being customer-centered and donor-centered…not just mission-centered and client-centered. Everyone in the organization, from the janitor to the chair of the board, understands that philanthropy and fund development are critical to organizational health and that each individual (both the janitor and board chair) has a role in the process.

Why is a culture of philanthropy so important?  Because philanthropy is not just about raising money; it is also about building relationships.  Philanthropy is part of the mission of nonprofit organizations.  You’re not just an organization that does good work; you’re an organization that does good work and has philanthropic relationships.  Indeed, it might be said that successful nonprofits pursue two missions: program and philanthropy.

Organizations that operate with a culture of philanthropy understand three things: the value of organizational culture, the importance of philanthropy, and the inseparable link between philanthropy and fund development.  For this reason, people in fund development are very fortunate.  We have the best job in the world.  We get to be philanthropic dream makers for our donors.  We have the opportunity to help them connect with their passions.

However, we as fundraiser are not the only ones who can be philanthropic dream makers.  Everyone is an ambassador for the organization’s service, and for philanthropy and fund development. Being an ambassador means doing one’s own job well, understanding how all the various jobs in the organization create one integrated system, and—most especially—treating all of the organization’s customers (clients, donors, volunteers, community people, etc.) with care and respect.

If the quality of the program is not good enough, it doesn’t matter what the fund development staff does.  If board members don’t talk enough about the organization with their friends and colleagues, it doesn’t matter how hard the CEO tries to raise funds.  If the staff isn’t donor-centered, the best direct mail solicitation will not be as effective as it can be.

When we think about the 1.6 million choices a donor has, please remember the gift size just doesn’t matter.  Every donor deserves our respect and honor.  Every gift makes a difference, including gifts of time and talent.  So while you are building a culture of philanthropy, remember to also thank your Board and volunteers as well as your donors.  We all invest our lives in the things that matter the most to us.  It’s all about choices.