How’s Your Organization’s Culture of Philanthropy?

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Research shows that the culture inside an organization dramatically impacts its effectiveness. “Culture” means the attitudes, beliefs, customs, practices, and social behaviors that characterize a group of people. So your organizational culture means all that.

Organizational culture can be good or bad—or just mediocre. Probably, we’ve all worked in a toxic organization at one time or another. Or watched a toxic organizational culture from afar, as far away as possible!

I think a culture of philanthropy is a principal component of a positive corporate culture in a nonprofit organization. In my experience, professionals and organizations that nurture a culture of philanthropy are more likely to be effective and successful.

A culture of philanthropy is the perfect blend of philanthropy and fund development. A philanthropic culture embraces both donor-centrism and donor loyalty. This culture embodies the virtuous circle of relationships.

In a culture of philanthropy, giving is the highest of callings. People in the organization break the obsession with transactions and mechanics and cherish interests and motions. Each person in the organization serves as an ambassador, promoting the organization’s mission and promoting philanthropy.

So what’s our role in the culture of philanthropy? As an organizational leader, you help define and then consciously nurture this culture.

How do you start? At the beginning—by asking questions. How many times in this column have I said, ask strategic (and cage-rattling) questions? Use these questions with your staff colleagues—perhaps at a staff meeting or staff retreat. Use these questions with your board.

  1. What kind of process would help your organization examine and evaluate its organizational culture, define any desired changes, and then make the change?
  2. How do you all, together, describe your organization’s current culture, its personality? How does it feel to work here?
  3. How does this culture affect your enthusiasm and commitment, your behaviors and interactions?
  4. How would you describe an organizational culture that motivates its employees and volunteers, stimulating creativity and respect, generating enthusiasm and collegiality?
  5. What would a culture of philanthropy look and feel like for your staff and volunteers?
  6. How would you nurture this culture of philanthropy in your organization?

How is a culture of philanthropy different from a culture of greed?

  • Nelson Burns

    To nurture your culture of giving you have to actually live the culture. Words or preaching just doesn’t make it anymore. By supporting your employees,actually being philanthropic with your employees, means so much!

  • Simone Joyaux

    Nelson, you are so right. We cannot just talk – we have to walk the talk – to use that well-worn phrase. Sometimes it seems that the fundraising profession has gotten so professionalized that we’ve abandoned the heart. We’re so busy learning tactics and tweaking strategies that we forget the honesty.
    Organizational culture isn’t a set of memos and guidelines and directions. Culture is the unwritten rules, the personality, the values and heart and soul of the organization. A culture of philanthropy is just one aspect of organizational culture. Leaders live the culture and leaders represent the culture. With that leadership and support, everyone can believe in and create, together, the optimum culture.