FUNdraising Good Times: What is a culture of fundraising? Part three of a three-part series


Everyone has to have a responsibility for fundraising. We call this a culture of fundraising. Others refer to it as a culture of philanthropy. Either way, this shared responsibility is at the core of nonprofit fundraising and sustainable organizations. But what exactly is culture? Here are three perspectives:

1. “If you want to provoke a vigorous debate, start a conversation on organizational culture. While there is universal agreement that (1) it exists, and (2) that it plays a crucial role in shaping behavior in organizations, there is little consensus on what organizational culture actually is, never mind how it influences behavior and whether it is something leaders can change.”(Michael Watkins, Harvard Business Review)

2. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Peter Drucker

3. “Organizations that continue to operate in traditional, tightly controlled, top-down environments, rather than adapt to more fluid systems and approaches, risk having their relevance and funding dry up. Cynthia M. Gibson, Beyond Fundraising: What does it mean to build a culture of philanthropy?

Here’s what we know: culture evolves over time. It’s about what you say and do, and what you don’t say and don’t do. Those in positions of leadership like to believe they shape the culture of their organizations. When things go wrong, they like to believe that culture is beyond intervention.

We believe that a culture of fundraising (or philanthropy) is created over time. Integrating fundraising into the life of the organization takes multiple forms. It starts with the mission, vision and goals. It takes form through the interactions and decisions of employees. Board members and executives guide it through policies. Fundraising culture manifests through engagement with donors and community leaders. It demonstrates in the emphasis placed on fundraising planning, and how all employees and board members are encouraged to participate.

There is a culture of fundraising whether acknowledge it or not. It could support your nonprofit, or it could be taking you down. Fundraising culture includes things such as whether or not you engage in “emergency” or “last minute” fundraising; your donor retention rate; how long it takes to send out an acknowledgement; the quality of your database; and whether or not fundraising is delegated to a select few.

Gibson advocates breaking down artificial barriers, “In organizations with a culture of philanthropy, fund development is no longer separated from engagement. This reflects the fact that people today are connecting with nonprofits via multiple channels (e.g., social media, volunteering, blogs, meet ups, petitions) and engaging with them in multiple ways (e.g., as donors, volunteers, board members, constituents).”

Creating a culture of fundraising starts when all parties value fundraising and breakdown silos that separate functions within a nonprofit. It requires the commitment of leadership and investment of time.

Beyond Fundraising: What does it mean to build a culture of philanthropy?

Copyright 2016 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of the new book FUNdraising Good Times Classics Vol. 1 now available on For help growing your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

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