That Culture of Philanthropy

You know, the thing everyone talks about, but so few people pay gainsattention to.  After all these years of working in the field, I’m convinced that regardless of what we say, an organization that does not have a well-resourced development department does not have a culture of philanthropy.  If having appropriate staff and other tools—like a good database—is too expensive, then the nonprofit needs to stop crying that it has no money.  This is the ultimate Emperor with no clothes. No matter how committed your board and other volunteers may be, there are things that can only be done by a dedicated (and by that I mean someone whose job description is development) staff person.  Preferably people.

I spend a lot of time working with organizations that have one or no person development staff.  And while things can always be made better (and I believe fervently that I help organizations to be better), without the appropriate staff it is an uphill battle.

But, say my clients and the organizations that take my trainings, we have no money to hire development staff.  But, I contend, if you don’t find that money—and hire well—you will never have the money to do any of the things you need to do.

Once that staff person is hired, however, an organization that has a culture of philanthropy understands that she or he is not the sole fundraiser for the organization.  That is everyone’s job.  Her (or his) job is to make sure that it all happens:

  • Appeals are written and sent out
  • Acknowledgements and thank you letters, also
  • Grants, ditto
  • That prospect lists are drawn up and research about those prospects happens
  • That call reports are filed for all interactions with prospects and donors
  • That board members understand what they need to do, and that the development director is persistent in ensuring that they do it.
  • That balls don’t get dropped but, rather, that follow up and follow through are just the way business is done

Look less for an appealing and glib director of development and more for someone who who understands what it takes to get charitable gifts and is willing to do the often tedious work it takes to get there.  And did I mention someone who understands follow up and follow through?

If raising charitable money is important to your organization, then it must follow that a development department of at least two (the director and an assistant) high on the priority list.  Otherwise, instead of a culture of philanthropy you have a culture of not raising enough money and you will always always be scrambling just to make ends meet.

Janet Levine moves nonprofits from mired to inspired.  Learn how at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and do contact Janet for a free 30 minute consultation.