As we explore this idea of a Culture of Philanthropy, it’s important to talk about exactly what we mean when we say the word ‘philanthropy’. What comes to mind for many is the notion of the 1% – super wealthy individuals. While individuals with an abundance of money are welcome to be part of the philanthropic party, they aren’t the whole show. I invite you to consider a more expansive approach to your definition. I like to go back to the Greek roots of Philanthropy (\ fə-ˈlan(t)-thrə-pē\), add a gender-neutral slant, and land at: Love of Humankind.
I believe that people who are philanthropic are expressing their commitment and love for a more functional, beautiful, healthy or inspired community. They may be philanthropic and generous by sharing their wisdom, their time, their skills or their money with your organization. They are essentially investors with you in a common vision, creating a Culture of Philanthropy.
The Rainmaker approach which I expound upon in my upcoming book, Choose Abundance, is to encourage organizational leaders to acknowledge all of these different types and sizes of contributions as philanthropic and a means to build an expansive community of supporters. Operating from this viewpoint allows you to cultivate deep relationships and partnerships with people who invest their time, their skills, their items, or their money in your shared vision. I promise you, when you take on an organization-wide commitment to value all assets as expressions of philanthropy, you will attract an abundance of expansive resources to your agency.
Deep Donor Relationships in a Culture of Philanthropy
Let’s talk about what deep donor relationships and partnerships are—and what they are not. A partnership implies a type of equality; two or more people embarking on something together. This is a healthy approach. The term ‘donor-centric fundraising’ has been used quite a bit in the field. I don’t believe that this concept is adequate as it implies that the donor should be put on a pedestal and that money is the only goal. This is not a true partnership and is not a healthy approach. It is important to recognize that while money is important, many different assets can help you to realize your organizational goals and vision. For this reason, I do not use the term donor-centric. Building a Culture of Philanthropy is much more about your organization and the community it engages.
With the approach that I’m recommending, it’s imperative that you keep your personal and organizational values and goals top of mind. If you approach your donors like they are all-knowing and all-powerful, and you are “less than”, you will be relinquishing your power, diminishing the partnership, and quite possibly taking actions that the donor sees as important, but your agency does not. This is also known as mission drift or following the money versus the mission, and this moves you away from truly establishing a Culture of Philanthropy. Remember, as a staff person (and especially if you are the CEO), you are the content and program expert. While it is good to learn from others, don’t be swayed by someone who is holding you captive with their money. This type of relationship places too much value on money, and often lacks authenticity.
As an organizational leader you have assets—your knowledge, wisdom, dedication, and past experience in the field. Your donors have other assets—their commitment to do good, their connections, their money and their wisdom. When you get to know your donors and see them as investors in your shared vision, you will achieve a powerful synergy. You can honestly express to them your concerns if they think you need something that you truly don’t need!
Tapping into the resources you already have at hand
Imagine, instead of seeking out that elusive super rich person you heard about in the news, you get to know the individuals already surrounding your organization and find out what assets they have to bring to your organization. You may discover people with skills, connections, knowledge, wisdom, money or a physical space to hold a party! When you recognize and access the resources of your organization’s community, you are deep in the work of co-creating a Culture of Philanthropy.
As many of us work to create a more just and equitable world, we can struggle with this dynamic, as the majority of the wealthiest individuals in our Major Donor portfolios are also the most privileged. This is where your leadership comes in. By standing in authentic partnership with your donors, including those with financial wealth, you have an opportunity to change the world and shift the power dynamic by helping them see the value of investing in a more just community.
If we look historically, some people of privilege stepped up and were important allies of the right for women to vote and for slavery to be abolished. Those breakthroughs occurred, in part, due to the education and participation of members of the privileged class who believed in and took the risks needed to advance these important causes. One of our jobs is to use our leadership roles to enroll and educate people to invest in positive change.
Building deep and authentic partnerships is about community engagement and inviting a broad and diverse group of people to invest in your cause. Who should be part of your community so that they can weigh in with their unique perspectives? How will you build your Culture of Philanthropy?
Additional resource on a Culture of Philanthropy