A Culture of Philanthropy for Better Fundraising Results

By Ann Hale

Chief Development Officer, Anchorage Museum and Chair-elect of the Association of Fundraising Professionals

Fundraisers, like all professionals, have witnessed a sea change in their working environments over the past fifteen years. Socioeconomic, geopolitical, and geo-economic events have given rise to so many more vulnerable communities. All of them need help and most need it urgently – from a donor base that increasingly seeks to leverage their gifts to generate quantifiable impact. Add to that: emerging technologies, a tumultuous economy, an increasingly interconnected world, and the arrival of millennials in our workforce have created opportunities – and challenges – that require fundraisers to reinvent and re-commit to their jobs.

If they are to earn the commitment and trust of today’s donor, fundraisers must bring their A-game to every donor, every day. Keeping skills razor sharp, their knowledge of best practices relevant, and their networks diverse is requisite to their ability to generate and sustain giving.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) is the place where the majority of the fundraising community turns for professional development. For more than sixty years, AFP has been at the vanguard of the movement to establish fundraisers within the public eye as a community of highly trained, highly ethical professionals motivated by the greater good. AFP’s professional education programs are respected globally, as is the worldwide network of members that is over 33,000 fundraisers strong, and the code of ethics to which each member subscribes.

Together with our members, we’re also reimagining the fundraising profession. We’re analyzing the needs of fundraisers today and forecasting what those needs will look like tomorrow. One conclusion we have drawn, and one upon which we are intently focused, is the need to help fundraisers lead their executive directors and CEOs to understand – and own – cultures that are conducive to better fundraising outcomes.

The 2013 UnderDeveloped and 2016 Bright Spots reports published by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund underscore issues and solutions that affect an organization’s ability to attract and retain fundraising talent. Too many CEOs and executive directors complain about a revolving door in their development offices, a challenge highlighted in UnderDeveloped and attributed, in part, to internal impediments that hobble to fundraising success. However, in Bright Spots, we see evidence of how a few exceptional nonprofits experience tremendous success in environments of shared responsibility for both the donor experience, and the ultimate impact of programs.

These environments of shared responsibility are part of a culture of philanthropy that enlightened leaders are striving to create in their organizations. These leaders are making the commitment to understand a culture of philanthropy for what it is – an organization-wide alignment with donor vision and values – rather than an externally facing silo that is evaluated against its overhead to income ratio.

A true culture of philanthropy elevates fundraisers in new ways by positioning them as leaders in their organizations, empowering them to make decisions based on meaningful and sustained impact, and working as partners to steward donors and their gifts in an intentional and transparent way. And, they are investing in the lateral and vertical development of their fundraising staff. The focus of professional development in a culture of philanthropy is not exclusively focused on knowledge of fundraising best practices, but balanced to continually enhance four essential core competencies that AFP has identified as components of success – relationship-building, communication, professional judgment, and organizational management. While it may seem counterintuitive, those strategic skills – often called ‘soft’ skills – are the foundation upon which expertise and success are built.

I’ll be talking more about the fundraising competencies and knowledge areas central to cultures of philanthropy with our moderator Sonya Campion of the Campion Foundation, Jeanne Bell of CompassPoint, and Ann Wallestad of Board Source at our session, Frame-Breaking Ideas for 21st Century Fundraising, presented by AFP, on Wednesday, November 16 from 4:00p-5:30 pm. If you see room for improvement in your fundraising program, please join us for a riveting discussion!