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What Does it Take to Create a "Culture of Philanthropy"?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cynthia Gibson is a consultant to a wide range of foundation and nonprofits on program development, evaluation, and communications. Her recent work with the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund, Culture is Changing: Fundraising Needs to Change with It, discusses how the field of philanthropy, though revolving around money, can't be only focused on development.


Like many people in the nonprofit world, I started out as a fundraiser. I worked for a development director, however, who had very different ideas about how that job should be done.

While her peers boasted about “bringing in a $2 million gift,” my boss refused to take credit for donations, saying these were the result of the organization’s work—not hers. When the board tried to link her salary to money raised, she showed them how making fundraising everyone’s responsibility led to more donations.  And when she was left out of planning meetings, she argued that decoupling development from these activities was short-sighted and the antithesis of smart strategy.

It turns out that she was way ahead of her time. Today, what once seemed radical is now a flash point in discussions about how fundraising is changing. At the center of those discussions is the concept of moving from “fundraising” to developing a “culture of philanthropy.”

What’s that?  According to some of the development field’s leading experts—Simone JoyauxGail PerryStephanie RothKarla WilliamsTerry AxelrodMarla Cornelius, among others—a culture of philanthropy is one in which everyone’s a fundraiser: board, staff and executive director. It’s about relationships, not just money. It’s as much about keeping donors, as acquiring new ones, and seeing them as having more than just money to bring to the table. And it’s one in which fund development is a valued and mission-aligned component of everything the organization does—not a one-off.  

Why is it important?  As they say in Silicon Valley, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Translation: Organizations’ success or failure is determined less by their tactics than by the values, practices, communication patterns and behavior of people who work there.

For nonprofits with a culture of philanthropy, that means fundraising is seen less as a transactional tactic and more of a way of operating—one that reflects the definition of philanthropy: A love of humankind and a voluntary joining of resources and action for the public good.


How do you think we need to create a culture of philanthropy? Let us know @NorCalGrant.