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Creating a Culture of Philanthropy in Challenging Times

Creating a Culture of Philanthropy in Challenging Times

February 26, 2024
Karen Kemp

We live in uncertain times.  Americans have suffered through years of a pandemic, inflation and recession.  This has created financial challenges for many families, and our country seems as polarized as it has ever been in our lifetime.  

Likewise, many nonprofits, schools and universities find themselves struggling to remain engaged with donors in this challenging climate.  While some organizations have seen their donations and engagement increase, others are struggling to retain their current donors.

Whether you represent a food bank that has experienced record-high donations or you are part of an arts group that cannot meet its budget, there has never been a more important time to connect with your donors and create a culture of philanthropy in your organization.

I have a wonderful friend who is loved by so many people.  He has the largest circle of friends of anyone I know, and these are all people who feel just like I do about him.  He is authentic, caring and interested in the things I value.  I trust him and I feel honored to be his friend.  

Nonprofits who have lots of loyal donors are like my friend.  They are authentic, they make time for their donors, and they place a high value on those things their donors value.  These nonprofits are intentional about creating a culture in which everyone plays a role in relationship-building and raising resources.  

At its core, a culture of philanthropy is one in which everyone – board, staff and executive director – has a part to play in raising resources for the organization.

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 a culture in which fund development is a valued and mission-aligned component of everything the organization does.

So where do you start?  What specific actions can you take to implement a culture of philanthropy in your nonprofit, school or university?  Here are four steps that any organization can take to develop or enhance a culture of philanthropy:

  1. COLLABORATE – It is imperative to break down silos by creating opportunities for development staff to meet with other relevant departments in your organization. Cross-functional collaboration can lead to greater results that surpass anything achieved in a silo.  If your organization doesn’t create cross-functional teams, you may want to consider appointing a culture of philanthropy committee as a first step toward making your culture more collaborative. 
  2. CREATE – High-performing nonprofits develop a culture of philanthropy by creating opportunities for their staff, board, partners and donors to engage with their mission in meaningful ways.  Philanthropy must be relational, transparent and include all stakeholders.  Donors must be recognized as valuable allies who bring more than just money to the table.
  3. COMMUNICATE – Instead of trying to “educate” people, help everyone in your organization understand how they can contribute to a culture of philanthropy within their unique role.  It is important to give your colleagues the tools to share your mission outside the four walls of your office.  Developing an elevator speech that includes your mission statement is a great place to start.
  4. CELEBRATE – Nothing is more powerful than authentic expressions of appreciation.  Whether you are recognizing a faculty member for sharing their student success stories or showing gratitude to a donor for their generosity, always take the time to celebrate the milestones along the way to a culture of philanthropy.

Building a culture of philanthropy is more of a process than an end state.  It takes persistence and patience, and it must be nurtured over time.  As nonprofit leaders, we understand that developing a seven-figure gift takes time and persistence.  Creating a culture of philanthropy is no different.  It will not happen overnight.  But the rewards are great when we invest time and resources toward this end.


Karen Kemp

Karen has more than 20 years of experience as a fundraising and nonprofit professional. She served for 10 years as director of development at Darton State College, where she managed the Darton Foundation and led its first-ever capital campaign. She has also served as executive director of four nonprofits in the health, arts and human services fields; in these roles, she managed annual campaigns, capital campaigns, planned giving, board development, special events and communications. Karen is active in community affairs and serves on the state board of the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault. She graduated from Leadership Albany and has served as state public affairs chair for the Junior Leagues of Georgia. She serves on the board of Family Literacy Connection and is a volunteer with the Atlanta Chapter of the March of Dimes. A former Rotary president, she was recognized with a Martin Luther King Dream Award for her work on behalf of Georgia’s children and their families. Karen attended the University of Georgia and graduated from Georgia State University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Karen’s favorite quote: “Joy is found through living a life of purpose.”