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Build a Culture of Philanthropy: Conversations with Doubting Colleagues

donors fundraisers fundraising philanthropy relationships teamwork May 12, 2023

What to do when our non-fundraising colleagues and leadership don't understand fundraising

Most fundraisers aim to build a Culture of Philanthropy within their organizations. This is important because internal support is an key stepping stone to fundraising success – particularly in major gift and transformational gift work.

As fundraisers, we know our most loyal donors have a deep connection between their personal values, and our mission and outcomes. We engage in meaningful conversations with our donors because substantial gifts start from a place of connection and trust. But then some of us run into the doubters and nay-sayers within our own organizations:

“Why are you out running around having meetings so much?”
“It must be easy to get money from rich people.”
“I wish we didn’t have to ask for money to get our work accomplished at all!”

Want to know how you overcome the objections, hesitations, and fears that some of your colleagues (or leaders) feel about major gift fundraising? We’ve got you covered!


Conversations That Help to Build a Culture of Philanthropy

1. Nonprofit colleagues may say: “I know we need funding – can’t you just raise money from grants and events?”

Grants and events income are revenue streams – but raising major gifts from individuals opens the possibility for increased gifts, broader support, and more sustainable donor giving. 

What you can say: “Building relationships with individual donors means we aren’t restricted to asking on a grant cycle. And major gift fundraising has a much better return on our investment of time and energy, than events.Working with individuals or families is about connecting with their interests, passions, and values. When we meet them at the intersection of their values and our work, then asking for a major or transformational gift becomes less about money and more about the work we accomplish together.”

2. The CEO may say: “I know I should talk with our supporters. But asking for money makes me nervous, even embarrassed. One-to-one fundraising seems so hit or miss - I can never tell when it will work.”

To non-development colleagues, fundraising can seem mysterious, a never-ending grind, or a necessary evil. I believe that organizational leaders are important collaborators in fundraising, but that the fundraising teams are the experts on raising money. A tool you may offer colleagues is a visual of the donor cycle showing how we build and nurture relationships to raise money successfully.

What you can say: “Working with major donors is about relationships, trust, and partnership. In fact, we almost never ask for money but instead, we invite donors to be part of the solution at the heart of our mission. Major and transformational gift donors want and need to understand our vision for the future. And they wish to join in getting our community there. 

Money is simply a tool to that end. We identify supporters and nurture their relationships as a key element of our work. Then we set up an ask and close the gift. Sometimes we don’t even ask – the donor asks what they can do to make the vision a reality.”

3. Colleagues may say: “People with the ability to give should be supporting our mission – our work is that great. We need to talk about our successes and raise awareness. That will get people to donate.”

Talking only about successes and not about where support is needed doesn’t actually attract donors – it attracts fans. Fundraisers create donor-shaped spaces in the narrative for people to enter to help solve the issue – by giving. They want to be part of the team to accomplish a better world together. We also know that donors aren’t cash machines… they give to a cause, not to a need.

What you can say: “Doing diligent work and achieving success around our mission is important. But donors want to offer their support where it is needed – and if there is already a success and seemingly nothing left to accomplish, why would they give?

Donors want to understand why their gift is needed and what it will accomplish. Major gift donors want to be inspired! In most cases, there is still work to do in this world – cures, ending injustices, building avenues for better tomorrows. When we have those meaningful conversations with supporters, they see how they can be part of that solution – by giving.” 

Bottom Line: This is joyful, important work!

Help your colleagues understand this isn’t easy work, but it also isn’t intimidating. Donors can be supportive partners is getting to a brighter future. Use the tools and conversations to bridge the objections.



My blog post first appeared in the Gail Perry Group blog on March 17, 2023.

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