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December 4, 2021
Nonprofits Need to Create a Vibrant Culture of Philanthropy
By Alyssa Wright

Alyssa Wright
Alyssa Wright
From development director turnover to boards that won’t fundraise to founders who stay way past their prime, the nonprofit sector lets a scarcity mindset fester, limiting the ability of organizations to raise the funds they need.

Nonprofits often prepare for success with masterful strategic plans and brilliant budgets, but as soon as the topic of fundraising comes up the conversation changes. They ask “what’s the minimum we can do with what we have?” instead of “what could we do if we began to access the resources that are truly out there for us?” They shift from being visionary to believing that little exists out there to resource their work #147; and therefore miss opportunities to be as financially successful as possible.

Overcoming this hurdle requires reimagining nonprofit culture and structures that will let organizations more fully tap into the more than $400 billion that individuals, estates, foundations, and corporations donate to charities each year in the U.S. To do that, nonprofits must acknowledge two things: 1) They need to create vibrant cultures of philanthropy and 2) They need to have difficult conversations to get there.

Here are five tips to begin to shift to a vibrant culture of philanthropy.

Think abundantly.

Listen for scarcity mindset within your organization. If you hear it within the office, board room or on committee calls, silence it. Connecting people back to how impactful and inspiring your mission is can be a gentle reminder that people do and can resource your work with bigger checks. You need to believe in it, trust it, and ask for it.

Take care of your development director.

Typically, it takes six to nine months to close a new gift from a prospective donor and 18-24 months to significantly upgrade a gift from a current donor. With development directors across America lasting about two years in their positions, you can’t afford to lose yours. As long as they are a match with your organization, support them. Trust them. Make sure they don’t feel alone in the fundraising effort. Support them with a team of wise peers, board members, staff, current donors, and other volunteers who are fundraising alongside them. Remember, it takes a village to raise the budget.

Give fundraising good energy.

Don’t avoid saying the f-word. If you avoid saying it or find yourself hesitating, others will too. Too often, many fundraisers wait until the last minute to bring up the ask. Ask donors for permission early in the year to talk about a gift or an upgraded gift at some point. That way, they know it is coming and it is something to look forward to, not fear.

Don’t assume you have strong donor relationships.

I go into many organizations to assess their current stakeholder base and interview prospective stakeholders. Each time, I find out information about these donors that the organization missed even after years of knowing them and having them fund their work. Carve out an hour a week to just gather feedback from a donor partner or send out emails to get their thoughts before you design your fundraising strategies to engage them. You will learn a lot if you bring them in to co-design the strategies with you.

Write the succession plan. Seriously.

It is incredibly difficult to move leaders along who either founded or have run organizations for decades. Tired leadership is the biggest barrier to nonprofits across the country in accessing new funding or new ways of thinking. Nonprofits need to prepare themselves to have the difficult conversation of who needs to move on and where they move on to, especially when it comes to founders and board chairs. These roles can often keep people in positions of power who are maintaining toxic, unhealthy, and harmful cultural norms. Don’t be afraid to advocate for a succession planning committee and work to ensure your voice is heard.

Between the fancy events, beautiful graphic design, and carefully crafted spreadsheets, remember you don't raise money if you don’t spend time with your community. And your community will only want to spend time with you if you are inspiring, educating, and respecting them for their role in mission making.

Create an environment where the strategies are met by loving and transparent cultures. With this, you cannot fail to access what you need to achieve societal wellbeing.

Alyssa Wright, principal of Alyssa F. Wright Consulting, is an accomplished facilitator, consultant and coach who helps nonprofit organizations build new revenue streams. Email her at
January 2020
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