The Board’s Role in Creating a Giving Culture

The Board’s Role in Creating a Giving Culture

By Chris Arnold and Stephen DiCicco, Partners, Co-Founder, Educational Directions Incorporated

Research is showing that charitable giving is steadily rebounding but there’s a difference in what donorsfind compelling: More than ever, donors want to see the organization’s impact when carrying out its mission. Boards therefore need to focus on creating a culture of philanthropy defined by dedication to mission, and dispel old notions of a culture of philanthropy defined by how much money a group of donors may give.

“The fact is, institutions that are most successful in attracting gift investments are those that can articulate the nobility of their mission and demonstrate their ability to deliver upon that mission in a caring and efficient manner” (“Cultivating a Culture
of Philanthropy: How Boards Can Make a Difference,” by Peter N. Smits, Trusteeship, July/August 2014).

A key concept for the board to embrace is that the organization’s mission is to serve people and society; the organization itself has no needs. “Successful institutions solve their problems by focusing their unique resources and talents toward solving the needs of people and society.” The board needs to ensure that the organization has not begun to focus on the needs of the institution when it should be focusing on the mission at the heart of the organization.

A frank discussion prompted by five key questions will help the board see where it stands in regards to its culture, and will foster important dialogue not only with board members but with other key people in the organization:

1. What should the board’s culture of philanthropy look like and how do we get there?
2. What process is needed to understand the organization’s current culture and explore changes?
3. Is the organization’s vision and mission reflected in the actions of top staff ?
4. How good are we at inspiring engagement among volunteers and donors?
5. How can staff, volunteers, and donors embrace the culture of philanthropy?

As the board strives to foster a culture of philanthropy and meet the needs of donors who “want to see the direct impact and results of their gifts,” the board’s engagement with volunteers, donors, and the community becomes vitally important, and storytelling based on that
engagement becomes a powerful tool. “The best stories are not scripted by the communications department. They are genuine narratives based on conversations with various stakeholders.” For board members interacting with the community, the ability to be good listeners is even more important. “Leaders suggest that a ‘culture of philanthropy’ is synonymous with a ‘culture of engagement.’ Internal and external constituencies respond best when they see a clarity of purpose and evidence that demonstrates the mission is being delivered on in meaningful ways.”

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