Over the next few months, Keela will be working with Sharon Davis of Giving Well to take a deeper look at Charity and Philanthropy. In this dynamic blog series, we will be examining the key difference between these two topics, and offering tips and tools to level up your own efforts in these areas. 




Guest PostSharon Davis, Giving Well





Last month we discussed the difference between Charity vs Philanthropy and will now delve deeper into Philanthropic Culture.


A culture of philanthropy refers to your organization’s attitude toward philanthropy and fund development.  Philanthropy and fund development are essential partners – philanthropy being a voluntary action for the common good and fund development the engine that drives philanthropy.


Philanthropy is not just about raising money it is part of the mission of your organization and when adopted and nurtured the benefits are far reaching.



Building Philanthropic Culture vs Fundraising




Effective organizations embrace a culture of philanthropy. Each volunteer and every employee senses it. Clients and donors recognize it whenever they connect with your organization.

There are 3 main components to adopting a culture of philanthropy:


  • Strategy – organization must intentionally develop and foster a culture of philanthropy
  • Approach – Culture must start from within the internal structure
  • Donor Centric – never forget where your funds come from and treat these relationships with the respect they deserve

Making a major shift is your organization does not happen overnight, it is an evolution that may take multiple years so think of it as a process instead of a destination.  An engaged organization steeped in values is a living force that is powerful, self-sustaining and opens up entirely new possibilities; it is not a piggy bank to shake now and then.


So where does this process begin?  It starts internally, which includes the board, the executive team, staff and volunteers. Culture then projects outward to grateful recipients, supporters and all other stakeholders.


Everyone is an ambassador for the organization’s service.   Being an ambassador means doing one’s own job well but also understanding how all the jobs in the organization create one integrated system. Culture then projects outwardly to grateful clients and other supporters.

Charitable organizations exist to fill the need and create change but too often they do not fully understand the value of what they are trying to accomplish and the importance of fund development.  Without charitable giving, most not-for-profits cannot survive.  Fund development can no longer be isolated, it is an integral function and inextricably entwined to the entire organization.


Donors want to enact change but they cannot do it without you.  They cannot provide after school programs for at risk youth, build a hospital, end homelessness, cure a disease or clean up the environment, they need you and your organization to create the meaning they are seeking.  For them to get this significance – the impactful expression of their values — they need to know what their giving accomplished. They need to feel valued and appreciated. Not just once, but on an ongoing basis. Not just by the development director, but by the entire organization.


The culture of philanthropy is an attitude, an understanding, a behavior that is firmly established and encompasses everyone – from the receptionist who is often the first point of contact to the Executive Director and the Board.


When it comes to donors they don’t serve you; you serve them.  You are there to help them experience the joy of giving.  Donors don’t care which department someone works in, they only see one organization and it is represented by everyone and you are all responsible for philanthropy.


You can’t have a strong culture of philanthropy and treat your donors like transactions, they must be engaged in everything you do.  If development directors are the only ones interfacing with donors your success will be limited.  Donor-centricity and a strong culture of philanthropy go hand in hand; pay attention to what the donors value.


Here is the key shift – your primary role is not fundraising… it is building the philanthropic culture in your organization so that philanthropic relationships can survive and thrive. Your role is not to “Get Donors” nor is it to “Raise Money”.  It is to build relationships that result in the formation of philanthropists.  Donors and money are the outcome, you are the catalyst for change in your organization.  Donors are stakeholders who have invested because they care about what you do.


Keeping everyone informed is key; let your board, volunteers and staff know the impact of donations – sell your impact not the amount of money you raised.  These stories are the message your ambassadors carry forward into the community and beyond creating the change we all want to see.


Are You Ready to Start Creating a Culture of Philanthropy within Your Organization?





Sharon Davis is the Co-Founder of Giving Well. Sharon had a lengthy career in Investment Finance before shifting her focus to the nonprofit sector. After making the move Sharon looked for ways to share her business experience with the nonprofit sector helping them to improve their fundraising capability, awareness, and growth.