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A Culture Shift for Fundraising

What is a “culture of philan­thropy” — and why does it matter?

New paper drills down on an emerging concept in nonprofit fundraising.

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Linda Wood
Senior Director, Haas Leadership Initiatives

Three years ago, the Haas, Jr. Fund joined with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services to produce a study, UnderDeveloped, documenting the chronic fundraising challenges facing today’s nonprofits. One possible path to addressing these challenges, the report suggested, is for nonprofit leaders to foster and develop a “culture of philanthropy” in their organizations.

Even as we made this recommendation, we acknowledged that the term “culture of philanthropy” was not yet well understood across the sector. That’s why we recently asked Cynthia Gibson to look into exactly what the field means when we talk about such a culture. In Beyond Fundraising: What Does it Mean to Build a Culture of Philanthropy?, Cynthia synthesizes her conversations with diverse experts, offers a framework for understanding what a culture of philanthropy might look like, and provides suggestions on how to know if you have one.

The notion of a culture of philanthropy has generated a significant amount of conversation — and some controversy — across the field. Cynthia’s paper is a first attempt to try to capture what people are talking about and to identify the core elements of such a culture. The paper suggests that, without a deeper shift in how organizations hold the work of fund development, simply adopting new tools and techniques may not be enough.

The report is one of three studies that will be published by the Resetting Development work group, a panel of experts the Haas, Jr. Fund convened to identify and highlight promising practices that can help social change organizations break out of the chronic fundraising challenges spotlighted in the UnderDeveloped study.

We are sharing this report as part of our effort to “learn out loud.” What do you think? Is a culture of philanthropy a useful concept? What does it look like in practice? And do you know organizations that are already working in this way? Please share your comments below.

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