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Nov 10

Developing a Culture of Giving within Your Organization

Employees and internal stakeholders should be a cornerstone of your non-profit organization’s fund development efforts.

Yet the Spirit of philanthropy doesn’t necessarily come naturally to the human soul, even if they’re employed by your 501(c)(3) organization; work on your board of directors; or teach, heal or pray in your corridors.

As organizations grow, they have a tendency to begin to resemble their for-profit counterparts. As a result, and over time, it is not unusual for the charitable focus that may have been at the core of the founders’ vision to become hazy or even fade away altogether. Fortunately, developing a culture of philanthropy within your organization can serve more goals than just assisting with fund raising. A philanthropic employee base is more likely to be committed to the organization’s mission, to the team effort, and to bringing a positive attitude to their work.

Here are a dozen tips for developing a culture of giving within your not-for-profit organization, whether it is a para-church ministry, a hospital, or a university:

1. State Your Mission ― Again
Employees need to understand your organization’s non-profit mission and be regularly reminded of what they come to work to accomplish. It is natural to expect that the worthy nature of your mission will lead to employees making a personal financial commitment. It’s not about requiring employees to give, or browbeating them, it’s about employees coming to a place where they internalize your mission and want to participate more fully with it through voluntarily giving back something to the organization and its causes.

2. Start with Small, Non-Threatening Opportunities
The opportunity to give small gifts can help employees become more comfortable with giving to your organization. A common approach that fits this criterion is a holiday “lights on the tree” appeal. This type of appeal gives Niece Sally an opportunity to make a donation in honor of Aunt Suzie’s recently deceased husband. It helps both the donor, who doesn’t know what to get Aunt Suzie, and your organization.

Likewise, your organization could ask for an extra dollar, or to round up the employee’s purchase to the next dollar when they visit the gift shop or cafeteria during a special celebratory week. Bringing in Jewelry, Uniform or Book Sales to the workplace for employee’s convenience and your organization’s benefit also fall in this category ― especially when your communication efforts make clear that your organization’s share is going to a specific, worthwhile cause.

3. Talk about It
If other departments are on the agenda for presentations to management groups or to employees, so should fund development. Upcoming appeals and plans are strategically important to the organization just like a new advertising campaign, or the introduction of a new service. Discussion of fund development plans with employees should be done openly and naturally, not hidden from view.

4. Ensure Executive Giving
Your organization’s C-level executives should already be giving back to your organization at some level. If not, it’s unlikely that they will have the necessary commitment to support the development of a culture of giving within your organization. A fund development director will need want to take on stragglers as they would any potential major donor. If nothing else, recognizing executive giving may help your PR efforts when the press gets a hold of your 990s.

5. Recognize that Some are ‘Takers’
Your fund development and executive leadership should recognize that Americans by nature ― and many people by personality ― are “givers.” In service industries and non-profits, more than the average number of employees may already be receptive to supporting your cause. Fund development is not about pulling money from someone’s hand, it’s about providing people the opportunity to partner with your organization’s mission to do something important that impacts people’s lives. If staff are upset that you’re asking, they likely don’t understand your non-profit status and mission.

6. Develop Social Networks at Work and then Tie to Your Cause
People you work with often become like “family.” Nurturing this can benefit morale and teamwork, as well as providing another avenue for you to share your mission with your own employees. Traditionally, internal giving by departments can be encouraged through holiday appeals or memorial opportunities that employees can mutually contribute to as a natural unit. Online social networks like and Facebook and LinkedIn are additional ways to create a network. Start by making sure your organization has a Facebook page or group that employees can affiliate themselves with. Then consider that Facebook also provides a way for members to support “causes” – information about which can then be distributed virally to your employees’ friends.

7. Celebrate Volunteerism
The spirit of volunteerism is akin to the spirit of giving. They are often the same constituency. Celebrate even if the employee’s volunteerism is elsewhere in the community, not just within your own organization. It is the same spirit regardless of where expressed.

8. Encourage Volunteerism
The next step after celebrating volunteerism is to encourage it through providing opportunities, requiring community service for managers, requiring it for promotion, providing time off, flexible scheduling and so forth.

9. Encourage All Types of Giving
A culture of giving that encouraging employees to give to worthy causes is good for the employee, good for the community and good for the organization. Some ways to do this include United Way campaigns, providing a matching gift program, or participating with national organizations with which your non-profit has affinity (for example, a hospital putting together a team for the Alzheimer Association’s Memory Walk). Selfishly avoiding providing employees with such outside giving opportunities doesn’t make sense. Rather, develop a spirit of philanthropy among employees and watch for downstream benefits to your organization in the form of new donors or planned gifts from those employees.

10. Acknowledge Internal Donors
Acknowledging internal donors internally can express the organization’s gratitude to them and be an encouragement for other employees to give as well. Admittedly, this requires some finesse to come across in a positive manner and not as cajoling non-givers. Summarizing employee giving and reporting the aggregate results in newsletters and easel posters can be an effective first step. In addition, major internal donors might be recognized at board or foundation meetings where other major and external donors are present.

11. Make Internal Giving Easy
Payroll deduction can make employee giving easier. Also splitting a pledge across multiple paychecks provides an opportunity for employees to become regular donors and reach larger giving levels.

12. Ask
Unashamedly ask your employees and related internal constituencies to support the strategic needs of your organization with their charitable contributions. If your needs ― and their support ― weren’t important, you likely wouldn’t be a non-profit organization to start with. Your board members and employees are likely already giving elsewhere, as are physicians within your hospital or health care organizations, or the professors on your teaching staff. Why shouldn’t – why wouldn’t – they also be interested in giving back to the good work being done where they work? You’ll never know, and you’ll never develop a spirit of giving, until you ask.

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