Building a Culture of Philanthropy

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Today’s article was written by Concordia’s new Chief Development Officer Scott Koskoski, CFRE. Like most all nonprofit organizations, Concordia Lutheran Ministries is made stronger by having a base of supporters who contribute to our mission – whether that be through donating time, talents or treasures. This article is about the common traits you’ll find in nonprofits that embrace a Culture of Philanthropy. Enjoy!

Today is day number 15 of month number four of my tenure at Concordia Lutheran Ministries, and if you’ve met me, you’ve probably heard me speak to the “Culture of Philanthropy” we are endeavoring to build. While this effort may originate from the Development office, creating and sustaining Concordia’s Culture of Philanthropy (in capitals because of the importance of those words) is an effort that ultimately will involve all who are fortunate to touch our mission each day.

Concordia Lutheran Ministries is a nonprofit organization, and all nonprofits have a Culture. All nonprofits also (hopefully) have Philanthropy. But how many nonprofits truly have a Culture of Philanthropy – and what exactly does it look and feel like?

What it doesn’t mean is that everybody associated with Concordia will suddenly start writing big checks. (Although this is a great opportunity to thank every CLM employee that participated in our recent “Here We GROW, Steelers!” giving campaign – we appreciate you!)

Rather, a Culture of Philanthropy exists when everyone involved at Concordia, especially staff, board and volunteers, understands the importance of philanthropy to our mission and acts to promote it. And because I like lists, I’ve created a set of traits I’ve found in nonprofits who have strong Cultures of Philanthropy. How many of these can we build together at CLM?

1. Income Knowledge. In a Culture of Philanthropy, people (board, staff, and volunteers) associated with Concordia know how we derive our income. They know why individual donations are critical. Amongst our other funding streams, they understand the importance of donations now and in our future. In this culture, supporters realize how philanthropy impacts Concordia. Supporters know that donations are a priority and they must be earned to do our mission well.

2. A Mindset with Actions. A refrain in a hymn by Avery and March begins, “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together!” In a culture of philanthropy the refrain is, “I am a philanthropist. You are a philanthropist. We are philanthropists together!” along with “I am responsible. You are responsible. We are responsible together!” In this culture, refrains like these play on in the minds of Concordia’s supporters. Support of monetary gifts is part of everyone’s job description, volunteer or paid. Additionally, everyone gives, no matter if the gift is one dollar or one million. On a deep level, we understand the need for everyone to participate. In answer to the question, who is in charge of getting individual donations? Everyone answers, “We all are.” Who gives? “We all do.”

3. The “Ugh Factor” Removed. What do unethical used car salesman, unscrupulous telephone solicitors, dishonest roofers, and nonprofits with a Culture of Philanthropy have in common? Very little, unless Concordia’s supporters believe that obtaining money for CLM involves slight of hand, double dealing, and false promises. In a Culture of Philanthropy, we operate 100% above board and the “Ugh Factor” is deleted.

4. An Opportunity for Incredible Value. Nature hates a vacuum. In a Culture of Philanthropy we create a belief that Concordia offers donors incredible returns on their investment. Everyone works to ensure this is true. In this culture, supporters understand they can invite others to change our residents’ and patients’ lives by being philanthropists. Supporters offer partnerships with amazing value and they know it.

5. Key Messages in Use. In their everyday lives, a volunteer helps by mentioning tickets for special events and their favorite program. A staff member mentions a grant application and the need for a new piece of equipment. Our development staff talks about the upcoming annual appeal’s plea for our charitable care fund. While these comments are supportive, they are inconsistent and unclear about how everyone can help with donations. What do we want people to know about Concordia and how we are funded? What do we want people to say out there in the community? In a Culture of Philanthropy, everyone knows and uses the same common language.

6. Active Use of Donor Motivations. Why on earth do people give to CLM? In a Culture of Philanthropy, our supporters know the top components of our mission that motivate the majority of our donors. For example, here are key Concordia donor motivators: 1) we are faith-based, 2) we provide the highest quality senior care, and 3) we are seen as a community good. When Concordia’s supporters understand the most common points of donor connections, we all can tailor our communications around them.

7. Highways Open. Can Concordia’s staff and board members provide the Development office with dozens of quality donor referrals per year? Just as the world of health care relies upon success in referrals, so too does the world of fundraising! This needs to be a key focus and not just one of 637 other “priorities.” In a Culture of Philanthropy, actions that support philanthropy, such as providing names, are seen as just as important as other urgent needs. In this culture, donor relationships are not just, “another thing I’m asked to do.” In a Culture of Philanthropy obtaining donations is one of the top priorities for everyone every year. (The other priorities concern mission maximization.)

It’s a pleasure to be together on the journey of creating Concordia’s Culture of Philanthropy with you. Thank you in advance for your teamwork and support!

For more information on charitable giving at Concordia, visit the Give A Gift section of our website or call the Development Office at 1-888-352-1571, ext 8291.

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