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Fundraising and Organisational Culture

The influence of organisational culture on fundraising is an issue rarely discussed in our sector. Whether you are raising funds in a major hospital or a small disability charity, the culture in which you operate will to a large extent define and determine how you operate, as well as the limits of what you can and cannot do. In other words, your success as a fundraiser will in part be determined by how the culture works for or against you.

So what is it that determines the culture of an organisation in relation to fundraising? It is linked to things like:

  • The age and size of the organisation
  • How long fundraising has been carried out
  • The status of fundraising within the organisation (i.e. valued versus tolerated)
  • The extent to which fundraising is “owned” across other functions
  • The internal decision making processes (e.g. bureaucratic and slow versus lean and rapid)
  • The involvement or otherwise of those at the top
  • Attitudes to risk and innovation
  • The balance between empowerment and control of fundraising staff
  • The willingness to invest for the future (or not)

Each organisational has aspects will help or hinder fundraising. So, for example, a large hospital typically interacts with many potential donors, has resources to invest and a long shopping list of projects to raise funds for. However, the culture is often top down, bureaucratic and risk averse, so things happen very slowly and opportunities can be missed.

At the other end of the scale, a small new charity can move quickly to implement ideas and innovate freely, but may lack the resources needed to develop all of its opportunities. Attitudes to risk and innovation may also vary considerably, sometimes enabling the charity to punch above its weight, for example by good use of social media.

So why is all this important? Well organisational culture is more than just a vague academic interest. It is important because it determines to a large extent how successful an organisation will be in fundraising. Allied to this, by working for or against fundraisers, it can limit how successful they will be (and be seen to be) in their roles. After all, sailing downstream with the wind behind you is more fulfilling and takes you further than battling your way against the current into a headwind. Organisational culture can make or break careers, so it matters for individuals as well as the institutions they serve.

So the question is, what sort of culture prevails in your organisation? Is it helping or hindering your fundraising? If the latter, are there things you can do about it? Or are attitudes and practices so entrenched that real change is unlikely? Ultimately, it seems to me that you have three choices. You either a) accept the constraints and make the best of things, b) seek to change what you can and put up with the rest or c) find another organisation to work for where the culture is more conducive to success.

It would be interesting to hear others’ views on this subject. Please email your thoughts to simon@wgconsulting.co.uk

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