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Developing a Fundraising Culture


The influence of organisational culture on fundraising is an issue rarely discussed in our sector but in these challenging time may make the difference between success and failure.

Whether you are raising funds in a national charity, a hospital or a small local charity, the culture in which you operate will to a considerable extent determine what you can achieve. In other words, your success as a fundraiser will in part be defined by how the culture works for you or against you.

What Determines Fundraising Culture?

So what is it that determines the fundraising culture of an organisation? 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 (e.g. valued versus tolerated)
  • The extent to which fundraising is “owned” across other functions
  • The internal decision making processes (e.g. bureaucratic and slow versus quick and lean)
  • The involvement or otherwise of those at the top
  • Whether trustees understand fundraising or not
  • Attitudes to risk and innovation
  • The balance between empowerment and control of fundraising staff
  • The willingness to invest for the future (or not)
  • Whether fundraising is represented at senior management level or not
  • Slow and Marginal or Quick and Lean

    Each organisation has aspects that 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 (reflecting the NHS culture of which it is a part), so things happen very slowly and opportunities can be missed. Fundraising in this context is seen as a minor, peripheral issue (especially where the hospital board acts as corporate trustee).

    At the other end of the scale, a small local charity may be totally reliant on fundraising and value it more. It will move quickly to implement ideas and innovate freely, although 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. Fundraising will be seen as vital but can be hindered by a lack of resources.

    The Importance of Culture for Success

    So why is all this important? Well organisational culture is more than just of 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 easier and takes you further than battling your way against the current in a headwind. Organisational culture can make or break careers too, so it matters for fundraisers as well as for the institutions they serve.

    How to Change the Culture

    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? The answer to this is yes. Here are some ideas:

    It can really help to put fundraising on the map if you can identify a senior person, such as a trustee, who “gets” it and is willing to be an internal champion, for example by getting involved in fundraising activities, by being willing to ask for money and by advocating investment in fundraising at the highest level. This form of leadership can help set the tone across the organisation that fundraising is important and deserves support. So if you can, make friends with your trustees and try to recruit a champion for your cause. If there is really no one to fill this role, then next time a trustee vacancy arises, why not suggest filling it with someone from a fundraising background?

    Secondly, the fundraising team can achieve a lot by highlighting their successes internally. It is amazing how often charity staff work in silos, with operations colleagues unaware of what fundraisers are doing. So your internal comms need to engage with staff across the board and from top to bottom, to celebrate successes and demonstrate the difference you are making.

    Thirdly, it is crucial to involve your senior staff in fundraising where you can. For example, there is an important role for the CEO to meet your best donors and to help secure their support. By involving them at a practical level, not only will your results improve, but you will also foster a sense of ownership. After all, everyone wants to be part of something successful!

    One small benefit of the current pandemic is that it has made charities – and especially health charities – front of mind again with the public. This is a good foundation on which to develop a more fundraising friendly culture for your organisation, so make the most of it while it lasts.

    Changing the internal culture of an organisation does not happen overnight but takes time, patience and effort to achieve. But it can be done and will result in an increased income in the long run.

    If you have found this item of interest, you may find other articles of use on our website.

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