Over the past week, we renewed our exploration of what’s wrong with nonprofit fundraising. Here and here we dealt mainly with how fundraisers are viewed and treated by their organizations and by each other.

Of course, that’s only a small part of the story — some of the symptoms. The bigger picture problem — the disease itself and the ‘cure’ for it lies in understanding and treating the systems that are the root cause of the disease.

The ‘disease’ is of course the low level or even total absence of esteem or importance which is assigned to ‘fundraising’ across all parts of an organization. In today’s jargon this missing or malformed gene is labeled ‘the culture of philanthropy’.

No matter what we call it or how we describe it the effects are dangerous and often deadly. The failure to align leadership, and share the responsibility for executing on both mission and money is why so many fundraising efforts fail.

A welcome diagnosis — and even more welcome suggestions for a ‘cure’ — come in the form of a new report just out: Inside Out Fundraising by Mark Rovner and Alia McKee of Sea Change Strategies.

I’m recommending Inside Out Fundraising as your weekend ‘must’ reading. Better yet download it here, print it out, then share copies with your board, CEO and colleagues.

The report’s sub-title signals its value: “How to Create a Culture of Philanthropy by Treating Systems Instead of Symptoms.” Most folks blame poor fundraising on lack of skills, bad tactics or limited budgets. Wrong.

The authors, thanks to their own vast experience and insights from 300 nonprofit pros, hit the problematic nail on the head: “Fundraising is limited more by organizational culture and structure than by lack of strategic or tactical know-how.” 

In short, no matter how much time we spend backbiting, bemoaning, and bitching about the need to improve copy, donor research and designing better campaigns … we’re doomed. We’re looking for fundraising salvation in the wrong places. Mark and Alia persuasively argue that it’s the organization’s systems and structures that create the dysfunction.

I’m not going to summarize this report in bit-sized pieces because it deserves a full and thoughtful read on your own.

And believe me, this is a tour worth taking, with rewarding stops at five important scenic, or not so scenic, overviews.

  • Senior Leadership. “There is little hope for successful transformation of an organization’s fundraising efforts without the right kind of leadership from the CEO and the board.”
  • The Golden Trio: Development, Programs and Communications. “Without the steady hand of a bridge-building CEO, the trio tends to compete for authority, funding and visibility. A lack of understanding of each team’s strategic functions creates dysfunctional trios.”
  • The Right Information. “You must look at donors by relationship vs. channel and your staff must be resourced to sync your online CRM frequently with your database of record and generate corresponding reports…This seems like a no brainer, but with a handful of exceptions, few organizations we know analyze and report activity across channels well.”
  • Getting the Goals Right. When each fundraising unit– digital, direct mail, midlevel, major gifts — has its own income targets, conflict blossoms within the fundraising shop over who gets credit for what. That sows the seeds for competition and conflict with precisely those folks who need to work as one team to succeed.”
  • Treating the Donor As a Real Partner. “Donors are not property. We are people — with insights, passions, struggles, joys and worries.

A bit more on that last one …“Some organizations have a ‘Donor As Property’ lens. They see donors as dollar signs; inquiries as  irritations; relationships as replaceable.

“Others begin with a Culture of Gratitude.  They see donors as serious partners.  They surprise and delight their donors.  They build a strong internal culture that skillfully choreographs every interaction a donor has at any touchpoint.”

“After setting your intentions, you must prioritize tactics and operationalize them into staff/volunteer roles  and responsibilities.”

Lots of Other Goodies

In addition to reading and discussing the details behind the five points listed above you’ll also want to think about, discuss (and hopefully eliminate) what the authors call Roadblocks to Success. There’s a series of practical questions to help you arrive at practical answers.

And spend some time in sessions with colleagues creating and executing on some of the “Culture of Philanthropy Experiments” found in the report. And pay special attention to the “Wheel of Change Recommendations” packed with practical suggestions for improvement opportunities.

In addition, you’ll find a checklist for determining What Does a Healthy Culture of Philanthropy Look Like? and Appendices with a Wheel of Change Planning Template…a DARCI Accountability Tool to help guide you in making structural changes and assigning roles and responsibilities within your organization.

As I note at the start, I believe this is a ‘must read’…’must’ share”…’must act on’ report.

All of us have ample reason and motivation to figure out our role in advancing the ‘culture of philanthropy’ in organizations we love and serve.

The alternative to change is a continuation of the all-too-persistent view of business-as-usual fundraisers, reflected in this senior executive’s view reprinted in the report that you can download here:

“I’m so fed up with fundraisers. Their appetite for risk and innovation is so low. They say, ‘We can’t afford to play around with our list. We can’t afford to play around with our donors. There are always a million reasons why they shouldn’t be doing something different. I hope I get to retire before it all implodes.”

And a well-deserved Agitator Raise for Mark and Alia.