What Drives Fundraising?

This is the first installment of a new series on Fundraising Culture, by Larry Johnson, Founder of The Eight Principles.  We’ll look at what a fundraising culture is.  What is looks like.  The kind of fundraising culture you want.  How to build it and how to keep it.

“Well money of course,” you say.

I beg to disagree.  Money is one result of fundraising.

The driver of fundraising, the “independent variable” as the mathematicians say, is culture.  The “fundraising culture” of an organization.

Each nonprofit organization has an identifiable fundraising culture. Your organization’s fundraising culture is the determinant factor in your fundraising outcomes.

True, there are other “drivers” to fundraising outcomes:  your organization’s mission, the relative wealth of your constituency, the breadth of your constituency, technology, and your staff and volunteers.  All of these things, separately and in concert influence how much you raise, will raise, and for how long.

None of these, however, operate independently.  That is, your mission alone doesn’t determine what you raise.  Believe it or not, neither does the relative wealth of those you ask to support you.  The professionalism of your staff and the sophistication of your technology don’t determine what you’re raising either.

It’s your fundraising culture that determines what you raise, from whom, for how long, and for what.  Period.  The other influences simply work around the edges.

So—what the heck is “culture?”  Having a “culture of “philanthropy” is a term that’s been bandied about a lot in fundraising circles.  It’s been defined as having a set of “best practices” you adhere to.  A recipe book, perhaps, but not a culture.

Merriam Webster® defines culture, a noun, several ways:

  • “The act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education.”
  • “To grow in a prepared medium.”

The word comes from the Latin cultura.

Cultivate is a verb fundraisers know very well.  We fundraisers are quite familiar with the concept of cultivating our potential investors.

So, culture is something you create.   It’s purposeful and deliberate, designed to obtain a set of predictable outcomes.

Creation can be active or passive.  You can be purposeful in creating an organizational culture or you can just “let it happen.”  Sadly, that’s what many nonprofits have opted to do.  Just let fundraising more or less “happen.”

Whether on purpose or by accident building a culture takes time.  Heard the cliché, “Rome wasn’t built in a day?”  So much for the “30 days to incredible major gifts success” plan.

Harder than building a culture is keeping it.  Here again, Rome reached its zenith after centuries of building but fell apart in under 75 years.  Keeping a culture requires effort, diligence, and focus.  In a word, leadership.

If you get your culture right—your fundraising culture—you’ll experience true organizational transformation.  That’s because your fundraising culture shapes everything else you do.

In the coming weeks we’ll look at various fundraising cultures.  The ones that deliver long term.  The ones which struggle. 

We’ll also have guest contributors weigh in on the subject from time to time.  This is my favorite part!

Finally, we’ll take up a concept called “alignment.”  With the right fundraising culture and alignment, you can go anywhere.

Larry C. Johnson is the Founder of The Eight Principles and the author of the award-winning book, The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising.