Five Ideas for Fostering a Culture of Philanthropy (philanthropy event ideas)

In a previous post, I explored the idea of culture of philanthropy.

I shared CASE’s excellent definition: “A culture of philanthropy fosters relationships that share a common understanding, appreciation, and responsibility for the importance of the joy of giving and receiving for the enhancement of the institution.”

Now I’ve got a few ideas on how to foster a culture of philanthropy in nonprofit organizations of all stripes.

Philanthropy Event Ideas

1. Start with your board.

Some years ago, I met with a new board member of a college foundation – a smart, successful businessman – for his onboarding orientation. We talked about committee service and he asked for my opinion about which committee he could best serve.

Of course, given his connections, the development committee came to mind.

“Glenn, the sole purpose of this board is to raise money,” he said. “The entire board should be the development committee.”

It was an ah-ha moment for me, and of course, he was right. Using your entire board of as the development committee can raise the profile of fundraising among not only your trustees, but senior leadership and other staff who attend board meetings.

2. Create a strategic schedule of content-driven events for your donors.

I was once on the board of a contemporary dance company that utilized a collaborative choreography process. Once a year, we would invite donors and prospects to witness that process live among the seven members of the company. It really helped connect our supporters with the work.

This can be done in just about any organization on any topic. And while I think the executive director should be present to welcome donors, ask someone who is in the thick of things when it comes to service delivery, to give the presentation or facilitate the conversation. Very often those individuals are isolated in their work and maybe don’t have a chance to talk publicly about what they do.

I’ve seen magic happen in these situations. The speaker gets to interact with the organization’s donors in more meaningful ways, not just small talk at a cocktail reception. They are energized by the passion of the donors. In turn, donors are really engaged and happy to meet someone doing the on the ground work that they supporting.

In the end, the staff member doing the presenting experiences first hand the passion of our donors. And word spreads.

3. Set measureable expectations for senior leadership.

Leadership starts at the top, as they say. Executive directors or presidents should establish SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time bound) for her senior leadership team that relate to philanthropy.

For example, for the CIO, such a goal could be making sure that updates and upgrades to your donor database system are made within 48 hour of release (if you haven’t gone to cloud-based systems, of course).

For the CMO, the possibilities are many. Goals could include making sure design projects are not treated as add-on projects, and are completed within a set period of time. Or that philanthropy related content – such as donor profiles, stories about philanthropy in action, or educational pieces about planned giving – are given prominent placement in newsletters or other publications.

For the head of your organization’s program areas, it could be related to content creation on issues of interest to donors, or speaking at select events throughout the year.

For all leaders, goals could include attendance at all donor events; recruiting department colleagues as volunteers for development department events, or even – GASP! – joining your organization’s middle donor program. People would really understand the importance of philanthropy to the organization if they have some of their own skin in the game.

4. Bring your donors into the inner circle.

At each board meeting and each all-staff meeting, invite a recent donor to come and publicly formally present their gift to the organization (cue the giant check!). At one college I worked with, we did that at every single board of trustees meeting. The donors love the privilege of the invitation, and board members got to meet the donor, gather for a photo op, and hear a few works from the head of the academic unit that received the gift, about how the funds were going to help students. It was brilliant all-round.

Not only did donors love this, but it really demonstrated for board members, senior leadership, and staff, the power of philanthropy can have within an organization.

5. Foster an understanding that all gifts matter.

It’s instinctual, I think, to place more emphasis on the bigger gifts. But that’s a mistake. I’ve got a lot of examples I could share, but here’s a particularly poignant example.

When I was working at a museum some years ago, we offered a travel program to Italy, lead by the charismatic founder of our organization. The trip itself cost $2,500, and one had to give a $2,500 gift to the organization. So all in, it was a $5,000 commitment.

We had never done anything like this, so we when we started our promotion, I asked my membership manager to create a letter to all of our members. “Even the $40 member?” she asked, incredulously. Yup, I told her. Because that $40 was a transaction, a purchase of benefits; it was not necessarily an indication of ability.

Guess what? The first registration that came in was from a $40 member, someone none of us knew. Since the trip was some months away, we started inviting this lady to come to our exhibition opening parties and other museum events. She loved the fellowship among our community of members. And we fell in love with her, because she was such a delightful person. And what’s more, she became a regular donor at the $2,500 level and a big advocate of the museum.

I’m sure you have ideas of your own. Share them in the comments.

Glenn is a fundraising strategist who loves working with small- to mid-size organizations that want to innovate and grow.

Check out his website at, and to find out how he can help you, email him at

Image: iStock by Getty Images


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