Marcy's Blog: Creating a Climate of Philanthropy

As the parent of a young child, I think about the environment I am creating in my home, and I think about how that environment is impacting my child. I am keenly aware that the early years are the most impressionable for my growing son. As we think about philanthropy, we must think of donors with the same sense of compassion and empathy. Those early days after a gift is made are crucial to setting expectations and creating a climate for philanthropy.

Just as I wouldn’t expect my toddler to be comfortable in an adult-sized chair with his feet dangling off the ground, I can’t expect a donor to feel connected when I’m constantly asking for more. Without making a personal connection with someone at the organization, donors withdraw, then look elsewhere for support or attention. And while they may not have tantrums (hopefully), they show their emotions in other ways that are just as powerful and jarring. We have a choice: we can run our organizations by always making demands of our donors, always pushing information and events at them, without ever exercising empathy or gratitude. Or we can listen.

What would it be like if you listened to your donors first before writing an appeal, launching an event or drafting a newsletter?

Confidence tip: Know your donors. Meet them where they are.

Take a look your website, your newsletter, your events, your programs—from your donors’ perspective. What kind of environment are you creating? Are you thinking about the donor’s experience, or just advancing your brand?

Philanthropy can and should be a guiding force to help donors believe that anything is possible. When we create a bridge to empower donors to become who they wish to become, the gifts will come.

The task for nonprofit leaders then, is to provide the environment in which donors are listened to. We can make the space where they have the opportunity to connect to what they care about most—and where they can do the most good. When we do this well, we can create meaningful relationships with them and instill in them, and ourselves, the confidence that anything is possible.

How can we in the nonprofit sector create a climate for philanthropy? It doesn’t mean we stop asking for money, but it does mean we design our outreach with donors in mind—the ones we have, not the mythic donors we want. It means we are patient and honest and human with our donors.

Nonprofit leaders can approach fundraising with fear, angst and frustration; it’s an impediment to other work they need to do. Or they can approach it as the work, as an opportunity to build personal confidence, organizational stability and lasting connections within their community.

As a leader and a fundraiser, now is the time to create that climate. Find the patience and the time to devote to fundraising. Pick up the phone, call your donors—share your stories of success, and most importantly listen to them.

h/t to Baan Dek Montessori's post here for the inspiration.