For Impact


A Culture of Philanthropy – Visual Model

Team | | Nick Fellers

“We want to build a culture of philanthropy.” 

Nonprofit leaders often use this phrase as a way of saying that they want this ‘fundraising thing’ to work in some reliable, resilient, and aligned-way across all stakeholders. 

To get to this place let’s think about ‘culture’ and what it takes to build this desired culture.

We define culture as: how you work. It’s the system of behaviors that you define, encode, and reinforce. With this in mind, we often describe ‘culture’ as an operating system.

To build a culture, you need to:

  • Define the work (model);
  • Hire/train/align the right people for that way of working; and 
  • Support that way of working with the proper tools.
Culture as an operating system (visual)

These building blocks can be applied to various cultures (project management, engineering, outcomes/OKRs, community organizing, customer service). 

Let’s apply these to build a ‘culture of philanthropy’:

  • Model:
    • Commitment is the first step. The commitment points your team in the same direction.

      Through our training and coaching, you hear us say, “Commit to sales!” What we’re saying is, “Commit to a model that is focused on building and maximizing relationships.”
    • Define principles with your team. The sales process will be imperfect in the beginning. And, in truth, the process will always be imperfect, but the team can use principles as big trustworthy guideposts.
    • Start defining processes and routines. This can be as simple as, “Go engage! Share the story and present the opportunity!” It can also be more complex as you grow to include things like weekly sales team meetings and monthly prospecting workshops.
    • Define and determine roles. The Team Selling Framework creates a role for everyone in the sales model. This includes the funding role of the board in a high performing culture of philanthropy.
  • People:
    • Link talent to the model. Too often organizations try to ‘solve’ fundraising and culture through hiring alone. As the visual illustrates, that is critical, but it’s not sufficient. You have to hire talent into an explicit model OR make the key leader(s) responsible for defining the model.
    • Training and coaching (or at least ‘alignment’) of the model is ongoing and constant. This is true in any defined culture and model.
  • Tools:

    Tools support people — in the model. They can reinforce behaviors and/or they can just be functional things that someone needs to work in the model. Some of the important tools we highlight in the sales model:
    • The funding story and funding rationale. Think of these as the messaging and the product you’re selling (in the model). And we support this with an engagement tool.
    • Sales dashboard. This is a tool that highlights key behavior and drives accountability.

Finally, keep in mind that a culture is always a work in progress. I think of it like health, you need to put in work every day or the culture will slide away from your desired state. And, no matter how healthy you are, there is almost always room for improvement. As Ben Horowitz says, “Our aim with culture is to be better, not perfect.”