Creating a Donor-Centric Culture

Kate Atkins

The people you serve in your communities depend on you to be there. Having a strong donor-relation strategy improves the sustainability of your organization. How do you get everyone in your agency involved? How do you create an organizational culture that is obsessed with its donors? Get started with two steps.

Clarifying Your Personal and Shared Values

The first step to creating a donor-centric organization, an organization that puts high value on anyone giving time and/or money, is finding out what you value now. As a leader you have to understand fully, the values that guide you. What ethics, standards, and ideals do you use when you make every single decision each day? 

What are the personal values of your staff and volunteers? Your job as leader is to figure out how their personal values mesh with the values of the organization. Employees are significantly more engaged when they believe they can stay true to their beliefs. You must honor their diverse values but also continually remind them of their shared values.

So how do you find your organization’s shared values? Listen! Ask people why they do what they do. Shared values cannot be dictated. You need consensus. Staff and volunteers need to feel that they are a part of the process. They need to hold one another accountable to those values. In Wipfli’s nonprofit and government practice we have a diverse group of people and a diverse group of values. One value we share is that we “believe in what our clients do.” That is one of our values that ties us together, gets us all out of bed each morning, and makes us happy to be here and be working with each other and the organizations we serve.

Make donor-centricity a shared value. Ensure everyone in your organization sincerely realizes the importance of those who give time and/or money. Help your staff and volunteers view donors as people who are looking to fulfill dreams and missions of their own…not ATM machines. Teach your staff and volunteers to see themselves as ambassadors of the organization.

Know your organization and make sure others do too!

I’m sure you realize how important it is to diversify your income. When grants are unpredictable, donations from individuals can give you unrestricted funds and additional resources. Knowing you want to raise money, however, is not the starting point for fund development. After you make being donor-centric a shared value, you must make sure your organization is prepared.

For effective fund development to occur, your agency must be effective. Each part of your agency can help or hinder the ability to raise money. Make sure you have materials or people ready to answer questions about your values, mission and vision, culture and organizational behavior, strategic plans, fiscal management, volunteer and staff roles, marketing and communications, business management and governance.

While only a select few may be specifically tasked with raising money, everyone in a donor-centric organization is an ambassador. No matter how they are connected to your agency, people in the community will ask them questions. To be an ambassador, they must know your story. Make sure your staff and volunteers know why you exist, what your great successes have been, and how you impact the community.