Developing a Philanthropy Culture: Set up a Steering Group

When developing a major gift programme within a charity it is really important to set out ways to develop the culture of philanthropy.  An organisation doesn’t initially have this.  It includes many aspects of working with high level individuals that general supporter care may not be used to.  This can include seeing the need for clearly defined, specially costed projects that can be presented to philanthropists.

Finance staff might not see the need for having to cost out particular pieces of work.  Staff may not be used to wealthy individuals walking round their office.  Some staff may not feel comfortable with some supporters receiving ‘special treatment’.  The CEO might not understand the importance of responding to a potential philanthropist quickly.  He may not be willing to clear his diary just to meet someone who is only available on that day and so on.

It is also to do with attitude towards philanthropists and fundraising.  One way to begin to make this change is to set up a Steering Group for the Major Gift Programme.  Some also call it a Stakeholder Group.  This will include the Major Gift Executive (s), the CEO, Finance Director and a key Programme Director.  It needs to be key people within your organisation.

I have found that I can build the case for a Steering Group by setting out the Terms of Reference often starting with some broad general aims that help members understand the need for the Group.   For example:

  • Potentially increase Major Donor income significantly over the next 3 – 5 years, to over £1 million (your figure may be different)
  • Invest in the Major Gift Team (mid and major) to ensure growth is achieved
  • Prepare organisational readiness to cope with the demand for large scale, multi-year, fundable projects
  • Reduce internal barriers that will prevent this growth
  • Engage the Trustees and the wider organisation in the development of a philanthropic culture and prepare the ground for future growth
  • Instigate productive ways for senior staff (lead by the Major Gift Team) to develop relationships with higher level individuals with a wealth flag of £1 million+

This presupposes that you have carried out a wealth check on your supporter database (highly recommended as a crucial step  to knowing how many millionaires are bedded within your database).

Once a Steering Group is set up, slowly over time a philanthropy culture will begin to build.  The purpose of the Steering Group is to raise issues that are stunting the growth of the Major Gift Programme and more importantly to give a sense of urgency, excitement, a culture of ‘working on this together’.

If you are working on your own as a Major Gift Executive then you aren’t going to be able to achieve a philanthropy culture within the organisation, in fact the programme won’t develop very quickly and you will feel personally frustrated and see growth frequently stunted.

A successful Major Gift Programme needs a philanthropy culture within the whole organisation and to achieve this culture I would suggest that you need a Steering Group of senior staff.

What is your experience of ways to develop a philanthropy culture?

Ruth is the principal and founder of Ascent Philanthropy, author of two books and passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes by offering advice for introducing a new major gift programme or enhancing the productivity of the philanthropy team

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