Creating a Culture of Philanthropy

Excerpted from Handbook of Philanthropy at Independent Schools, Fourth Edition

Creating and sustaining a vibrant culture of philanthropy is at the forefront of all independent schools’ strategic goals. Fortunately, our schools are generous places. We see example after example of this every day. The hours teachers spend with students beyond class time, the extras parents give to a school, the rush to help a struggling family in a school community, the board’s willingness to undertake and give generously to campaigns — the list goes on and on. The percentage of independent school constituents who give to the annual fund would make most nonprofits envious. The first way to build a healthy culture of philanthropy is to provide positive examples of generosity, like these, that build institutional pride through words and actions. After all, giving is contagious!
A strong culture of philanthropy is one in which constituents talk openly about giving and have a solid understanding of why they should give.
Such a culture offers many benefits:
  • The school can spend less time educating constituencies about the need for giving and more time talking about mission and needs.
  • Board members can have more honest and engaging conversations about their roles.
  • School leaders can concentrate on nurturing the deep long-term relationships that lead to transformative gifts.
  • Development professionals can pursue more major gifts and worry less about asking for smaller annual fund gifts to boost participation.
  • The school needs less time to chase down pledged gifts at the end of the calendar year.
  • Constituents can talk about the school’s financial needs with genuine confidence.
  • Everyone has a shared sense of responsibility for supporting the school.
The development office is the primary public advocate for philanthropy. More often than in any other office, more than any other administrator or trustee, you and your fellow development officers express your school’s commitment to live and thrive in a culture that sees giving as a privilege.
Here are characteristics you’ll notice when your school works purposefully to build a strong and vibrant culture of philanthropy.
  1. The head of school and board chair actively support the goals and work of the development office. They also understand the importance of the messages they send.
  2. The full board of trustees supports all annual, capital, and planned giving programs at meaningful levels. They understand the importance of their leadership in creating a culture of philanthropy.
  3. The faculty and staff understand the vital importance of philanthropy. They give to the annual fund at, or very close to, 100 percent.
  4. New parents are not surprised the first time they’re asked for gifts because they have already been educated about the importance of giving back to the school.
  5. All development programs are supported with school-wide enthusiasm and high participation.
  6. Donors receive frequent and appropriate thanks.
  7. The school encourages student philanthropy.
  8. Development volunteers receive appropriate training before they conduct solicitations.
  9. Campaigns generate excitement and pride.
  10. The entire school knows and respects development staff members and supports their goals.

Now a consultant on fundraising and strategic planning, Anne Seltzer spent 25 years as an educator at the Peddie School (New Jersey).

Order your copy of the Handbook of Philanthropy at Independent Schools, Fourth Ed. from the NAIS Bookstore.