Cultivating a Culture of Generosity
R. Mark Dillon, PhD.
Executive Vice President, Total Advancement Solutions
We hear it all the time:
“My fundraising would be so much easier if the staff understood what we do and why we do it.”
“Why does the giving conversation seem more like an imposition than an opportunity?”
“If we were all cheering for the same goals, we would be so much stronger!”
At their best, Christian schools, universities and ministries are always striving to make giving a team sport and a joy—rather than a duty for the rich and an imposition for the rest. If giving was seen as a joy and privilege rather than an uncomfortable duty, we would accomplish more—together. And our current and potential givers would have more reason to support our mission.
Seem impossible? Not at all. Let’s consider some ways of thinking and doing that will be more Christ-like, which will contribute in amazing ways to the joy and possibilities of funding your mission.
Generosity is not just for the rich.
Involving your whole staff, volunteers and program alumni is not only advantageous, it’s the right thing to do. American culture says, “The rich are obligated to give, otherwise, my money is my own business.” The Bible teaches that God is a generous God—He freely gives us life, breath, sustenance, salvation, and eternal life. Therefore, the humble follower of Christ is a generous person—whether it be the rich young ruler (who made a bad choice) or the widow who had but a mite. Jesus clearly commends not the amount of the gift (often a fundraising staffer’s focus), but the degree of sacrifice (“She gave all she had.” Mark 12:44).
If we truly believe that giving is the joyful obligation of every believer, then there is no barrier to inviting everyone to participate!
Giving produces joy.
I bet you know a few gifted givers. Gifted givers are those who don’t often wait to be asked but reach out for opportunities to give to eternal causes. What do you notice about people like that? They radiate joy, don’t they? For them, giving is not a hard decision. Deciding whom to give to and at what level is often the only difficult part of their calculation.
But, alas, not every follower of Christ in our orbit is a gifted giver. Some—okay, many—are not mature in their attitude toward giving. Some are burdened with debt which doesn’t allow for the consideration of giving to others. Others never grew up with role models who demonstrated the unparalleled joy of giving. But don’t fall into the trap of lowering expectations to the lowest common denominator! Celebrate true giving. Have your true givers tell their story of the joy and benefits of giving. Teach about the biblical mandate to be generous. Celebrate small (as well as large) gifts. Stories, well told, can accelerate giving and participation much more effectively than presenting giving as an obligation.
Joy generates engagement.
What better way to engage people into the life of your organization than to encourage their giving? “Where our treasure is, there our hearts are as well,” (Matthew 6:21). The more time and effort we expend encouraging giving, the more rewarded we will be by donor loyalty and engagement. It’s worth our effort!
So, how do we build a culture of giving?
Take the pulse of your current giving culture
First, assess how strong your culture of giving is. Start with the board of directors. What percentage give every year? You should not settle for less than 100%! If 100% of your board members don’t give, figure out how to get them there. (We’ve got some ideas - checkout Getting Your Board on Board).
Then, assess whether your board members are giving at their giving potential A token gift from a board member with capacity to give five- and six-figure gifts indicates a weak culture of giving.
Next, look at administrative staff and program staff (faculty, if you work for a school or university). We’ve never seen 100%, but we’ve seen it range from less than 20% (serious lack of engagement by the staff) to 90%+ (a very healthy gauge of the affinity staff have with the mission and an indicator of morale).
Finally, look at the continuity of giving from your donor base. Every organization gains and loses givers every year. But what does your core group of givers look like? How many donors have given for at least three consecutive years? Ten? More? This continuity of giving profile will speak volumes to the culture of giving among your giving base. Measure it, and take steps to improve it.
So, how did you grade out? Do those that know you best give with joy and generosity or is it mixed—or even very concerning? This honest self-evaluation will give you a baseline on which to build. You’ve taken your first step toward a healthy culture of giving.
Make a plan to grow and measure progress
Start with your board. The CEO/president and board chair need to see the urgency of leading the whole organization by encouraging board participation. It should be part of the recruitment process. Some strong boards we work with ask prospective members not to join unless they are committed enough to make the organization their highest giving priority after their church. That is a high bar, but it weeds out those who assume their presence is all you are looking for!
Next, how do you engage the administrative team and staff? Those with an underdeveloped sense of generosity will be inclined to say: “I work hard at a nominal salary. Don’t talk to me about giving over and above that!” But, we implore you, do not lower your appeal to the lowest denominator.
Here are some ways we have seen positive movement toward a culture of generosity:- Report often on giving to the organization. This gives everyone a vested interest in giving to the organization rather than assuming, “Someone else is taking care of our budget needs.”
- Celebrate successes in fundraising and give opportunities to pray for specific needs. Too often the development office celebrates large and small victories but neglects to make the organization aware of these wins. When development teams don’t share their achievements, they miss the opportunity to engage everyone in the importance of giving to the success of the organization.
- Share stories of givers to your organization. Why do they give and what does it mean to them personally to be part of your mission?
Occasionally have board members or staff members share why they give and the joy it brings them.
- Give opportunities for staff to sign up for recurring giving, at any amount, through payroll deduction. It’s a “painless” way to give regularly, and it teaches staff the habit of giving.
- Make sure the CEO/president thanks each member personally, at least once a year, for their giving. People don’t give to be thanked, but it adds a lot of joy to giving!
Like everything worthwhile, positive change will come incrementally. But it is worth working for and measuring, year to year.
The effort you make to grow a culture of generosity will bring your staff closer to being the generous people that our God wants them to be. That, in itself, is worth the effort! And it will encourage givers outside your organization. Imagine others thinking: “If the board and staff give sacrificially, maybe I should, too!”
Making the effort to grow a culture of generosity will break down that awful divide in so many organizations: “They (development and the president) raise the money, we do the work.” Instead, it will unleash wonderful, positive energy and joy that comes from everyone being in on the growth—together.
If you’d like to explore ways to cultivate a culture of giving in your organization, please reach out to us. We’ve seen it contribute mightily to cohesion and common purpose.
Schedule a free consultation with one of Generis' Total Advancement Solutions Strategists to learn more.
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