How is your organization creating a culture of philanthropy? One organization’s story

August 14, 2013

For June’s Grow Report book giveaway featuring the Joyaux/Ahern classic “Keep Your Donors,” readers were asked to share ONE thing they’d been doing to build stronger relationship with their donors. Kelly McLaughlin, Development Associate for the WOLA: Washington Office on Latin America wrote:

“The one thing that we have implemented in the last six months is sending exclusive trip reports to specific donors. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has six senior associates that make nearly-monthly trips to Latin America to work with partner organizations on human rights issues in the region. When they return, they write up a one-page report on what they did and the outcomes they hope to see from the trip. We then send these updates from the senior associate’s email account, as a one-on-one communication to a handful of donors who are interested in the topic, noting it is an exclusive update for them. We try to rotate which donors we send to so that each of our donors who gives over $500 gets at least one of these communications every 6 months (or that is the goal at this point, we haven’t been doing it long enough to hit everyone yet). So far we’ve gotten a great response, as the donors reply to the senior associates and it starts a relationship between a non-fundraising staff person and our donors.”

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Navigating the divide between program staff and fundraising staff and bringing everyone on board has been an issue I’ve touched on numerous times (Fundraisers and Program Professionals: Can’t Everyone Just Get Along? Program and Development staff: Together at Last, and I Don’t Get No Respect. Development Staff Are the Rodney Dangerfields of the Nonprofit World). I was impressed with Kelly’s approach and asked for more. Thank you to Kelly McLaughlin for today’s guest post.  She’s only been in the field for two years and is already doing amazing work:

How is your organization creating a culture of philanthropy? One organization’s story

This year the organization I work for, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), made it a key goal to boost the “culture of philanthropy” among staff. Not that our staff didn’t already collaborate with fundraising projects—they play a big role in our grant cycle. But it hadn’t been an institutional value for everyone to have a role in fundraising. It became clear to us that we needed to increase our program staff’s commitment to raising funds and to do a better job of helping them understand how fundraising works.

The first thing we did was to change the message our program staff get from management about what their roles are when it comes to fundraising. In our annual planning process, our staff were asked to include a “resource development plan” into their annual work plans so that they see fundraising as a part of their portfolio and have their own goals and targets. At the end of the year, part of their personnel evaluation will include their contributions on fundraising for the organization. Creating this infrastructure, setting clear expectations, and building in accountability for outcomes has played a huge role in getting staff to invest themselves into fundraising.

We’ve also realized that it is critical to do a better job helping program staff to understand what we in the fundraising department do, how we do it, and why we do it. As fundraisers, we invest a lot of time into understanding what our program staff are doing and why it’s important, but we don’t always reverse that cycle to tell them what we are doing with the information or why we talk about their work in a different way.

We’ve begun to address this by giving targeted updates on our projects every week at staff meetings so they know more about what we’re doing.

  • Where are we on our gala targets?
  • What will we be doing that week to cultivate sponsors, advertisers, and ticket buyers?
  • Which foundation program officers have we talked to that week and what did we talk about?
  • What is the next step in our relationship with this major donor?

Helping our staff understand these processes has been a wonderfully positive experience for us—because we’ve seen our staff take a genuine interest in what we do—and for them—because they have a broader context for the things we ask of them.

Finally, we’re involving our program staff in cultivating major donors, giving them prospect lists, and helping them plan follow up. They generally don’t make asks, but they do a critical share of the prospect cultivation and donor stewardship. They write trip reports and send them directly to their donors. Often, the donors respond with questions, congratulations, or suggestions. The donors show their genuine interest in the work our staff are doing, and a real connection is made that’s great for the donor and great for our staff. Our program staff write thank you notes for donations, invite their donors to events and lunches, and create meaningful connections between our donors and the work the staff are doing.

These have all been really great ways to improve WOLA’s philanthropic culture. Our income this year is at its highest ever and our future looks more sustainable. Our donors are more enthusiastic as they connect to our program staff and our program staff are able to experience that excitement in a way that motivates them to stay active in the organization’s fundraising efforts.


About Kelly

Kelly McLaughlin is part of the fundraising team at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). She works primarily on annual giving and fundraising events, but provides support to all of WOLA’s fundraising-related work. Before joining WOLA, Ms. McLaughlin obtained her Master of Arts in Social Justice and Human Rights at Arizona State University, during which time she worked with various local arts and social justice organizations on fundraising and outreach. Ms. McLaughlin holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Spanish from Elon University.

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