When you’re a fundraising professional, it’s easy to compare our philanthropic landscape to the generosity of Americans and worry that we don’t have a culture of philanthropy in Australia.

While it’s true that Australia’s high net worth individuals are performing poorly [i] compared to their US counterparts (donating just 1.31% of their taxable income compared to 7.8%), Australian generosity on the whole, is internationally competitive. Aussies are now contributing more than $12.5 billion cash per year to Australian DGRs and we are demanding more sophisticated approaches.

While sometimes it can feel harder in the arts, there’s a now-famous arts anecdote that puts the onus for fundraising success right back in our court. When asked about the culture of philanthropy in Australia, the American arts leader, Matthew VanBesien (then Managing Director of MSO) observed

‘It’s not that we don’t have a culture of giving in Australia. We don’t have a culture of asking.’

So if we do have a culture of giving – what’s going on with the culture of asking?

And if there’s a sector-wide problem with asking, what’s happening at organisational level that holds us back?

In a NFP Insights piece for the Australian Institute of Company Directors [ii], QUT academic Wendy Scaife has said it best.

‘In successful organisations, fundraising is an attitude. Not a department.’

This attitude is really the culture of asking that exists in your organisation. Essentially it’s the coalescence of what people say, what they do, and how they behave in furthering your fundraising agenda.

Here are the five hallmarks of a healthy culture for fundraising success from one of our favourite reports [iii].

1. Everyone is an ambassador and relationship builder

Organisational leaders, artists and all staff are a manifestation of your company’s brand. Every conversation you have with your audience creates an impression and leaves people wanting to know more – or not.

Because of this, your company recruitment strategies, remuneration and internal communications need to be aligned – making it clear that being an ambassador and relationship builder is a part of the job from top to bottom.

One thing that is often overlooked in arts organisations is the impact of planning timelines. When timelines are too short, everyone is on deadline and dominated by the tyranny of the urgent. The blinkers are on, silos are reinforced, people are grumpy and high-value external opportunities are missed. But if you can drag those timelines forward, staff have the chance to nail their job AND be engaging story tellers as well.

2. Everyone can articulate the case for giving

When fundraising is an attitude, everyone in your organisation can talk about the mission and why you do what you do. They know its value, what it achieves and how the world is better because of your work.

Every artist and administrator provides a unique view and every role contributes to your audience’s experience. Donors who are passionate about your art form, are interested in what you do every day.  They enjoy talking about your connection to the arts and the journey that led to your current role.

3. Revenue development is viewed as mission critical

In a previous role, I arranged a major gift workshop for my board with Guy Mallabone, the Canadian President of Global Philanthropic. Every board member left the session with ‘money equals mission’ imprinted on their consciousness (probably for life). Guys says it better than most: if your organisation exists to deliver its mission – then organisational leaders are responsible for the flow of resources that makes this possible.

Fundraising ambivalence or the perception that fundraising is a department (i.e. someone else’s responsibility) places the mission at risk.  There will be plenty of things to blame for poor fundraising performance – but board and executive leadership should not be one of them.

An important point for managers however… it is your responsibility to support directors with the tools and understanding to fundraise successfully [iv]. Boards also need to know how to monitor and evaluate fundraising activities and find the most meaningful KPIs (which are more complicated than dollars banked).

4. Systems support donors

This is about how you discover, store and extract the information that supports you in your role and ensures a high-quality experience for your donor.

In larger, well capitalised organisations – embedding appropriate IT and systems should be a priority. In smaller organisations, you are probably dealing with some legacy infrastructure – if any at all.  It’s unlikely that you’ll have a fancy database or moves management system.  You probably can’t afford wealth screening – and having a dedicated prospect researcher is pure fantasy.

All of these things are nice to have – but no technology and no amount of training can beat a sincere face-to-face conversation between two people who care about the same thing.

Even if you’re dealing with a cluster of excel spreadsheets, you can still ensure your donors have a great experience with you. It might be clunky at your end – but just get on with it. You can’t raise the money from behind the desk anyway.

5. The CEO is personally involved in fundraising

The boss has to walk the talk.  It’s as simple as that.  They are the most important internal champions of fundraising and organisational advancement correlates with their involvement.

The most successful CEOs understand fundraising and support their fundraising team.  They make chunks of their diary available for donor relations and they are outward facing, inspiring your community.

Internally they hold their development staff to account, hire slow and fire fast, ensure the team is out of the office (meeting your audiences) –  and never bottle-neck processes where a donor or VIP is the ultimate end-recipient (e.g. making an important call, or signing that thank you letter).

For Development Directors, working with a CEO who understands, participates and cultivates a culture of philanthropy can be a career defining time.

If these five practices are flourishing in your organisation, you can safely say you have a great culture for successful fundraising.  If not, why not get in touch to have a chat about what could be different.



[i] Dalton, B. & Cham, E. (2016) Australia’s rich give little and a culture of secrecy surrounds their philanthropy. The Conversation

[ii] Scaife, Wendy (2015) Fundraising and Boards – Be a leader and a meddler! Chapter 12, NFP Insights – 16 NFP insiders share their wisdom and experience. Sydney: Australian Institute of Company Directors

[iii] Bell, J. & Cornelius, M (2013) Underdeveloped: A national study of challenges facing non-profit fundraising

[iv] SharpenCIC (2017) Arts fundraising: taking centre stage in the boardroom

Arts fundraising: taking centre stage in the boardroom


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