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Fundraising and Organisational Culture

Fundraising and Organisational Culture

The influence of organisational culture on fundraising is rarely discussed in our sector. Whether you are raising funds in a major hospital, a small disability charity or an arts organisation, the culture in which you operate will to a large extent define and determine how you operate, as well as the limits of what you can and cannot do. In other words, your success as a fundraiser will in part be determined by how the culture works for or against you. 

So what is it that determines the culture of an organisation in relation to fundraising? I believe it is determined by things like:

·         The age and size of the organisation

·         How long fundraising has been carried out

·         The status of fundraising within the organisation (i.e. valued versus tolerated)

·         The extent to which fundraising is “owned” across other functions

·         The internal decision making processes (e.g. bureaucratic and slow versus lean and rapid)

·         The involvement or otherwise of those at the top

·         Attitudes to risk and innovation

·         The balance between empowerment and control of fundraising staff

·         The willingness to invest for the future (or not)

Each organisation has aspects that will help with or hinder its fundraising. So, for example, a large hospital typically interacts with many potential donors, has resources to invest and a long shopping list of projects to raise funds for. However, the culture is often top down, bureaucratic and risk averse, so things happen very slowly and opportunities can be missed.

At the other end of the scale, a small new charity can move quickly to implement ideas and innovate freely, but may lack the resources needed to develop all of its opportunities. Attitudes to risk and innovation may also vary considerably, sometimes enabling the charity to punch above its weight (for example by good use of social media) or perhaps dooming the charity to remain small and underfunded.

So why is all this important? Well organisational culture is more than just a vague academic interest. It is important because it determines to a large extent how successful an organisation will be in fundraising. Allied to this, by working for or against fundraisers, it can limit how successful they will be (and be seen to be) in their roles. After all, sailing downstream with the wind behind you is more fulfilling and takes you further than battling your way against the current into a headwind. Organisational culture can make or break careers, so it matters for individuals as well as the institutions they serve.

The key question then is what sort of culture prevails in your organisation? Is it helping or hindering your fundraising? If the latter, are there things you can do about it? Or are attitudes and practices so entrenched that real change is unlikely? Ultimately, it seems to me that you have three choices. You either a) accept the constraints and make the best of things, b) seek to change what you can and put up with the rest or c) find another organisation to work for where the culture is more conducive to success.

It would be interesting to hear others’ thought about the impact of organisational culture on fundraising.

Photo: People arranged in a hierarchy: winui on

Simon George, BSc (hons) FInstF (dip) is a Director of Wootton George Consulting and has been fundraising since 1987. He has special interests in fundraising strategy, legacies and charitable trusts. A longstanding member of the Institute of Fundraising, he founded its Trusts and Statutory Special Interest Group in 1999 and was also the first Chair of the IoF’s West Midlands region. He has written two e-books on legacies and grant fundraising, published by SPMFundessentials and has achieved the Diploma in Fundraising Management. In 2010 he was made a Fellow of the Institute of Fundraising. Today he manages a team of 20 fundraising consultants around the UK.

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