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Four Keys to a Development Culture

Kristin Hammett

Kristin Hammett

February 28, 2020

Over the past month, I have had several interactions with many service providers – a contractor, a design firm, two hospitals, several physician offices, a specialty retailer, and the list goes on. Suffice it to say, it has been a busy month.

Almost immediately, after interacting with one of these businesses, I get a feel for its culture. I can sense whether they value teamwork, communication, and coordination, or if there is a bit of a siloed mentality, departmentalized thinking, and less fluid communication. These elements of culture have a way of overflowing into all aspects of business.

What does your organization’s culture say about your ministry? Do you value donors and their role in the work you do, or are donors simply the funders needed to accomplish the work? Are they the heroes of your story or a means to an end?

Culture is a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in an organization. It permeates every decision your organization makes and influences the way your staff, volunteers, and donors perceive your ministry. A donor-centric culture is imperative to your ministry’s success. A culture that seeks to serve its donors indicates a strong foundation and intentional leadership. For a donor-centric culture to exist, everyone must embrace a development mindset.

 Here are four keys to foster a development culture:

  1. Leadership. The CEO and other organizational leaders must lead and maintain the philanthropic momentum that the development department sets. Leadership should model this in what they talk about and how they spend their time. They must reinforce that the process of identifying fundraising elements, stewarding prospects, and relationship building are everyone’s responsibility throughout the organization.
  2. Shared Expectations and Resources. Communicate to the entire team their role in fundraising efforts. From the grocery store line to a church small group, staff, board members, and volunteers have thousands of conversations about your organization every year. Equip them with tools to share about your ministry well. This can include providing staff with your mission statement, elevator pitch, and one-pagers. Share impact numbers with all staff members and give them the answers to frequently asked questions. A development culture establishes expectations and the systems needed to equip your existing advocates to have effective conversations.
  3. Donor Service. Understanding the value of a good customer experience is critical. Did you know for-profits organizations retain over 90 percent of their first-time customers, but nonprofits keep less than 30 percent of their first-time donors? Perhaps we need a better approach to our “donor service.” Studies show the leading indicator of donor loyalty is the service they receive. Nonprofit organizations should strive to ensure their donor experience is positive and mutually beneficial. Remember, your donors do not serve you. You serve them. The role of development is to help your donors experience the joy of giving and to help you accomplish the work to which Christ has called you.
  4. Positive Reinforcement. Appreciation and recognition go a long way. This applies internally and externally. Identify when a staff member “gets it.” Commend them and ask them to share at a staff meeting or in a written memo to staff. I recently listened to a podcast with Jeff Henderson, pastor at Buckhead Church in Atlanta, Georgia, former Chick-Fil-A executive, and author. He talked about being a people-centric team or organization. He shared the importance of thank you notes. When is the last time you wrote a staff member a handwritten thank you note? The value of a handwritten note cannot be overstated. Thanking staff members for their efforts will build a system of appreciation – internally and externally. It will help others identify what your ministry truly values.

Your organization is on the front lines carrying out the work of Christ, and donors want to be a part of the work you are doing. By creating a development culture, your team is able to minister to your donors well, fortify partnerships, and grow the impact of your work. An intentional approach to a donor-centric culture will overflow into all aspects of the work you are doing.


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About Kristin Hammett

Kristin Hammett

As the Director of Nonprofit Success at The Signatry, Kristin Hammett works to train, consult, and equip nonprofits with fundraising solutions to connect God’s resources with His work

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