We often talk about creating a culture of philanthropy within our organizations.
It’s one of those nebulous concepts that everyone strives for, but many don’t achieve. The truth is a culture of philanthropy is not the result of human resources or fundraising. It’s the culmination of consistent, powerful, and continuous internal communications.
Leaders in both the private and public sectors have long thought of employees as potential ambassadors for the brand, and recent research suggests that employees are now embracing that responsibility. The findings of Rickard Andersson in Corporate Communications: An International Journal indicate a path forward for nonprofit leaders looking to create a culture that values and promotes philanthropy.
A philanthropic culture is built like a stool, with three legs, or steps, providing the support needed for success. The first step is the onboarding process for each employee. Andersson notes that creating corporate ambassadors starts with communicating expectations during employee education and training.
In the nonprofit world, that translates to conveying the impact and importance of giving to the success of the organization. Your employees should learn from the start how giving makes a real difference in their ability to help your nonprofit achieve its mission.
To create a philanthropic culture, the education during onboarding must serve as only a first step. True cultural integration happens when communication is consistent and focused on the impact of giving, not the act of giving itself. Oftentimes organizations will only promote development when a gift is made. And while these stories are important as both platforms for stewardship and as vehicles for external validation, they lack the emotional resonance necessary to create the kind of internal culture nonprofits seek.
You need to tell stories that are universal to really change culture. Think of the Disney film Encanto. On the surface, it’s a story about a family with magical powers who reach a crisis point when a grandchild is surprisingly born without those same powers. If this were the entire story, however, it would never have achieved its place in the pantheon of great movies, garnering three Academy Award nominations and a No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100.
What has driven its popularity and success are not the magical elements of the story but the very human ones. There is a powerful universal story at the heart of Encanto, bound up in the differences between generations, the human longing for purpose, and the need for community. It’s the universal nature of the storytelling that makes the impact, and so it should be with the stories you tell your internal audience about the impact of philanthropy.
Organizations that consistently onboard new employees with information on the importance of giving and tell current employees stories of impact that connect in universal and emotional ways experience the powerful third step in creating a philanthropic culture. In this final step, your internal audiences are telling these emotion-driven stories to others both inside and outside the organization.
Organizations that embody this culture never run out of stories to tell because employees identify new ones every day. Stories that support the mission are made alive for them. In telling these stories, they complete the transformation to brand ambassadors.
At BWF, we help organizations build cultures of philanthropy every day. We’d welcome the opportunity to help you do the same. It’s a privilege to help.