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In Football and Fundraising, Don’t Overlook the Equipment

This article was written by Kari Dasher. She is no longer with Ostara, but we want to preserve this piece so that you can learn from her and from the work she did while part of the Ostara team.

While I was on Army active duty in South Korea (before my fundraising career began), I was the sole woman, and a starter, on my base’s football team. When I’m sitting in nonprofit Board rooms or staff meetings, I sometimes channel my football background. It turns out that football teams and nonprofits have some things in common – and at least one major difference.

Sports teams and nonprofits both have a mission (get more points than the other team or solve homelessness) and everyone has a role to play (quarterback or Board Chair). Success usually springs from a strong team culture or a strong organizational culture. In both football and fundraising, I’m looking to see if everyone is engaged in the mission. Are you actively participating or sitting on the sidelines watching others do the work?

In nonprofits, there’s also a subset of organizational culture called a culture of philanthropy. It refers to your organization’s attitude towards philanthropy and fundraising. The Haas, Jr. Fund defines four core components of a culture of philanthropy. When these four components are strong, an organization will attract the resources it needs to advance its mission: 

Shared responsibility for development: Everyone—staff, executive director, constituents, board and volunteers—shares responsibility for fund development.  

Integration and alignment with mission: In organizations with a culture of philanthropy, fund development is a valued and mission-aligned component of the organization’s overall work, rather than a stand-alone function.

A focus on fundraising as engagement: In organizations with a culture of philanthropy, fund development is no longer separated from engagement. People today are connecting with nonprofits via multiple channels (e.g., social media, volunteering, blogs, meet ups, petitions) and engaging with them in multiple ways (e.g., as donors, volunteers, board members, constituents).  

Strong donor relationships: Donors are considered authentic partners in the work, not targets or dollar signs. These organizations establish systems to build strong relationships and support donors’ connection to the work.

What’s the major difference between nonprofits and football teams? Nonprofits often don’t provide their staff, Board, or volunteers with the “equipment” they need to build a culture of philanthropy, yet they still expect them to raise more dollars and attract more community supporters year after year. On the gridiron, this would be akin to sending your team onto the field without helmets or pads and asking them to score more touchdowns than ever before. It doesn’t work.

While there isn’t a switch you can flip or one person you can hire to create a culture of philanthropy instantly, you can jump-start the development of this aspect of your organizational culture by investing in staffing, systems, and planning. 

Key Infrastructure Investments to Build a Culture of Philanthropy:

Staffing: Budget ample resources to hire fundraising staff. If you lead a thoughtful process to hire great staff who align with your mission, offer them competitive wages and benefits, and invest in training and retention, they are more likely to stick around and nurture long-term community relationships on behalf of your organization. Your Board members and volunteers will be stronger partners if they have support from capable, committed, happy staff.

Systems: Upgrade your technology to support relationships and engagement. Look for customer relationship management (CRM) databases, payment processing platforms, and website designs that make giving and engaging easy for donors, volunteers, and staff. This isn’t frivolous spending: it’s core to your mission and operations. Not investing in your technology platforms can work against your team and your ultimate fundraising success.

Planning: Allocate Board and staff time to three key planning processes annually.  First, encourage integrating fundraising with the overall vision and mission of the organization by revisiting and refining the strategic plan. Second, Board and staff can collaborate to map the annual fund development plan to the organization’s strategic plan—giving everyone insight into the connection between philanthropy and the organizational priorities that your fundraising will make possible. The final piece is a written case for support that informs all fundraising communications and materials. This case can help articulate for everyone in the organization why philanthropy is needed and what it accomplishes in the community.

These are significant investments for any organization to make, but there isn’t a better game plan for strengthening your development infrastructure – the equipment your team needs in order to build a culture of philanthropy.


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