CDE project 17 sec­tion 4.5: culture

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 11, 2017

Culture – Ideas and activities that will help you create an adaptable, empowered environment

  • As often as you can, do activities that mix people up to build trust and smash silo-thinking. Away days, department days, project groups are all an opportunity,  which many charities regularly miss, to reinforce the ethos of working towards the common vision.
  • Create project groups where the whole group works to a common goal and shares responsibility for the goals that underpin that.
  • Give responsibility to those who display these ‘shared consciousness’ behaviours.
  • Model this intra-team ethos with other leaders by taking an interest in and supporting other teams’ projects and objectives.
  • Listen and often ask people what they think, so that you empower everyone to take responsibility.
  • Constantly reinforce the notion of taking action as an important value in your charity, and model this value. Ask people how you can support them to make this happen, so that you identify and if necessary help solve what is holding people back.
  • Promote a learning environment by investing in learning and development. See it as ‘investment’ rather than ‘spending’, because it helps improve the donor experience, and in turn, income.
  • Repeatedly ask ‘what can we learn from this?’ and make adjustments to the way things are done.
  • Make time for regular conversations about learning and development during one to one meetings. 
  • Promote a culture which encourages the willingness to evaluate what is working and what is not, and to learn from both. Ask ‘what can we learn from this?’ and show you are serious about the honest search for answers and solutions rather than placing blame. As Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed explains, whereas in many fields people are reluctant to deal objectively with the issues when things have gone wrong, the reason the airline industry has made such huge progress in safety over the decades is its willingness to o learn from mistakes.
  • Clearly investing in courses and conferences is valuable, but even if your budgets are limited, there are still many other affordable practices that make a big difference to your culture. Here are some practical techniques that others have found helpful.

Six inexpensive, powerful ways to create a learning culture

  1. Encourage everyone to make a development plan to share with their manager. As Liz Tait from Battersea Cats and Dogs Home points out, it can be an incredibly simple document, but the fact that it exists helps you and your manager to value and encourage personal development, and the many ways it benefits the fundraiser, the manager and the donor’s experience.
  2. Encourage people to find mentors with whom they can regularly discuss work and professional development issues. They don’t need to wait for a formal mentoring system - encourage them to arrange something informally through colleagues and people in their network.
  3. Create a book club for sharing ideas from work-related books. Richard Turner used this to great effect at Solar Aid.
  4. Join volunteer-organised groups such as IOF Special Interest Groups, which hold inexpensive events and provide on-line ways to connect and solve common problems
  5. Read and share helpful blogs; encourage others to do the same. 
  6. Read and share helpful blogs; encourage others to do the same. 
  7. As Liz Tait from Battersea Cats and Dogs Home suggests, during team meetings and away days, make time to include team building activities, rather than only discussing tasks and strategies. 

Click on the image below to view project 17 in full - PDF format.

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

Related case studies or articles

CDE project 17 summary: leadership

Building on previous learning this project will define what makes great fundraising leaders and what leadership they need from their senior management colleagues and their board if they are to deliver the competent, motivating leadership that will sustain and direct the new style of fundraising that is evolving in Britain.

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CDE project 17 section 1: the approach

In this project we were seeking to answer the question: ‘What kind of leadership have you found increases the chances that a charity will operate in a donor-centred way?’

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CDE project 17 section 2.1: introduction

‘It’s about giving and engaging people, it’s this lovely virtuous cycle where you get to give money, and you get to do something yourself that actually makes a difference.’

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CDE project 17 section 2.2: ‘Define and champion’ and ‘Help people see’

‘You need to develop that sense of shared consciousness…so we all know what the picture is, what we’re striving collectively to do and we’ve got permission to get on and do it.’

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CDE project 17 section 2.3: your organisation’s purpose

Focus attention on why changing the way you work with supporters is something you must do, not just something you should do.

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CDE project 17 section 2.4: your definition of success

Define and reinforce what success looks like in terms of your supporter’s experience.

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CDE project 17 section 2.5: relentlessly reinforce the vision and make it visible

Richard Spencer explained that one way he helped put the point of view of the supporter at the forefront of people’s minds was by circulating a weekly results update.

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CDE project 17 section 3.1: people build great relationships

'Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.'

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CDE project 17 section 3.2: inside-out leadership

It is not about changing others – it is about changing yourself first.

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CDE project 17 section 3.3: trust - risk - people

Richard Turner said that one of the most powerful shifts he has ever made as a leader was deciding to spend time every week with the people he manages. 

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CDE project 17 section 4.1: culture - create an adaptable, empowered environment

A major turning point for Solar Aid came when their leaders decided to focus their efforts on solving one challenge in particular: the fact that the most common source of light in the evening for many people was the kerosene lamp.

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CDE project 17 section 4.2: the game is different now

The challenge is that the world in the 21st century is fundamentally different to the 20th century. Changes in technology have had a huge impact on the environment in which charities now operate.

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CDE project 17 section 4.3: we now need a different kind of leadership

Develop a shared consciousness. Model it. Be consistent.

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CDE project 17 section 4.4: devolve responsibility - growth mind-set

Empower everyone to think for themselves and take action.

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CDE project 17 section 5: conclusion

If our charities are to respond and help supporters solve the problems they care about, leaders need to deliberately cultivate an environment that is adaptable, informed and empowered.

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