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Three steps to building a culture of philanthropy at nonprofit organizations

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Richard Ybarra

For Braille Institute San Diego, like many nonprofit organizations, building a strong culture of philanthropy involves more than finding donors in the community to support the center's programs and initiatives. Building a culture of philanthropy involves the staff embracing teamwork to ensure that everyone is able to articulate and demonstrate the organization's mission. It also involves a clear understanding of how donors should be treated and respected in a process of cultivation and stewardship.

"The primary driving force for all of our donations is our programs and services," says Jay Hatfield, Braille Institute San Diego's Director of Philanthropy. "I always tell our staff, in thanking them for their direct service with our students and clients, that it's not me going out getting the gift, it's me telling the story of what they are doing."

Step One

Hatfield underscores the importance of understanding what motivates people to give. He and his colleagues have found that many donors have personally benefited from Braille Institute's free services. "Our programs ‘sell' our philanthropy in that we offer wonderful services that people appreciate. People are so appreciative of Braille Institute's programs and services, whether they are a Library patron or someone who has benefited from a Low Vision Consultation, and that's what generates much of our giving – the appreciation factor of a student or their family member," he says.

Step Two

Recognizing and thanking donors is a crucial part of building relationships with supporters, and Braille Institute believes in striking the right balance between never saying too many thank yous and not being too assertive. As Richard Ybarra, Executive Director, Braille Institute San Diego, explains: "We thank donors for their giving and loyalty over time. When appropriate, we ask if they want to add us to their trust. We have found that many people add us to their will and don't inform us. We want to know so that we can properly thank them for their meaningful gift during their lifetime, and give them the appreciation they deserve."

Step Three

In messaging that thanks and recognizes donors, Braille institute San Diego highlights its mission to eliminate barriers to a fulfilling life caused by blindness and severe sight loss, and reiterates that all of its services are free. Braille Institute also reminds supporters that it relies predominantly on private support from community members (although it receives some government support through the National Library Service for Library Services). To strengthen its philanthropy, Braille Institute aims to increase support from foundations and corporations.

"When people visit our center and realize what we offer our students, they are amazed by all that we do. One of our goals is to invite more foundation leaders and corporate decision-makers to see our programs and learn that we're funded mostly through individual giving," says Hatfield. "Once foundations and corporations learn more about how we are impacting our students, it would be great if they were inspired to give additional support."

For additional reflections on building a culture of philanthropy at nonprofit organizations, please watch for the second installment in this series in a Trusted Advisor column next week.


To support students and programs at Braille Institute San Diego, please email Jay Hatfield at JRHatfield@brailleinstitute.org. To connect with Braille Institute San Diego, call 1-800-BRAILLE, visit BrailleInstitute.org, or email Richard Ybarra at RMYbarra@brailleinstitute.org.

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