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Exceeding expectations in building a culture of philanthropy at nonprofit organizations

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Richard Ybarra

Last week we shared reflections on building a culture of philanthropy at nonprofit organizations, illustrating what Braille Institute San Diego has done to engage donors. This article is the second installment in the series.

Braille Institute San Diego believes that one key to its philanthropy lies in providing interactions that feel personal, whether someone is speaking with a student, meeting with a donor, or giving instructions to a volunteer. In building a strong culture of philanthropy, emphasis is always placed on this personal touch.

"Answering calls and greeting people, and making sure that people feel connected to us and our mission, that's something people appreciate," says Jay Hatfield, Braille Institute San Diego's Director of Philanthropy. "People remember that personal touch and positive interactions they experienced over time with our organization, and ultimately many people leave Braille Institute sizable gifts in their estate plans."

Going beyond the expected

Another element of the personal touch is providing some concierge services when Braille Institute staff attends meet with donors.

"One donor, who has been blind since birth, is extremely savvy on the computer, but occasionally has trouble with it. When I visit, I sometimes help her with some computer navigation," says Hatfield. "She also has old clocks from her now-deceased parents, and I've helped her fix these clocks. In addition to meeting with her, I'm there to provide a caring experience for a valued supporter of our organization, and am happy to help with things that are difficult to do without sight," he says.


While a commitment to the personal touch helps strengthen one-on-one relationships, one challenge that can emerge is factoring in how the community may view an organization's role within that community. Organizations must be transparent about how they are impacting the local community.

For example, Hatfield explains that when people want to give locally, they sometimes see Braille Institute as a Los Angeles-based organization, because the organization's headquarters are located there. Braille Institute San Diego makes it clear the resources that the center provides the community of San Diego. The team emphasizes that the organization has been providing vital free services for people in San Diego since the 1930s through its Library Services, and has had a physical presence to provide even more opportunities since Braille Institute San Diego officially opened in 1993.

"At Braille Institute, our students remind us how much talent, genius, and experience there is to discover and uncover. We're awash in good news, and we love to share these stories with our donors to illustrate how they support our students," says Richard Ybarra, Executive Director, Braille Institute San Diego.


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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