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The Role Policies Play in a Culture of Philanthropy

Resource Center - Foundation

Related Resource: Fundraising Policies Hot Topic page

There’s been much written lately about the culture of philanthropy and what it looks like in an organization. Everyone is engaged—donors, staff, board, volunteers—and everyone is an ambassador who knows the importance of philanthropy to the organization’s mission. 

Policies contribute to that culture by helping to create a respectful and transparent relationship between people in your organization and donors. It’s a misconception that policies constrain. In fact, when they are well-written and widely communicated, they can actually make it easier for you to raise funds. 

When your board of directors has had the chance to think about fundraising policies, they have a greater understanding of what philanthropy is and how it fits your organization. By adopting policies on fundraising, they proclaim their commitment to a respectful and ethical approach to donors. 

All staff, especially in small shops, should have awareness of these policies, not just in the development office. It’s all part of that culture of engagement, where everyone knows the importance of philanthropy to your organization. 

And by putting the policies in an easy-to-find place on your website, you signal your philosophy to donors, helping them in their decision-making. 

Here are some essential policies that charities should have in place: 

Overall fundraising policy that says no fundraising will take place without the approval of the executive director (or other senior staff or board member as appropriate). Nothing turns a donor off faster than being approached by different people who know nothing about others asking from the same organization. 

Sample Fundraising Policy: 

Gift acceptance policy that clarifies for donors, staff, board and volunteers what is acceptable and what is not. IRS or CRA guidelines should form the basis of this policy, but you must state what your organization will accept. Always include the caveat that the board (or whatever person or committee you delegate) will have the final say over accepting a gift. This is especially important when a donor wants to give you something that has costs associated with it—for example, a house. The policy forces you to make a conscious decision based on all the facts. 

Sample Acceptance Gift Policy: 

Prospect research and clearance policy that ensures respectful and confidential research. Your donors have the right to expect that they have been included in a solicitation only after careful consideration of their relationship with you and of the criteria for “the ask.” They should have confidence that your research is conducted with the highest regard for their privacy. 

Having a robust clearance policy is key to the “rights” of asking for gifts: the right person asking the right person at the right time for the right amount for the right reason. 

Sample Prospect Research and Clearance Policy: 

Naming and recognition policy that states the conditions for naming places, spaces or programs. Having clarity around what is acceptable and what is not is critical to avoiding embarrassment for you and potential donors. For example, if your organization works with youth, your policy would state that naming opportunities would not include any references to alcohol or tobacco. Usually the policy includes a statement to the effect that the naming honors both the organization and the donor. It should also outline a process for what happens if the space or program changes. 

Sample Naming and Recognition Policy: 

Gift agreement templates are important base documents that you can use to create agreements for major gifts. These typically include legal names of your organization and the individual/organization wishing to give, the intent of the gift, recognition and publicity, reporting and schedule for giving, and what will happen in a change of circumstances. Also included is the relationship between the parties i.e. outlining the independence of your organization, and that you cannot be party to any immoral or unethical behavior. 

Sample Gift Agreement Policy: 

Third-party fundraising policies and guidelines that clarify your organization’s responsibilities and those of third parties before they undertake any fundraising on your behalf. Included here are what kinds of activities are acceptable to uphold your image and brand, so that those doing the fundraising know before they start. For example, your organization may reject fundraising based on gambling, so a poker tournament would not be acceptable. They also know what support you will give and what their responsibilities are. Typically your organization would not assume liability for third-party events, and you would have an agreement written up to that effect for the organizers. 

Sample Third-Party Fundraising Policies and Guidelines:


Julie Mikuska is principal of Mikuska Group Inc. with her twin sister, Laura Mikuska.

Mikuska Group works with organizations on how to engage donors and create a culture of engagement and identify what they need to support engagement and fundraising including staff, donor relationship management systems, professional development, coaching and mentoring, and communications. Follow them on Twitter @mikuskagrp or check out their blog at

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