Live From NCDC: Money Is A Byproduct of Mission

The purpose of philanthropy is to expand mission, not to raise money. Money is a byproduct of people being engaged with mission. That was the message that Sr. Georgette Lehmuth, president and CEO of the National Catholic Development Conference conveyed to attendees at NCDC’s 45th annual conference, held this week in Grapevine, Texas.

“Behavioral models cannot shift if the culture does not change,” said Lehmuth. “It is overwhelmingly clear that those organizations with a strong sense and culture of mission have a greater capacity for a culture of philanthropy.” Culture of philanthropy, said Lehmuth, is the sum of values and attitudes. Organizational leaders who understand this can expand mission. Without that culture of philanthropy, she said, your organization will not survive. “Without a vision, the people perish,” said Lehmuth, putting the idea into Scriptural terms.

Lehmuth spent much of her address speaking about a recent study from CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund called “UnderDeveloped.” The study showed long vacancies, poor performance and unrealistic expectations at the development director level. This organizational climate creates a vicious cycle where organizations can’t grow. “What is most in jeopardy is your relationship with donors,” said Lehmuth. “Money, rather than mission, becomes the focus.”

Lehmuth warned that development programs must continue to be an investment in the future, rather than an emergency fund for the present. “Development budgets can’t be based on a deficit,” she said. “It’s not meant to be a deficit-filler.” When it is, there is a reluctance to invest in the growth of an organization’s mission and there can be no culture of philanthropy. “Without it, the study (UnderDeveloped) shows that development programs struggle, will falter and eventually fail,” said Lehmuth.

Embracing a culture of philanthropy means training board members to be fundraising collaborators. “They will recognize themselves as partners in your ministry and mission,” said Lehmuth. “They will no longer be afraid to ask for funding, because they know it’s funding to expand the mission. In reading between the lines of the report, the message is clear: institutions that fail to change will not survive.”

Development has to be the responsibility of the whole organization, not just the development department. Initiatives can start at the executive level, but they cannot remain there, said Lehmuth. But the onus is on the development director to help make that happen. “Your reports can’t just be stacks of paper,” said Lehmuth. “You will have to report in a way that is engaging and inviting. Talk about mission every time you open your mouth. They (others in the organization) will realize that dollars come because people believe in who you are and what you do.”

All giving, said Lehmuth, is conversion: when someone gives, they will never be the same. “Giving changes everything, sometimes in small ways, sometimes transformationally,” she said. “Conversion happens: one person gives, and is changed. That change ripples and ripples. We are the catalysts that allow that ripple to happen and to grow.”