Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

If you ignore organizational culture you do so at your own peril. Why? Because you won’t get depth in the fundraising program unless the organizational culture is aligned and integrated with the fundraising objectives. Yes, you can raise revenue without sufficient alignment, but not the larger amounts and not in a  way that achieves sustainability. The first chapter of my recent book, The Nonprofit Fundraising Solution, concerns organizational culture. There I explain the relationship between culture and fundraising in detail, but I’ve noticed that many readers who write me seem to overlook this analysis. So I went back to  the principles of my esteemed teacher, Peter Drucker, and found a quote I was looking for to help me drive home the importance of organizational culture and fundraising.

You see, I once had the special opportunity to spend a year as a Drucker Fellow, and that experience changed my whole approach to fundraising. At that time, I was told that Peter once said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” Upon further research, the quote appears traceable to Mark Fields of the Ford Motor Company, who, in 2006, attributed it to Peter Drucker. It is certainly the sort of thing Peter Drucker might have said, but I haven’t been able to source the quote. Nevertheless, Peter Drucker often argued that a company’s culture would trump any attempt to create a strategy that was incompatible with said culture. Drucker did say “Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.” I loved that quote and believe it to be true; but if it’s so true, why does organizational culture rarely change? And should we heed Drucker’s observation to never try to change it, but to work with what we’ve got?

As a fundraiser, I’ve tried to live with it, change it, or both at the same time.  When I was an executive director, I obviously had the power to change  the culture to be more sensitive to the donors and more mindful of the way revenue flowed to my agency. As an external consultant, I only have as much power as the CEO allows me. When the CEO partners with me to align culture with fundraising, we always raise more revenue.

Why do so many readers overlook organizational culture? I suspect because it’s hard to be present to it, to see it without doing anything about it, to see it and ask what in the world should I do about it, and to know the difference between perception and action. Culture is a poetic word, and we fundraisers are more used to strict business prose. But do heed Drucker’s cautioning and my own experience. Stay present to the dynamics at hand, have private conversations  with all parties who are creating the culture to get their input, and work with  what you have to make the cultural dynamics, well, more dynamic! I welcome your comments at the blog.

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