Sunday, August 10, 2008

Keeping A Donor Close By

Those of us who work in philanthropy are fortunate. We can go about our jobs in the right way knowing that it will also be the most productive way. And the right way is with integrity.

Integrity is about being whole and consistent, about integrating word and deed. You can have integrity without being a moralizing goody-goody. You just have to be reasonably consistent -- from place to place to place, from person to person, and from your private self to your public self.

The practice of philanthropy must be done with integrity. It is a social compact. No compact can long endure if it is infected by duplicity or disingenuousness. Am I suggesting that there is a lack of integrity in some philanthropic practices? I am. Do I believe it is because a large number of practitioners lack character? Good lord no. Some do but many of us just get so focused on what we think will be productive that we forget we are working within a social compact that requires constant attention to, and consideration for, those whose support we seek. At our worst, we begin to think of a potential donor as an object of our fund-raising aspirations rather than a potential philanthropic partner. What do I mean by that? Well, imagine how different our field might be if there were always a donor beside us.

If there were a donor in the room with us while we were doing our planning, would we be as inclined to refer to other donors as "targets" or "prospects"? Oh, I know we mean no harm in using such words; they're only a form of shorthand that allows us to segment various audiences. But such words can sound harsh to the uninitiated ear, or to the ear of a philanthropist, and the use of them can pull us too far into our own world and too far away from those who are deserving of our appreciation and respect.

If a donor were in the room would we be more circumspect about what we put in research profiles and with whom we shared sensitive donor information? Would we take extra precautions about establishing strict "need to know" protocols?

If there were a donor next to us would we be more apt to pay more attention to the opinions and attitudes of those who might support us? Would we be more intent on conducting market research and focus groups to make sure that we don't fall out of touch and less inclined to focus only on improving the argumentation we use to build our case?

If there were a donor in the room would we be less inclined to describe stewardship as something we execute to set ourselves up for a another solicitation and more likely to think of it as an ethical obligation in and of itself?

If a donor were in the room during our professional conferences would we feel a bit more squeamish about hearing the philanthropic process reduced to a series of moves executed by a masterful fund raiser on a seemingly passive prospect or would we more more inclined to wonder what it feels like to be on the donor's side of the equation and ask what we can learn the philanthropist's experience?

Have I always practiced what I preached? No, but I have done my best work and provided my greatest leadership when I have taken nothing for granted and reminded myself that no one owes me or my organization anything, that I am most fortunate to work in a culture predisposed to philanthropy and to work with people who will even consider working with me to find a way to improve the lives of others.

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