Thursday, September 4, 2008

Philanthropy and Internal Politics

In my previous two posts, I addressed how organizations could generate more philanthropic support with the right balance of vision and strategic planning. Vision, I argued, must be backed up by sufficient planning detail to show potential investors where, how and when their support would make a difference, and who would benefit. Strategic planning, however, I said, can't drag on so long that it results in a pale and dated case for support. It’s all about striking the right balance. Both captain and crew must make some concessions to achieve a greater philanthropic good.

Let’s begin with the captain. No one faulted Captains Bligh and Queeg for instance, for a lack of vision. They just failed to create a shared sense of mission and their crews became mutinous. Captains, therefore, need to let their crews know not only what they see ahead but how long it will take to get there, what sacrifices will be required and what rewards can be expected upon arrival.

But crews who demand too much democracy can also undermine a voyage’s success. Just as we don’t want an ego maniacal captain who doesn’t engage the crew in some participative planning, we don’t want a process hound at the helm asking the crew for their suggestions as the ship nears the rocks or wanders farther from the Strait of Opportunity. A smart crew members wants a say but knows better than to expect a vote.

I have seen mistakes on both sides – leaders who fail to adjust their plans to achieve internal cohesion as well as internal stakeholders who shoot down some of their leaders’ best ideas by asserting anything new must necessarily be at the expense of the old. I have seen senior faculty members, for instance, warn colleagues that the realization of the new President’s vision can only be achieved at the expense of core academic needs. The fact is that a President with a vision can raise the profile of the institution and broaden its base of support in ways that both strengthen the academic core and make new initiatives possible. Indeed, sometimes the only way to get those core needs met is by projecting a more compelling institutional vision.

Internal dissonance and the failure of captain and crew to agree to broad terms have philanthropic consequences. Winning and sustaining the support of donors who are being wooed by so many other philanthropies requires a winning and sustained message, one that is echoed throughout the organization. Without that kind of discipline, many institutions limit their potential or slow their rate of climb. No complex organization will or should be free of dissent but it can’t be so given to strife that donors lose confidence in the whole. Even worse is when internal controversy breaks out into the open. Such was the case, for instance, with Gallaudet University a few years ago when students challenged a new president’s suitability to lead a deaf community. Major donors didn’t take sides; they just stopped giving.

An effective case for support is not just something that we present to the donor community; it is first an agreement reached within, not only about the money we wish to raise and how it is to be spent, but what elements of internal self-interest we are willing to subordinate for the good of the whole.

No comments: