Monday, December 21, 2009

Charity, Philanthropy and Civility in American History

Scholars, in ever larger numbers, are coming to see that the study of philanthropy is a means of gaining deep insight into American culture and history. This trend was made manifest in, and furthered by, the publication of Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in American History (2003). The book is a compilation of scholarly essays exploring the roots, dimensions and evolution of Americans' remarkable range of efforts to reform social ills, fight disease, improve education and to create a more just, democratic, peaceful and prosperous society.

The essays examine the intentions and consequences of various philanthropic ideals and initiatives, as well as their benefits, drawbacks and unintended consequences. In an essay entitled, "Woman and Political Culture," Kathleen McCarthy enumerates the distinct and disproportionate contributions women made to philanthropic pursuits as well as philanthropy itself and what philanthropy did for women. She writes, "Far from being apolitical, many middle-class housewives were deeply enmeshed in the practice of governance well before they won the right to vote... Although the first female-controlled charities were founded and managed by female elites, by the 1810s a national infrastructure for mobilization and reform had emerged... Over the past two centuries, American women effectively invested their time, talents, and funds in building an array of public services. Through their philanthropic activities, black and white women -- both North and South -- backed their churches, founded charities and literary societies, participated in social reform movements to end slavery and extend the vote, and worked in tandem with state and federal officials over the course of the Civil War. These activities enabled at least some to win political and legal benefits for themselves, to accord women's and children's issues a prominent place on the public agenda, and to promote social change to a degree unmatched in other industrialized nations. In the process, they managed to shape American government and the American welfare state from the periphery of the political arena through the power of philanthropy."

She concludes her cogent thesis by saying, "Women played a vital role in the emergence of civil society as well. Through public-private partnerships with local, state, and federal policy-makers, philanthropy and the nonprofit sector enabled an array of groups to claim a place on the public stage. Each group used these activities and institutions in different ways, to achieve often differing ends. We are just beginning to understand the impact of philanthropy in shaping American government and American governance, efforts exemplified by the continuing history of women's compassion and generosity."

There is so much more to learn about philanthropy. Kathleen McCarthy and others are helping us better understand how it has been shaped and by whom and, in turn, how it has shaped all of us. Among the conclusions I draw from these studies are:

1. That as we, as individuals and a society, pursue the creation of opportunity for others, we create unimagined opportunities, personal and professional for ourselves;

2. That in the pursuit of redressing inequity, we force ourselves to challenge assumptions, to think in different ways, and to create new competencies -- be they scientific, administrative, analytical or emotional -- that find far greater and farther reaching applicability; and

3. That the pursuit of philanthropic purposes, if conducted with humility and a selfless objectivity, will prove to be one of the greatest forces in shaping human history in the coming centuries.

Thank you for reading my blog. I wish you a joyous holiday season and endless contentment in the new year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Insight from the Heartland

In searching the web for examples of insight into, and or innovations in, philanthropy, I came across some wonderfully sound, simply-phrased advice dispensed on the website of the Nebraska 4-H branch. The information appears to have been posted years ago but it is still very much germane and I know of many universities and non-profits that would do much better if they would heed to it. Here are some selected excerpts, some of which I follow with brief comments.

"Are your group goals clear, specific, and action-oriented? Clarify what your group will do with the money raised. It is easier to raise money for specific projects than for the general support of an organization." Too many philanthropy-seeking organizations state their fund raising objectives in the form of broad categorical objectives such as faculty excellence, financial aid, or capital improvements rather than specific projects designed to produce results (e.g. to raise an additional $10 million to double the number of the most qualified, first generation students in five years).

"People donate money in direct relation to how strongly they believe in the program or group. Your success in fund raising indicates the popularity of your program. If contributions are not coming in, it may indicate the need to revise your program, to update your product, to change your image to be more responsive and appealing to the concerns and interests of prospective contributors. Publicize the good works of your organization. Sell your program rather than the need for money. People don't buy Buicks because GM needs money." This is so refreshing to read. All too often, when an organization fails to raise money, the tendency is to blame the fund raising apparatus rather than to ask if the program or initiative was ill-designed.

"Map out your strategy. It is what you do in advance that counts the most... Your market is everyone who will benefit directly or indirectly from your organization or cause." A strategy is the means of reconciling internal aspirations with external realities. The more market-sensitive your plans, the greater your chances of success.

"Understand that you must work with the world as it really is, rather than as it should be. People come prepackaged with different ideas, emotions, and values. To make your fund raising plan succeed, you have to do your homework and take the time to think about what makes the targeted donor tick. Each person give for a different reason. Tailor your appeal to the specific concerns, needs and interests of the individual." Hard to say it any better than that. We have to align our aspirations with the sensibilities of those that might support us.

"Give value for value. Clearly indicate what donors will receive in return for their contribution. This might include:
A statement of exactly what their contribution will buy, (e.g. $75 will send two kids to camp).
A statement of how the donor will directly or indirectly benefit as a result of your group or program, (e.g., we will lobby on behalf of you and other ranchers to....").
Personal recognition.
Good public relations for the donor.
A tax deduction.
Feeling good about themselves and what their contribution makes possible.
A sense of immortality. "
There are those who might say this advice is too transactional in tone but there is something about it that strikes me as genuinely American and makes me smile, including the "sense of immortality" you might achieve by giving $75 to send a couple of kids to camp.

"Give your personal testament as to the benefits of the group or program. Be upbeat and positive. The advantage (or disadvantage) of face-to-face communication is that your personal commitment and enthusiasm (or lack of it) are going to show through. Be specific rather than speaking in generalities (e.g., "I would not be able to speak to you except for the public speaking skills and confidence I've gained through Scouts. Your support will provide other young people with the same opportunity.") Look the prospective donor in the eye, and ask for the targeted amount." If someone in a Scout uniform made that pitch to me, there's no way I could say, "no."

"Practice. Never ask for a donation without having practiced first. Our natural fear and discomfort in asking people for money is overcome through good preparation and practice."

"Follow-Up. Acknowledge the gift with a personalized letter. Report on results. Be accountable. Interview benefactors and publicize how the program has benefited them. Build a donor relationship in anticipation of next year's fund raiser."

"Celebrate. Get together after the fund drive. Frankly discuss the work, share funny stories, applaud your success, and strategize on the hard cases. Fund raising is more imposing for new members, so give them an extra boost. Reward yourselves for a job well done."

"Be Prepared for Disappointments. Sometimes things go wrong. How do you rebound from a fund loser, and save morale? Get together as a group as soon as possible to talk about what went wrong and what can be done immediately to recoup your losses. If there were any mistakes of judgment, the chairperson should quickly accept responsibility. Simply say, "It was my fault." The purpose of your meeting is not to pin the blame. Make a list on paper of what went wrong and what to do differently next time. It is a great psychological relief to pin down the precise problem so it doesn't seem like everything went wrong. Stop dwelling on the "failure," and instead focus on what you will do to make up the loss." I'd love to see some variation of this played out at a university or oh-so non-profit. I'd better not push it any farther than that.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Family and Faith: The Heart of American Philanthropy

In my lectures, seminars and writings, I often speak to the spiritual roots of American philanthropy and stress how important it is for philanthropy-seeking organizations to understand, respect, align with and further develop this profoundly important aspect of our culture.

In an article in The Global Spiral, Stephen G. Post underscores the singularity and cultural centrality of American philanthropy in asserting, "The most significant history of America is the story of how those committed to freedom and to the public good have used wealth to found and maintain institutions of education, health, culture, spirituality, and humanitarian aspiration. It is also a story about millions of people devoting time and energy in small ways to good causes. Our American histories are usually shaped by themes such as politics, culture, expansion, war, and the economy. We need to recognize that the history of this nation is at least as much one of philanthropy as of anything else, and that only through the spirit of philanthropy is there any ultimate hope for a prosperous, pluralistic, democratic future. Government has a vitally important role in responding to the needs of citizens, especially of those in dire need. But we also need philanthropy."

In the same article, he points to family history and religion as wellsprings of American philanthropy. "If we do live in an age of narcissism, the remarkable thing is that so many individuals and families act philanthropically," he says. "The traditions of philanthropic families seem strong enough to sustain the spirit of giving, and, if today's events are a measure, to help other families enter into this spirit. As one scholar who has studied philanthropic motives in depth through interview analysis concludes: "Most of the wealthy people we interviewed also cited family tradition as a reason to give to charity. For some, the family had a history of responding to the needs of communities where they had been 'leading families.'" Next to family history, spirituality and religion are often mentioned, and these features are usually a core aspect of family history. And, importantly, people want to pass this spiritual tradition of generosity on to their children. Some parents engage their children in volunteer work in adolescence, teach them by modeling a life of service: some involve their children actively in the life of the family foundation, including site visits and responsibility for some small grants."

The market research we have conducted through Georgetown's Advancement office shows that the majority of our most generous and loyal donors identify themselves by their faith and have had multiple family members attend the university. The correlation of spirituality to philanthropy is powerful according to Arthur C. Brooks, who, in a Policy Review article, entitled "Religious Faith and Charitable Giving," writes, "Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent). And, consistent with the findings of other writers, these data show that practicing a religion is more important than the actual religion itself in predicting charitable behavior. For example, among those who attend worship services regularly, 92 percent of Protestants give charitably, compared with 91 percent of Catholics, 91 percent of Jews, and 89 percent from other religions."

So, given the strength of this evidence, I continue to challenge those philanthropy-seeking organizations who resort to soul-less, short-term, and metrically reductive approaches to fund raising. I believe that donors give despite, not because of, these approaches. These organizations would be better served, and would better serve the American philanthropic phenomenon, by giving more time and attention to designing goals and activities that would tap into and satisfy our deepest spiritual aspirations and by asking what they might do to not only raise more gifts in the next year but to earn the support of families over many generations.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Cultural Check List

My wife recently participated in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Race for the Cure (of breast cancer). The popularity and success of this event, which is staged at different times in different cities across the country, can be attributed to way it taps into the deep roots of American philanthropic culture. In particular, the event works because it:

1. Defines common cause ("race" underscores the urgency while "cure" defines the purpose; an audacious goal stated in clear and simple terms);

2. Promotes community (the event attracts thousands of walkers who trek together over three days, ultimately traversing 60 miles, bonding with each other as they go and with the many well-wishers who line the route and offer their encouragements);

3. Encourages individual expression (with walkers donning all sorts of costumes and get-ups, and coming up with names that incorporate or pun on "breast" or its more colorful synonyms, and, yet, it is e pluribus unum -- "out of many, one" at its best);

4. Requires a significant investment of time and effort (walkers are required to raise a minimum of $2300 and walk 60 miles but they get so much out of it precisely because they put so much in);

5. Makes effective use of symbol and ritual (there's an opening and closing ceremony for the walkers, a ritual beginning and end; in the closing ceremony the walkers enter a large circular enclosure while the "inner circle" is reserved for the cancer survivors; for many of those survivors, crossing the finish line brings closure to their struggle; they "made it" with the help of family and friends);

6. Combines solemnity with celebration (many walkers carry "in memorium" messages of love ones they have lost, as do the well-wishers along the way but they also celebrate those who survived; the celebration of life exists side by side with the sorrow of loss).

These six success factors serve as a check list for all philanthropy-seeking organizations who wish to find the way to strike the most resonant cultural chords. As you evaluate your messages, events and other channels of communication, ask yourself how well you stack up against this criteria.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Notes From the Field

I thought I'd share with you some issues that came up in the last week and my response to them.

1. A donor was nice enough to offer her apartment in Paris for an auction. It's a wonderfully generous offer from an exceptional person but I tend to steer clear of auctions for all the reasons mentioned in my last few blogs; it suggests philanthropy is about getting something in return. I know; I shouldn't be so picky. In this case someone has offered a property that can be converted into cash for philanthropic purposes but, if you do too much of that, doesn't it contribute to a culture of "so what do I get for my giving?" Silent auctions are preferable but I wonder if events that rely heavily on them have a tendency to attract more "bargain hunters" than a philanthropists, and if we bring out too many of the former do we scare away or turn off the latter? Live auctions are more troubling to me. They seem to detract from the dignity of a philanthropic event which should be much more about the spirit of giving, the love of humanity and how the organization in question has made a lasting difference in the lives of those it exists to serve. I worry about making a spectacle of bidding on luxuries when we should be promoting the quiet contemplation of how we can work together to help those in need. Finally, I'm very skeptical about the efficacy of one-time or stand-alone fund raising events like galas and black tie events. The overhead for such events is usually very high, sometimes as much as one-third to one-half of the proceeds. If one took the same amount of money and invested it in field work (discovering and engaging prospects), it would generate more philanthropy in the long run. The best events are those that a highly substantive, that showcase the most selfless activities, and are part of a much longer approach to community building.

2. Several members of my staff did some exceptional work in looking at the number of prospects required to run a successful $2 billion campaign, then comparing that goal to the number that we currently had at all levels, where the largest gaps were, how many leads would be necessary to generate a sufficient number of prospects, how many discovery visits it would take to convert leads into qualified prospects and how many development officers would be required to complete the task. The exercise proved to be a great management tool and a teaching aid; it vividly demonstrates the time it takes to build a broad prospect base and how labor-intensive it is. It also demonstrates the need to keep a portion of an organization dedicated to discovery even during the most intensive campaigns so that there is the potential of greater sustained support after the campaign than before.

3. Though our work at Georgetown University over the past few years has produced a much broader field of prospects, appointments with those prospects are proving more and more difficult to secure. Where it once took about 10 calls to secure one face-to-face appointment with a new prospect, it now takes 20. And, we still see a large number of donors who, because they are very skittish about the stability of the economy, are reluctant to make multi-year pledges.

4. Donors continue to ask what institutions of higher education are doing to keep their tuition in check. Today's New York Times has an article about universities who have hired Bain Consulting to find ways to reduce their costs. Such efforts, whether they are guided by external consultants or the result of rigorous internal reviews, constitute a responsible reaction to changing times and growing public concern.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Admissions, Development and Institutional Integrity

After holding forth in my last two blogs about what philanthropy-seeking organizations can do to lessen the tendency of donors to engage in quid quo pro gift-giving, I heard from a friend who said she understood my larger points but still wasn’t sure what a development officer was supposed to do when confronted with an aggressive parent who whips out a checkbook and says, “Okay, exactly what do I need to give to get my daughter admitted?”

Here’s what I would recommend: When asked “what it will take,” a development officer should say, “I can track your child’s application and advocate on his/her behalf if the dean of admission tells me that he/she meets the general criteria for acceptance (in other words, your giving, past or prospective, cannot compensate for poor academic performance; your son or daughter has to be a credible candidate). The advocacy of the development office can be brought to bear when the dean of admission is trying to make a choice among equally qualified applicants and we can point to one who comes from a family with a long history of support of this institution or (if the parent is not an alumnus) an impressive philanthropic record elsewhere -- and the longer that history, the better.”

Development officers should not offer to advocate on behalf of an applicant if the parent puts a particular sum on the table or asks, “how much?” They should say they will have to recuse themselves from the admissions process if a direct offer is made and advise the parent that such an approach will not be well-received by the institution at any point.

In my ideal world, universities should give philanthropic preferences in this order:

1. To alumni families who have given consistently to, and been active volunteers over many years at the institution to which their child is applying;

2. To alumni families who have given years before their child applied;

3. To alumni families who gave just before their child applied;

4. To non-alumni families with impressive philanthropic records elsewhere.

Development officers and other institutional representatives should be exceptionally wary of parents who throw around promises of large gifts should their child be admitted. Parents with great financial capacity but no record of philanthropy anywhere are a high risk. If their child is admitted, they are likely to find reasons for reneging or to put additional quid pro quo conditions on their giving.

Considering a family’s philanthropic record if the child is admissible is ethical in my estimation. Admission directors will tell you that there is a bell curve to every admissible pool of applications with an eminently qualified group on the right tail and a marginal group on the left, and a “great middle” within where the differences between candidates are so slight or so subtle as to render them indistinguishable and statistically insignificant. A family’s philanthropic record, particularly if considered in the context of their means, is a legitimate way to differentiate among that group. And, the practice of “development admits” is even more defensible if the institution has a real commitment to “need blind admission” and to identifying and encouraging applicants from the most modest economic circumstances. A “development admit” should not displace a more qualified or a less economically-advantaged applicant.

If such policies and practices are in place, and the development staff is well-trained on how to articulate them, the efforts of those who try to buy their child’s way in can be blunted, the interests of constructive, consistent donors with qualified children can be protected, and the conscience of the school can be preserved.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Replenishing Our Philanthropic Soil

In my last blog post, I compared the American philanthropic culture to a “remarkably rich soil from which many wonderful things have grown." I voiced my concern about fairly widespread “hard sell” fund raising tactics that deplete the soil, that exploit the obligation that many Americans feel to “give back” by asking for “more, more, more” without feeling an equally insistent institutional obligation to actually do more. If too many institutions put more energy into raising money than they do in planning the most economic or efficient use of the funds raised, our philanthropic soil will become ever more depleted and more and more of what we call philanthropy will look increasing like quid pro quo deals.

Conversely, if we ask how we can best replenish the soil that has served so many so well for so long, my answer would be to think very carefully about the promises we make to donors, then to do as we promised. In too many cases, the promises are overly broad and overtly self-serving. Even institutions that do a good job of accounting for the dollars they raise often fall short in defining the explicit qualitative gains that have been achieved, particularly the difference they have made in the day-to-day lives of those that they exist to serve. No, I’m not saying that philanthropy-seeking organizations should not make promises; I’m saying that should make very specific, practical, well-thought-out promises and do all they can to deliver on them. I’m saying those promises should be less about creating more distinguished institutions and more about helping others. And, finally, those promises should be made only after institutions listen to their constituents and find where there is collective will to achieve a greater societal good.

The next best way for institutions to replenish our philanthropic soil is to commit themselves not only to creating a culture of gratitude but a culture of commitment. If we accept a gift, we accept a partner. A true partner is one with whom we keep faith even if he or she is not present. That involves everything from making sure the language of fund raising is not unduly depersonalizing (e.g. “targets” or “suspects” to be “nailed” or “hit on”) to ensuring that we never expend private funds for purposes that we would prove embarrassing or awkward if donors were in front of us demanding an explanation, and from requiring the institutional recipients of private funds to carefully document their use to creating systems that allow us to preserve “donor intent” over time. Too idealistic? Well, I’d say that idealism is one of the richest ingredients in our philanthropic soil so, if we’re going to draw on it and prosper from it, we’d better make sure to put enough of it back.

If we are authentic in abiding by our ideals, assiduous in the pursuit of our mission and scrupulous in the management of our resources, we can call our donors to a selfless philanthropic standard. But, if we let gaps grow between our word and deed, or allow ourselves to feel entitled to the automatic support of others, or become too transactional in our fund-raising approaches, or make philanthropy too much about what we want, we cannot feign surprise when donors ask, “Then what’s in it for me?”

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Cultural Shift?

A friend and colleague wrote last week to share her concerns and invite my reaction. She reported “seeing an alarming trend” in the attitudes manifested by “pipeline” prospects, age 40-50. There is, she says, “so much quid pro quo among this next generation of donors.” Increasingly she is asked by these prospects if she can get their son or daughter, or even a neighbor, admitted or get better football tickets or even secure an introduction to another prominent alumnus for business purposes. “This worries me,” she says, “and makes me think a lot about the messages we will need to deliver to hopefully capture this crew at some tipping point in the future. You think a lot about the history and power of philanthropy and how it has changed and shaped our nation in so many fabulous ways. Do you think we are nearing a change in the fundamental concept that has made us great?”

It’s a huge and terribly important question. I don’t know if we are nearing a fundamental cultural shift in our outlook on and practice of philanthropy but I have worried about, and written and spoken about it for some time. I have pointed out that Americans have engaged in an unprecedented and unparalleled voluntary transfer of wealth over more than two centuries. I have characterized it as “the American Philanthropic Revolution” and argued that the good done by it has greatly advanced the ideals borne of the American Revolution and mitigated the prospects of violent social upheavals. In addition, I have explained that the origins of this remarkable philanthropic spirit can be traced back to our earliest roots, to the creation of communal constructs designed to yield civic and social improvements, and that we operated as “we the people” long before that phrase was coined in the preamble of the Constitution. And, when visitors from foreign universities came to me seeking to understand and export American fund-raising techniques, I took pains to point out we owed our success much more to the culture than the tactics of fund-raising. In my seminars and conferences, I say that I and other highly-experienced practitioners could take everything we have learned over decades to another country and not enjoy anything close to the success that we enjoy in this one. So, I have asked myself over the years and now ask openly at the outset of my seminars, why is it that so much of our training focuses on the application of technique and so little on achieving a deeper understanding of the culture that allows it to work.

To me the American philanthropic culture is a like a remarkably rich soil from which many wonderful things have grown, and will continue to if we don’t take more from it than we give back. Widespread fund raising practices that employ hard-sell, short-term, sometimes exploitative tactics slowly leeches our philanthropic soil of the nutrient of good will. Incessant fund raising in pursuit of “more, more, more” robs the soil of the nutrient of trust if those asking do not have a well-thought-out plan to actually do more as efficiently and effectively as possible. And so it goes. Everything selfish and short-term that we do, everything that is inefficient and ill-conceived, depletes the soil that has given us so much. To my friend’s question, I have to ask, “To what extent has the growth of technique-oriented fund raising operations created a jaded consumer?” What if that quid-pro-quo prospect pushes back and says, “If you’ve turned philanthropy into an entitled, incessant clamor for what you want, why shouldn’t I clamor for what I want?” or “If I can’t really see the difference my dollars make (unless I give you millions), why shouldn’t I try to get something out it?” or “How can you fault me for linking my giving to better football seats when your athletic department predicates its fund raising on it?”

If we see Americans becoming more selfish, short-term or demanding in the way they give, we should not only ask if the culture is changing but if we have contributed to change. Change begins with us, the practitioners of philanthropy.

In my next blog post, I will speak to the ways that we can replenish the American philanthropic soil. In the meantime, I invite your comments? Am I being too hard on us? Are we seeing a cultural shift toward more quid pro quo giving and away from selfless philanthropy and, if so, what can we do about it?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reflections From the Field

I had a number of interactions with donors last week which seemed to provide larger lessons about the changing nature of philanthropy.

The first was with a young donor who had pledged a million dollars earlier in the year. The night before I was to meet with him, I read my research brief and was struck once again by how generous a gift it was from one so young. Then I began to wonder, "Is he the youngest person ever to have given a gift of this size to Georgetown?" I sent an e-mail note to my research director asking her to check and, sure enough, he was. That important distinction had not been noted at any previous point. When I sat down to the dinner the next day with that donor, I was able to share the news in the form of a toast. Yes, we have been fortunate enough to receive million dollar gifts from a good number of donors but his gift was unique. Putting it in the perspective of our 220-year history helped him understand just how truly remarkable it was and, therefore, why it was particularly valued. It's important to look for those kinds of distinctions and, if at all possible, celebrate something unique about every major gift, not just lump all of them into one category or giving society. Looking for distinctions within categories -- whether it is the first to give to an important new initiative , the youngest to give at a particular level, giving in proportion to one's means, or giving in someone else's name -- is an important element of effective stewardship and good donor relations.

The second was with a prospect who had become intrigued by a phrase in our President's vision statement --"to produce leaders who make a disproportionate difference in the world." This donor thought that goal was quite important and was considering a million dollar pledge in support of it but he wanted to know how we proposed to identify those potential leaders. He believed that those who would make a disproportionate difference in the world were likely to have overcome
disproportionate adversity or taken on a disproportionate challenge early in life. If we simply looked for the same old criteria -- very good grades, high board scores and evidence of leadership -- we might miss some very unusual talents or late bloomers, he argued. This prospect was seizing on a key element of our vision statement and challenging us to challenge our own assumptions about how we might get there. Being able to say where an institution is going and why is essential to building philanthropic support but, increasingly, we must be prepared to show how we propose to achieve our goals and to consider innovative means of getting there. Every element of a vision must be backed up with a set of specifics to show how that goal is to be reached, and we must be willing to incorporate different ideas from different donors on the best way of achieving it.

The third was a prospect who liked the idea we had put to him, that of underwriting a distinguished speaker series in one of our schools, but he questioned if we really needed the endowment we were asking for. He wanted to see how we came to that number, including how much the school had spent on distinguished speakers in the past two years (including travel, lodging, security, etc.). He suggested we should carefully calculate those annual costs and then ask for an endowment gift that was twenty times that amount not just pull a nice round endowment number out of the air. When I asked the development officer in that school for the supporting budgetary material, he confessed that the proposal was more "concept-based" than "budget-based." My advice to him and to all of us is that all future proposals, especially when we are seeking commitments, must be budget-based.

Our everyday interactions with donors provide any number of insights into where the world is going and how philanthropic patterns are changing. If we listen, respect and adjust, we'll keep up and maybe even stay ahead.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Appropriate To The Times

The ways in which organizations pursue their philanthropic goals may vary but all must develop fund-raising strategies appropriate to the times. And, in these times, when donors are living with less and worrying more about their financial futures, it essential for these organizations to address their fund-raising aspirations in the context of cost-containment. To prove this point, let’s take a closer look at the dilemma of educational institutions.

When the economy suffered a dramatic contraction, virtually every school, college and university realized there would be a corresponding demand for new levels of financial aid. Urgent appeals were issued and poignant cases were made to help donors understand that more and more families were struggling to pay for their children’s education. Yet, those appeals were often made to prospects whose net worth had precipitously contracted. Above and beyond the obvious problem of asking for more from people who had less to give was the issue of whether additional money would make any real difference if tuition was not capped. After all, if schools continue to increase their costs, the need for financial aid will rise in direct proportion. The only way for new financial aid dollars to make a significant difference is to keep costs from increasing.

Tuition payments have become an ever larger portion of the average family income and, in the case of many prominent schools, now exceed that benchmark. So, without cost containment, what becomes of ever larger amounts given in the name of financial aid? If the answer is, “Well, it will keep us from falling even farther behind and slow the rate at which we price ourselves out of more and more markets,” few will be motivated to give. The only satisfactory answer is, “We will contain costs at the same time we seek greater financial aid support to ensure access to students from a greater socio-economic range.” There’s a greater goal to be reached, a difference to be made, therefore, a reason to give.

Philanthropy, as interpreted through the American cultural lens, is about making something better, about helping worthwhile organizations and causes to go from good to great, not from survival to mediocrity or to prevent them from lapsing from greatness into something less. We don’t make large investments in organizations that are struggling, whose expenses are out of control, or in decline. So, the best case that can be made for an organization that finds itself with fewer resources or greater expenses is that it will contract strategically to maintain focused excellence. And this is exactly what we see universities like Princeton, Cornell and Duke doing.

When so many business have had to make strategic cuts in hopes of emerging stronger and so many families have had to reorder their priorities or give up on some dreams, it makes little sense for philanthropy-seeking organizations to claim they need more without first showing they have done all they could to reduce their overhead and focus their resources on doing the fewest, most essential tasks as well as they possibly can.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Latest on Student Discovery

As many of you know, one of the innovations of which I am most proud is the Student Discovery Initiative at Georgetown. It is featured in the most recent issue of CASE Currents and has been covered in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

To date:

Over 6,000 alumni in 42 states and 17 countries have been interviewed

20 percent of those alumni made their largest gift ever after the interview was conducted

Giving by those interviewed rose 43 percent in the year after the visit

The interviews yielded 1,000 new career mentors, 500 new alumni-admissions interviewers and 200 Regional Club and Class Committee volunteers

570 new major gift prospects, 63% of whom have a capacity in excess of $100,000, were identified.

Oh, and did I mentioned that before these alumni were interviewed, they received a letter from the President reassuring them that they would not be asked for money? All of the results above came from the asking of opinions, and nothing else. Here’s the rest of the story.

The idea was a classic case of necessity being the mother of invention. I was new to Georgetown and found myself with 25 open positions, most of them in the upper echelons of my operation. For every person who had left, dozens if not hundreds of alumni and donor connections had been broken. Frustrations were piling up and I was trying to figure out how I could let our alumni know that we cared about them and were racing to repair the breaks in communications. I knew it would take more than a year to fill all the open positions so I began thinking about other assets that might be available to me. Then, while someone was reciting impressive statistics about Georgetown, it hit me. I was sitting on a huge resource – one of the most selectively admitted student bodies in the country. Over 18,000 applied, 1600 were admitted. Once a degree was conferred on these students, they were highly sought after by employers in the public and private sectors. I began to wonder how many of them might work for me before they graduated and how I might best use their abilities. Since information is so important to a new leader, it occurred to me that the best thing I could ask students to do was to help me gain more insight into how our former students would like to reconnect with their alma mater.

I learned that only 4,000 out of our 150,000 living alumni had ever had face-to-face contact with a representative of their alma mater and then began to imagine what might happen if we were to hire 100 students and ask them to interview 10,000 alumni over three years. What if we could more than double our interaction with alumni in a few short years? What might we learn about their interests and passions? And, if better armed with those insights, how much more effective might we be in designing our communications and outreach?

And how much would I need to spend? I wasn't exactly rolling in the dough. I thought, “What if we asked students to interview alumni in their hometowns when they returned for Christmas, Easter or summer break?” Since they were already going home, I wouldn’t have to pay transportation only for their time. I did the calculations and concluded I could offer students the handsome sum of $50 for each interview conducted. Such a deal, eh? The question then became, “Would anyone take me up on the offer?

They did indeed. Of course they did. They were (and are) very smart. They saw the value of getting in front of successful alumni and the opportunity to represent the University in a pioneering effort was far more than the $50 dollars we were offering. Some of my colleagues at Georgetown and at other universities warned me that I was taking too much of a risk, that I was asking students to take on responsibility beyond their years and that some would disappoint us by their poor judgment or inappropriate behavior. But none did. There have been no such incidents, not one. The students were carefully selected and put through rigorous training, both in the art of the interview and in steeping themselves in University facts and figures.

Our market research showed that many alumni craved a closer connection to their alma mater but felt the University had only one interest in them – as donors. Further, some of those who had met with development officers felt that they were in the presence of “hired guns,” there for the sole purpose of extracting commitments but were not well-versed on the latest developments or higher aspirations of the University. We knew it would be important to send a far different signal through our students.

When the first group of student discoverers began their work, they found not all of our alumni were willing to meet with them and those that were often met them with initial skepticism. However, after the alumni realized that there was no hidden agenda, they were touched by the fact that the University had deployed someone for the sole purpose of learning more about them. The alumni took to the students immediately, often asking if they could drive them to the next appointment or take them to lunch. Then I began to receive letters from those who had been interviewed. They said, in so many words, “You couldn’t have sent a more impressive representative to meet with me.” It was working. Human bonds were being strengthened when current and former students met. The students said more about the University and its future than any brochure, speech, video, or event ever could.

In Matthew Lambert, I was fortunate to find the right leader to implement my idea. He, in turn, surrounded himself with other strong leaders, including very talented students. One student, Tim Foley, conducted over 500 interviews over one summer. We hired him immediately after graduation. He worked for us for two years and now is in law school.

As I have said on other occasions, the program has been “a win” on every conceivable level. The program has brought forward wonderful students who helped bring many accomplished alumni back into the fold. The process of discovery proved an invaluable educational experience for our students and helped develop their personal and professional skills. As a result, they grew even closer to Georgetown. I expect many, in not most, will be our alumni leaders of the future.

Philanthropy is not produced by fund-raising. It is rooted in the common interests and mutual benefits of a well-developed community. If we are to achieve philanthropy’s highest and best purposes, we must attend to the constant building of the web of human relationships and the defining of the causes that unites us. Our students did more than interview or discover; they furthered the growth of a community, strengthened the sense of common cause, and helped us all better imagine how we might work together to achieve something greater. We continue to learn from their experience.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Vetting of a Vision

Last week, we vetted a draft of our campaign vision with our Board of Directors. The exercise was invaluable -- which is not to say that it led to a complete validation of the vision we advanced or produced anything close to perfect clarity on where we should go.

One board member said the statement did not fully capture the spirit of humanism that pervades the University culture. Another said it did not accurately depict the friendliness of the campus, a place, as he saw it, where others look you in the eye, shake your hand with conviction and smile with genuine warmth. Yet another said it did not capture the Catholic identity that had been so well-stated in an earlier articulation of mission, vision and values. Still another seized on the section that alluded to the Beatitudes and said that it should move from the second to the first page and be used to further elucidate the intellectual and spiritual foundations on which Georgetown stands. One trustee reminded the others that the statement was meant to be inspirational not descriptive, a notion the moderator seconded, saying the statement was meant to be a "locker room" talk not a game plan. One director opined that the statement didn't capture the happiness of the student experience while others focused their efforts on the need to clarify certain word choices and phrases.

So, with such a range of opinions expressed, why did I consider the exercise successful? First of all, the Directors were engaged. Their reactions were thoughtful and heartfelt. They cared about where the University was going and how it described its animating passions and guiding forces. Second, we learned a great deal about what was most important to those that spoke up which will allow us to find the campaign project or initiative that is closest to their hearts or most consonant with their hopes. Third, they learned more about each other which will help them bond and better understand one another which can only make future deliberations more considerate and productive. Finally, all could better understand the challenge of melding multifarious views into a more cohesive case for support and a greater spirit of common cause. And that task, the one of melding many into one, is a challenge that requires deliberate resolve and patient persistence, one that will never satisfy any single individual, most especially the writer of such statements, but one that will produce a greater sense of community.

Ralph Ellison said, "American is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain. Our fate is to become one, and yet many." Our founders, foreseeing that fate, adopted as a motto for a new democracy, "e pluribus unum (from many, one) ." And the early leaders of Georgetown made their motto "Utraque Unum, (from two into one), which comes from the epistle to the Ephesians, but the University's website notes, "As is the way in universities, the two words have taken on a variety of meanings from other contexts; the accommodation of learning and faith; the gathering of the sciences and the arts; and most moving of all, the joining of the blue and gray after the Civil War. It is hard not to think that the original choice of this text looked also to the fit of the old faith into the new Republic, the dream of Archbishop Carroll (Georgetown's founder)."

It's nothing new, this challenge of vetting a vision, of listening to many different stakeholders and trying to incorporate as many ideas and aspirations as possible without losing the "oneness" that makes the parts cohere, that creates a whole greater, deeper and stronger than the sum of the parts.

The formulation and reformulation of vision, with all it entails -- from its first articulation from a formative thinker, through the process of incorporation and accommodation, of creating a bigger tent without breaking the main mast -- is the real challenge of every great leader and the real mission of every lasting enterprise and institution.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Campaign Vision (Part II)

Okay, here's a second draft of the campaign vision statement that I shared with you last week. The latest version is a more direct explanation of the campaign and a bit less of a soul search. It is more didactic and less Socratic, and has a more accessible, logical structure. I have been going back and forth between the two version to see if anything truly significant has been lost. It's a hard call. Perhaps I will have a better perspective after the document has been vetted with various constituencies, which is very important to achieve buy-in and to make sure that we are ready to implement what we promise. I wonder if it still is enough of a call to greatness, if it reaches deep enough into our soul and holds us to a holds us to a high enough standard to inspire the greatest possible support.

Anyway, here it is for your review.

What We Ask of Ourselves
A Vision for 2020 and Beyond

Four questions bring our aspirations for Georgetown University’s $1.5 billion campaign into focus: Why Georgetown? Why now? What can we accomplish? What will it take?

Why Georgetown?

“All of us (at Georgetown) enjoy a privilege that is very rare in our world – a beautiful world – but a world marked by injustice…a world in desperate need of your dreams. What you do with this privilege matters. We are not alone. We have each other. We also have women and men who need us – who are looking to us – to respond to the challenges that define our world today. In the words of former Jesuit Superior General Pedro Arrupe, we must accept the responsibility of being women and men for others: Women and men who accept responsibility not only for their own personal development…but for the collective development of the human family.” — President John J. DeGioia

With these words, President John J. DeGioia welcomes the freshman class to Georgetown University each fall. In so doing, he does more than orient these students to a campus; he defines what is unique about Georgetown as an institution dedicated to service. He points to Georgetown’s greatest resource: its people — students and faculty, alumni and friends, women and men for others.

To be of Georgetown begins not with what we ask for ourselves but what we ask of ourselves, about how we will use the gifts we have been given to serve others. As it becomes increasingly clear that we live in one environment, one economy and one society, and that weakness in one part, if left unattended, is a threat to the whole, what do we ask of ourselves?

Our campaign, the most ambitious in the university’s history, will provide Georgetown with the resources it requires to meet this challenge in 2020 and beyond. Its greatest priority will be an unprecedented investment in tomorrow’s leaders through scholarships. It will strengthen Georgetown’s position as a convergence point in the creation and dissemination of knowledge through strategic investments in faculty excellence, transformational initiatives and the creation of a model microcosm of what the university seeks to accomplish in the world.

Georgetown is not a just a university that inspires its community members to give their time and treasure to — in order to realize limited campus objectives — but a university that inspires its community members to give through to advance its traditions and create a better world. They see the spirit in which Georgetown builds knowledge and leadership to address the most difficult issues of the 21st century. They identify with the sense of commitment and service that pervades Georgetown’s community, and the determination with which the university seeks to build upon its purpose, place, moment and unique strengths to make the most enduring contribution to the human family.

Why Now?

“There is nothing quite like this moment.”— President John J. DeGioia

These questions take on a greater urgency as a shaken nation and a world searches for the bedrock on which to build a better future. We have seen so many seemingly tall houses wash away because they were built on the sands of expediency, falsity, foolishness, fear and intolerance. We look to the institutions that remain, particularly those that have thrived over centuries, and ask which of these can still be believed in and trusted to live up to their principles and deliver on their promise. Georgetown University is such an institution.

With the most competitively selected students in university history and deeply rooted in one of the world’s most influential cities, Georgetown now stands poised and prepared to make a far greater contribution to the world than ever before.

As a university that has reached the highest levels of achievement with modest resources compared with many of its peers among top-ranked universities, Georgetown offers an efficiency of purpose and performance that is perfectly suited to these times. As supporters have come to understand how Georgetown has efficiently converted their gifts into significant and lasting gains, they have increased their investment in the university. In fact, in the past year, in the face of the most challenging economic climate in the past 75 years, Georgetown supporters gave in record numbers and record amounts.

This inspirational support could not come at a more opportune moment. In a troubled economy, more families struggle to afford a first-rate education for their children. The university’s historic commitment to need-blind admissions and meet-full-need financial aid has made the university what it is today by making Georgetown a viable choice for all of the best students and not merely those who can afford it. No priority is more important to the university’s academic competitiveness. To sustain this historic commitment, we must expand scholarship funding.

Gifts to the campaign will have both immediate and long-range impact. Scholarship support will help prepare new generations of leaders who will go on to make a disproportionate difference.

Support for the curriculum will hone the skills and shape the consciences of those who will, in remarkably large numbers, go on to care for the sick, create law, shape public policy, influence foreign affairs, spur economic growth, foster innovation, create, teach, or build richer, more diverse communities.

New commitments to research will generate knowledge that leads to more efficient government, sophisticated and humane health care, environmental sustainability, enlightened jurisprudence, interreligious understanding and conflict resolution.

Endowments for capital improvement will create model environments for leadership development, character formation, citizenship, multi-cultural understanding, and artistic or athletic development.

What Can We Accomplish?

Through these investments, five central accomplishments can be attained. We seek to:

1. Make Georgetown the destination of choice for the world’s most accomplished and altruistic young people.

2. Design a complete, comprehensive campus life experience that ensures the most competitively selected students in Georgetown’s history develop their talents and deepen their conscience so that they can become “difference-makers” in whatever field they choose.

3. Attract and maintain faculty members who nurture and guide the talent of the remarkable young people entrusted to their care by the far-reaching relevance of the knowledge they produce, and the passion and proficiency with which they share that knowledge in the classroom and beyond.

4. Create a microcosm of a meritocratic world on our campuses: a world that places equal emphasis on the capacity of one’s intellect and the content of one’s character, a world that respects the dignity of each individual and demands adherence to the highest standards of ethical and intellectual conduct, a communicative, interconnected world that allows difference-makers and problem solvers to interact and innovate, and a world whose form allows its members to function at the height of their abilities.

5. Launch a series of initiatives from our positions of greatest strength to address the challenges that define our age, including those in globalism, conflict resolution, systems medicine, international development, global leadership development, environmental sustainability and transnational law.

What Will It Take?

So that it might better serve in these ways and for these purposes, Georgetown University seeks to secure $1.5 billion for the following uses: $500 million for scholarships to equip 1,789 of the most competitively selected students in the university’s history, $400 million toward faculty excellence, $300 million for transformational initiatives and $300 million toward creating a model microcosm.

Georgetown undertakes this ambitious challenge to ensure that its doors are open to the best students, to strengthen its faculty excellence and student experience worldwide, to ensure that graduates are prepared for the challenges that define our world, to create knowledge, to improve the human condition and to foster opportunity. In the words of President DeGioia, we must accept the responsibility of being women and men for others.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Campaign Vision

For my colleagues at Georgetown, and for colleagues elsewhere, here's the first draft of our campaign vision. The purpose of this document is to a set the tone for the campaign and to make the broad case for what makes this University unique and why it matters, especially now. It is a preamble to the a financial prospectus that will follow and is designed to inspire and motivate.

I welcome your reactions. Here goes:

What We Ask of Ourselves
A Vision for 2020

“All of us (at Georgetown) enjoy a privilege that is very rare in our world – a beautiful world – but a world marked by injustice…a world in desperate need of your dreams. What you do with this privilege matters. We are not alone. We have each other. We also have women and men who need us – who are looking to us – to respond to the challenges that define our world today. In the words of former Jesuit Superior General Pedro Arrupe, we must accept the responsibility of being women and men for others: Women and men who accept responsibility not only for their own personal development…but for the collective development of the human family.”

With these words, President John J. DeGioia welcomes the freshman class to Georgetown University each fall. In so doing, he does more than orient them to a campus; he defines what it means to be of Georgetown, now and forever. It begins with not what we ask for ourselves but what we ask of ourselves, about how we will use the gifts we have been given to achieve something far greater than ourselves.

As a global university, what do we ask of ourselves as it becomes increasingly clear that all the people of the world live in one environment, one economy and one society, and that a weakness in one part, if left unattended, is a threat to the whole? As a Catholic Jesuit University, what do we ask of ourselves when cultures clash and war in the name of faith? As a university in, and so much a part of, one of the most important cities in the world, how can we ensure that its might will be increasingly derived from right? As a university with the ability to change lives and propel those from the most modest means to lives of fulfillment and reward, how do we grant admission and share our talents in the most just way to achieve the greatest possible good?

It is within this moral framework that Georgetown’s contemplates its role in, and responsibility to, the future. It is in this context that the leaders and shapers of Georgetown ask themselves another set of more specific questions to set the University’s course for the next decade and beyond. Those questions include:

How do we, in our admission practices and scholarship support, ensure the privileges of this university are accessible to strivers from many different places and of all socio-economic strata?

How might we strengthen the student experience at Georgetown to ensure that our graduates are prepared to understand and take on the challenges that define our world, today and tomorrow?

How might we further promote the generation and application of new knowledge to improve the human condition and create a widening circle of opportunity?

What must we as a University do – through our policies, practices, aspirations and actions – to develop the human family?

“There is nothing quite like this moment.”
President John J. DeGioia

These questions take on a greater urgency as a shaken nation and a world searches for the bedrock on which to build a better future. We have seen too many seemingly tall houses wash away because they were built on the sands of expediency, falsity, foolishness, fear and intolerance. We look to the institutions that remain, particularly those that have thrived over centuries, and ask which of those can still be believed in and trusted to live up to their principles and deliver on their promise. Georgetown University is such an institution. It now stands poised and prepared to make a far greater contribution than ever before.

As a University that has reached the highest levels of achievement with the most modest of resources, Georgetown offers an efficiency of purpose and performance that is perfectly suited to these times. As supporters have come to understand how comparatively modest investments in Georgetown have been, and continue to be, so efficiently converted into significant and lasting gains, they have increased their investment in the University. In fact, in the last year, in the face of the most depressed economy in the past 75 years, Georgetown supporters gave in record numbers and record amounts.

What these donors have come to see is that Georgetown is not a just a University that you give to -- to realize specific campus objectives -- but a University you give through to create a better world. They see the far reaching impact that a gift to Georgetown has, including:

How a scholarship not only supports a worthy student but how that person will become a “difference maker” in any number of fields;

How a gift to the curriculum hones the skills and shapes the conscience of those who will, in remarkably large numbers, go on to care for the sick, create law, shape public policy, influence foreign affairs, spur economic growth, foster innovation, create, teach, or build richer, more diverse communities;

How a gift to research generates knowledge that leads to more efficient government, sophisticated and humane health care, environmental sustainability, enlightened jurisprudence, inter-religious understanding or conflict resolution;

How a gift to capital improvements creates model environments for leadership development, character formation, citizenship, multi-cultural understanding, and artistic or athletic development.

They see the spirit in which Georgetown advances an agenda for the 21st Century, the sense of commitment and service that pervades its thinking, and the determination with which it seeks to leverage its prominence and place for the betterment of the human family. They know that Georgetown does not pride itself in nice or noble sentiments but in resourcefulness, action and innovation, in taking on the most rigorous challenges, confronting the grittiest issues, and in finding opportunity in the most unlikely places and situations. They understand that “the Georgetown way,” while rooted in long held values, is ultimately practical and profoundly relevant to the needs and hopes of the 21st Century.

In the next decade the University aspires to become the institution that best leverages its purpose, place, moment and unique strengths to make the most lasting contribution to the human family. It seeks to achieve this goal by:

1. Making Georgetown the destination of choice for the world’s most accomplished and altruistic young people;

2. Designing a complete, comprehensive campus life experience that ensures the most competitively selected students in Georgetown’s history develop their talents and deepen their conscience so that they can become “difference-makers” in whatever field they choose;

3. Attracting and maintaining faculty that nurture and guide the talent of the remarkable young people entrusted to their care by the far-reaching relevance of the knowledge they produce, and the passion and proficiency with which they share that knowledge in the classroom and beyond;

4. Creating a microcosm of a meritocratic world on our campuses, a world that places equal emphasis on the capacity of one’s intellect and the content of one’s character, a world that respects the dignity of each individual and demands adherence to the highest standards of ethical and intellectual conduct, a communicative, inter-connected world that allows difference-makers and problem solvers to interact and innovate, and a world whose form allows its members to function at the height of their abilities; and

5. Launching a series of initiatives from our positions of greatest strength to address the challenges that define our age, including those in globalism, conflict resolution, systems medicine, international development, global leadership development, environmental sustainability, transnational law, and (other examples).

So that it might better serve in these ways for these purposes, Georgetown University seeks to secure $1.5 billion for the following uses:


And that's it for now. The next part will get into the specifics of the financial case for support. I'm happy to share it with you as it develops

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The President As Fund Raiser

Whether we’re speaking of the president of a college, non-profit, medical center or research institute, it has become axiomatic to assert that he or she MUST be a fund raiser or, even more pointedly, that fund raising is their MOST important duty. There’s one problem with that: a president too focused on the act of raising funds may fail to understand or fulfill the duties that make an organization a viable contender for private funds in the first place. To ensure fund raising success, what presidents really must do is:

1. Explain in clear, compelling terms what distinguishes and differentiates their institution on a local, regional, national or global level;

2. Then articulate how those differentiating and distinguishing features can be amplified, with sufficient funding, to allow the institution to deliver more value to those it exists to serve;

3. Then lay out a series of projects that demonstrate exactly how, when and to whom that value will be delivered; and

4. Assure their supporters, and demonstrate how their institution is a “cause-oriented” culture with a deep commitment to service, accountability, gratitude and reasonableness and will make the most of the private support it receives.

Presidents who do those things well will do more for fund raising than the “glad handers” and “eager askers.” But let me make sure I haven’t made it sound too easy. Project design, emphasized in my third point, in particular, requires a great deal of skill, discipline and imagination. A project-specific plan makes for a more compelling case for support, which leads to more effective fund-raising, which allows an institution to make a greater impact, which sets the stage for continued growth and distinction. To make my point, let me give examples of how various schools might attempt to secure support for the same purpose: financial aid.

College A announces the contracting economy and loss of home values has caused many more students to have financial need. Their plan is to raise $50 million in the next five years to make up for this shortfall. Their fund raising materials feature inspiring stories of, and stirring testimonials from, students and alumni who have benefited from financial aid.

College B says the economic decline has made it particularly difficult for students from the lowest socio-economic quartile to attend. They set a goal of raising $60 million over the next five years to not only augment the financial aid packages of current students but to increase the enrollment of students from the most modest backgrounds from the 5 to 10 percent in that same period of time.

College C announces that it has conducted an extensive analysis to understand exactly how economic crisis has affected its application and enrollment patterns and discovered that it is receiving fewer acceptances to its offers of admissions from students whose families earn $60,000 or less, particularly those from major urban areas, including the city in which it is located. It makes the case that the “true test of any great school is to make it possible for those who come from the most modest means to earn an education that will put them on an equal footing with the most privileged students from the most prominent schools” and, by that measure, it is determined to be great. The President of College C announces that it has targeted and established partnerships with the five urban high schools in their service area that have produced the most college-bound graduates in the last decade. Further, she says, her college has worked with the principals of those urban schools to secure support from business leaders in the targeted cities “to identify, encourage, mentor and support” students who demonstrate a desire and a determination to improve their lives. Each business has pledged $100,000. The President now calls upon the alumni and supporters of College C to provide financial aid for the graduates of those urban schools so that the students who work hard and succeed will know that another opportunity awaits them. She says that if the College C is able to secure $75 million in support, including $60 million in scholarships and $15 million for academic and career advising, and other critical support services for these students, they will be able increase enrollment of targeted students by 100 percent in five years, and serve as a model for the state and nation.

So, you get my point. College A is properly responsive to change and the adverse effect it is having on their students, but its plan is reactive, not forward looking; it seeks to stem the tide of growing need and offers few project details. Its case says, in essence, “We have a need; please give us money.” College B is more specific in defining the target population for its financial drive and sets a goal of not only retaining students from the lowest socio-economic quartile but expanding its enrollment. It’s better than College A but it does not define the project in enough detail. Only College C puts forward a true project, one that defines the purpose of the institution, an analysis of the market it serves, how it might use its unique strengths to deliver value to achieve specific purposes by a certain date. College C had made an investment of time and energy in the project; it has developed partnership and secured business support before turning to its own supporters. What it asks is reasonable given the importance of the goal. It does not act entitled; it expects to serve in very concrete ways for the support it receives. It has differentiated itself, explained how addition funds will allow it to be better serve and put forward a very credible project to secure the necessary support.

I don’t know if the President of College C is the best fund raiser but she has clearly put her institution in a position to raise the most funds. And that's the kind of president for which the best fund raisers want to work.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Music to Donors' Ears

Here's my list of the top ten things donors most like to hear from those seeking their support.

1. "We would appreciate the opportunity to earn your support." This is a good way for a fund raiser to start the conversation. The tone is solicitous and the key word is "earn." Acting or sounding entitled to someones philanthropy is completely off-putting.

2. "We are committed to taking the necessary time to understand what is important to you and to securing your trust." Donors have been over-exposed to the worst practices in philanthropy. They assume every call from a fund-raising organization will be an abrupt solicitation, not matter what is promised. They've been ambushed too often. Setting the right tone early on gets the donor off the defensive and establishes a refreshing, responsible, professional tone.

3. "We want to bring you in during the early stages of this project." That means the donor is not just going to be asked to support someone else's grand idea. They will be treated as a stakeholder. This is particularly important to entrepreneurs.

4. "The person in charge of the project (that we would like to interest you in) is eager to meet with you." Donors understand the role of fund raisers but, ultimately, before making a significant commitment, want to meet the person who will see the project through to completion.

5. "Our institution is making a strong commitment to the project." If the project you're raising money for is so dang important, your institution needs to show that it somehow committing resources to it, that it, too, has some skin in the game. An institutional commitment reduces the risk of failure and ensures the donor's money will be used more carefully.

6. "We want to show you how we arrived at this budget." This suggests the philanthropy seeking organization is completely transparent and is willing to show exactly how much it needs to get the job done. The days of the nice round numbers, i.e., "It will take a million dollars to get this done," are over. The new language sounds more like, "After careful planning, we concluded that we can complete this project with a budget of $927,312 dollars." (Okay, maybe I'm getting a bit carried away).

7. "We have a project timetable with deadlines for each phase." That tells the donor your organization is determined to get the job done, that you're doers not just dreamers.

8. "We can not only tell you who will benefit from your support, but how and when." You've truly committed to those you serve.

9. "We'll craft a gift agreement to ensure that we keep our promises." That means the donor won't have to ask, "Whatever happened to my gift?" or to be surprised by how you use it. Good stewardship begins with a well-crafted gift agreement.

10. "Our gift agreement will include a stewardship plan." We will spell out how your gift will be announced, recognized and accounted for as the project progress and after it is complete.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tactics and Strategy

These two words -- “tactics” and “strategy” -- are among the most misused and misunderstood in the English language. An understanding of both, and their relationship to each, is of great importance to the running of all organizations and significant efforts, including any philanthropic enterprise.

I will not try to define them with abstractions. I will use the metaphor of a bridge. A good tactician is like one who knows how to design and build a bridge; a strategist is one who determines the optimal place to locate it. Both functions are essential but to build a bridge without giving thought to where it can be of greatest utility, now and in the future, limits its effectiveness. An exquisitely built bridge in a poorly chosen location is truly “a bridge to nowhere.” It would be unwise to even start designing a bridge until the best possible site was carefully thought through. That would entail not only thinking about the role of the bridge today, but the role it might play in shaping the future. For instance, a good strategist would ask, “How might this bridge link two major metropolitan areas and thereby promote commerce and economic development? How might it anticipate shifts in population that might allow a city to grow that reduce traffic congestion and improve the environment? How might it allow more people to have access to cultural or natural amenities?” Good strategists do not just think about reacting; they think about improving. They study trends and patterns and try to anticipate that which is coming. They try to get a jump on the future, to profit – economically, culturally, or spiritually – by better understanding what will be. They think about how current hopes and plans will have to adjust to changing realities.

Sound strategy determines the function; tactics are the form that follows function. To put it plainly, strategy always comes first. Philanthropy is ill-served by too great an emphasis on the tactics of fund-raising as a means to an end. Those tactics must always be subordinate to the strategies that imagine how an organization can make a greater difference in the lives of those it purports to serve.

And, yet, strategy without sound tactical execution consigns the potentially transformational project to the drawing board forever. To have vision or the most noble of intentions is not enough. Indeed, so many philanthropy-seeking organizations fall short of worthy aspirations because they think that’s all it takes. Do-gooders need doers. Visionaries need implementers.

Some strategists have the tendency to sniff at “mere tactics” while tacticians paw the ground at the mention of strategy and say, “Let’s just get on with it.” Leaders understand the importance of both, and work to convince each of the importance of the other. Great leaders know which one they are not and seek out their counterpart.

Philanthropy is about a bridge to a better world. It begins by defining where a difference most needs to be made. Actually making the difference requires sound engineering and dedicated steel workers

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How To Be A Better Donor

All those who give to a good cause should be the object of our collective gratitude. They make the world a better place. And, yet, if their generosity were coupled with deeper discernment, their good works would have even greater impact. It is, then, with that hope that I offer these tips to those who are thinking about giving.

1. Look inside. Don’t be passive and wait for organizations to contact you and tell you why you should care. Ask yourself who or what made a difference in your life, and if you would like to make that kind of difference in someone else’s life. Ask yourself the most important lessons life has taught you and how you can use philanthropy to extend the meaning of your life to others. Ben Franklin, who struggled as a printer’s apprentice, left a portion of his estate in the form of a loan fund for young tradesman to start their own businesses. In so doing, he sought to promote economic development by making opportunities available to others that had been denied to him.

2. Listen to your feelings. When you read or listen to the news, what developments give you the most hope or the greatest pause? What makes your spirits soar or tugs at your heart? Ask yourself which organizations are best dealing with the issues, causes and concerns that affect you most deeply, and how you might be able to help them.

3. Develop philanthropic objectives. How much do you want to give each year? How much of your net worth would you like to give to good causes? Do you plan to give to one or many organizations? What will be the criteria for determining how much you will give to each? To which will you give the most? Why? Thinking all these things through before you engage in specific philanthropic discussions will allow you to sort among many requests and to guide those who you deem most worthy of your support.

4. Seek to fill gaps. Look for the organization that is truly filling the gaps in service or opportunity around the cause you care most about. Give to the organization that best makes a difference where a difference most needs to be made. Give to those who can best demonstrate the difference your gift will make, including precisely who will benefit, how, and when.

5. Avoid replication. Don’t create another non-profit or another foundation, if there are others doing essentially the same work. It is more productive to help make existing organizations better than to start your own and compete for the same resources, especially now. Don’t let your ego get in the way of the angels of your better nature. Look at Warren Buffet, the “sage of Omaha,” who decided to give most of his wealth to the Gates Foundation. His wisdom will be long honored.

6. Set conditions for engagement. As you explore where your support can make the greatest difference, let organizations know how you want to conduct the negotiations. Lay out the conditions under which you will review their proposals, when you will respond, and the criteria you will use to make your decisions. If you are passive or indecisive, you will invite aggression. One of the reasons that so many organization engage in heavy-handed or even obnoxious fund-raising practices is because too few donors say, “I won’t give to an organization that conducts itself this way.” Indeed, if you really want to understand an organization, ask about its fund raising policies and practices, including who does it and how they are evaluated and compensated. If you see a lot of spending on fund raising quotas and little on relationship-building and stewardship, beware.

7. Ask tough questions about institutional planning and performance. See who holds up best to questions the difference their organization is making, and how they plan to make an even greater difference. Again, the reason that so many organizations get away with wishful thinking and mediocre performance is that their donors ask too little of them. Perhaps some donors think of themselves as loyal by not asking tough questions but blind loyalty can contribute to sloppy thinking, poor planning and corrosive complacency.

8. Monitor, don’t manage. By all means, ask the organizations you give to for regular updates on how the project you supported is progressing but don’t try to manage the project itself. Before you give make sure you understand who will be seeing the project through, what is to be accomplished and when, but don’t tell them how to do it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Asking and Answering the Most Important Questions

Donors can help organizations reach higher levels of achievement, and make philanthropy an even more important social force, by asking the right questions before they give. In my estimation, those are:

1. What difference will my gift make?
2. Who will benefit?
3. How will they benefit?
4. When?

Wait a second, you say, “what about vision, mission, goals and objectives? Aren’t those the things that donors should be asking about?” Well, yes, but just asking about them and getting broad answers in return doesn’t yield the most productive philanthropic compacts. For instance, a leader of an organization may be able to articulate a compelling vision for an organization and that vision may be backed up by a thoughtful mission statement, strategic plan, and even a set of objectives. But go to that same leader and ask, “If I brought you a donor capable of making an unrestricted $100 million gift (or even any eight-figure gift) who only wants to know how it will transform your organization and those it serves, what specific plan would you put forward?” In my experience, most leaders of most major organizations cannot answer the question when first asked. Many say, “Oh, I can think of lots of things” but can’t articulate one truly transformational concept. What most do is bundle a set of smaller needs or ideas. Of the very few who can, I have met even fewer who could at the level of detail required by my first four questions. So vision, mission, strategies and goals are of little impact unless we are able to explain how specific gifts will make a specific difference.

For philanthropy-seeking organizations, the four questions can serve as a great test of your case for support or even an important proposal. Let’s say you set a campaign goal of $180 million and then put together a gift pyramid to determine how many gifts you need at various levels to reach that goal. Can you, for each and every gift level, answer those four questions with a compelling degree of specificity? How specific can you be even for the most modest gift levels on your pyramid? The more specific, the better.

Okay, maybe you’re worked up again. You’re thinking, “Is he really saying that I should be able to make a specific case for a $1,000 gift or even less?” Well, that would be ideal – and I think the organizations that can best show how modest gifts can put to specific use will raise the most money. But, if you can’t make a specific case for a $1,000 gift, can you make one for $10,000? If so, you can show $1,000 donors how they can get you one-tenth of the way toward that goal – and that should be far more satisfying than giving to a fund with very broad purposes.

Remember, philanthropy is about investment; donors want to provide the margin of excellence, to move an organization from good to great, not from intensive to critical care. They want to know that their gift leaves the organization and those it serves better for their contribution. If you can show how every gift will have a specific impact, you will introduce an powerful element to your case for support that will make the statements of vision, mission, strategy and objectives seem so much more appealing and attainable.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

When Fund Raising Undercuts Philanthropy

When I lecture on some aspect of philanthropy, those in attendance express their support for my approaches and proposed innovations but say, "I only wish my boss were here." They then go on to tell me how they are being asked to raise money for institutions that have no real strategic vision and to work in environments where the altruistic spirit of philanthropy has been supplanted by a grim, grinding style of fund raising, one marked by the application soul-less technique and mindless metrics. They say they are expected to ask for money on the first visit to a prospect and to meet unrealistic dollar goals each year. And they know what they are being asked to do doesn't work very well. They "go along to get along" but plan on leaving for what they hope will be a better job at the first opportunity. They refer to these environments "as churn and burn" and shake their heads at its demoralizing effects.

They're right, of course. Such approaches do not work, in the short run or the long run, and, if practiced too extensively, threaten to drain philanthropy of its ennobling spirit and transformational societal impact. The fact that such practices are employed as often as they are is bewildering because they simply are not effective. Sure, the grimmest of practitioners can point to some results but they don't realize that those outcomes may be despite, not because, of what they do. And there is growing evidence that just pounding away on prospects with the drum beat of "more, more, more" is leading to increasingly diminished returns.

Donors give for two broad reasons -- their relationship to an organization (and the web of relationships it provides to them), and the relevance of that organization to their most deeply held beliefs and convictions. Successful philanthropy-seeking organizations must, now more than ever, constantly refresh those relationships and re-establish their relevance to in an ever-changing world.

The churn and burn approach might appear to work for a while because it is applied to long-established donors with deeply held beliefs in the relevance of the institution. And, yet, all this technique does is harvest years of accrued good will but it will soon use up what predecessors have left and will leave little or nothing for the future.

Major donors to colleges and universities, for instance, do not suddenly leap out of the mist of obscurity and drop a wad on their alma maters. I have seen and conducted various analyses to determine how many years an average alumnus will give before making a $1 million gift to their school. Any guesses? From the various institutions I have studied, it averages between 14 and 17 years. For eight and nine figure gifts, it's even longer. This past December, Georgetown received an $80 million gift, the largest in its 220 year history, from an alumnus who had given for 54 years. Those who give large gifts in less time do so, in general, because they see that institution as they best means of making a difference where they think a difference most needs to be made.

The churn and burn approach grubs for what might be available now, often at the cost of something far more significant in the future. And, by being oblivious the power of relevance, it grabs for what is most immediate for the least amount of work. Whatevr it succeeds in getting will be far, far less than what is possible, both in the present and the future.

This "grab and run" syndrome produces a downward cycle. The most talented and successful advancement professionals will feel their ideals compromised and their relationship-building talents minimized. They will leave and be replaced by those who will be more willingly "work within the system." They will most likely have less talent and less of an emotional, ideological or spiritual connection to the institution. With philanthropy, you get what you put out. If you send out fund raisers with selfish, short term objectives, you attract donors with the same outlook. They give less and want something in return. Long-term philanthropic compacts devolve into short-sighted transactions.

If an organization wants to pull out of this kind of tail spin, it must replace the "grab and go" model with a "relationships and relevance" commitment, and it must be prepared to make a significant investment, in time and money, before damage done will be repaired, and significant and lasting returns will be realized.