Saturday, November 20, 2010

Awakening the Philanthropic Spirit

The inaugural issue of Higher Ed Impact: Monthly Scan, launched by my partners at Academic Impressions offers some wonderful insights (my own notwithstanding) on “Translating a Positive Student Experience Into Lifetime Support for Your Institution.” I am glad to see increasing strategic emphasis on the design of the student experience and less on short-term fund raising tactics to build student and young alumni loyalty.

The link below will allow you to sign up for this valuable but free service.

I read this new publication right after I had finished a wonderful book entitled, Butler’s Big Dance: The Team, The Tournament, and Basketball Fever, by Susan S. Neville, which is about so much more than Butler’s ascent to the National Championship last year. It’s about how community finds a shape, and voice and a spiritual force field on a college campus through the exploits of earnest young athletes. In that book, there’s a vignette about one of the basketball players, Avery Jukes, who went to Uganda under the auspices of a University-sponsored program, witnessed the perilous lives of young people there, and, upon his return to Indianapolis, created a foundation which, in a month’s time, raised enough money to send five Ugandan children to school for year. The book quotes Jukes’ mother: “Before he went to Uganda,” she said, “it was all about Avery. And when he came back, I could tell in his voice that he was a different person.”

That got me thinking. Maybe it’s about something weightier than creating the conditions to induce or inspire young people to give back to their alma mater. Maybe the greater cause is awakening a larger, non-specific philanthropic spirit and purpose in our students. If, like Butler and many other colleges and universities, we give students the opportunity to see the disparities in the human condition and to reflect and their relative good fortune, we help them move from being unconscious acceptors of what they have been given to consciously grateful and then, perhaps, to conscientious givers. And what if we attempt to do more than make that opportunity available to some? What if we attempt to design it into the student experience and make it assertively available to all? Yes, I know, we must be careful not to preach but we certainly can come up with all sorts of creative and interesting ways to help our students see disparities and to understand where differences most need to be made. Through our own caring, our own example, our own journey -- whether we’re faculty, staff, parents, alumni, friends -- we can at least help them see for themselves and reflect on why they have been given more than others, and to ask themselves what is the highest and best use of those gifts. We can guide but we can’t push too hard or expect too much too soon.

And what if one college or university worked on that design and refined it over time? Would not the deeds of its charges accrue to its reputation? Would it not become known as a transformational place, as a well spring of conscientious giving? And wouldn’t that mere fact inspire many and cause some of philanthropic intent to support the source of such good in the world?

Do we spend too much time thinking about how we could raise more money and too little on the good that we could do? Does not the doing of good earn the admiration of others -- today, tomorrow and well into the future? And, in so doing, would we not stand a far better chance of securing far more support by thinking of what we could do for others than by asking how we could get others to do more for us?

What do you think? In the aforementioned book that’s not really about basketball, there’s a quote from As A Man Thinketh: “Men attract not that which they want, but that which they are.”

No comments: