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August 2007

Social Actions enters Soft Launch

Peter Deitz at Social Actions strikes me as a very intelligent guy who has seen over the next hill when it comes to online giving sites. My sense of his site is that he wants to aggregate giving projects from the many sites that now promote online giving.  In effect, he hopes to offer all the giving projects from these diverse sites in one place.  People can tag and rate giving projects from around the net. The result is a ranked list as displayed below.  You could add the code to a sidebar in your site.  (Here, by the way, is an excellent slide show by Peter outlining the current state of online peer to peer fundraising. Contains interesting stats on amounts raised on average per campaign.)

Top Ten Social Actions


What is sa-topten?

A Riddle

My friend and mentor, The Happy Tutor, carries a priceless gift for which, by definition, there is  no market and no market price.  He found it in a Dumpster, where it probably belongs.  He won't sell it, but he gives it away to those who will accept it. So far the takers have been few.  Those who accept the gift find that they must travel far and wide giving it to others in their turn. The gift chain goes back beyond recorded history. (What is this gift?)

Advanced Professional Marketing (by Community Foundations): Becoming a Trusted Advisor (formerly Community Foundations of America) has published an important study, Advanced Professional Marketing: Becoming a 'Trusted Advisor."  Download here in pdf.  If you are associated with a nonprofit, particularly with a community foundation, please read the study and leave a comment here, or email me.  The study raises all the right issues about donor, advisor, community foundation partnerships.  The study does not give a blueprint for who will become a trusted advisor, and what role the nonprofit plays in this dance.  Can the foundation staff be a trusted advisor? Over what range of issues, in concert with what other advisors? We need to get this right or we are all just talking big. 

The issues addressed in this paper are my core concerns. So, please, let's talk, on-line or off, if the paper resonates with you.  Remember too that a con man by definition is a trusted advisor. The real question is who is trustworthy or reliable or capable over what range of issues, subject to what conflicts of interest, managed well or badly. All of us want to be the client's key advisor. Truth is we are all half blind, often arrogant, sadly flawed, ignorant outside our specialities, and most often caught in systemic conflicts of interest.  How we as advisors and donors and community foundations can partner for the good of the donor, family, and society while making a sweet buck off the deal is not an easy question.  The most trusted advisor I ever knew is doing hard time in Sing Sing, but that is another story.  Good looking man, though, and charming.  I will introduce you to him when he gets out.

Practicing What I Preach

A friend writes me to ask why I don't do full time philanthropic consulting, asking the open ended questions that I recommend.  My only reply is this:  Take the idea of "repentence." Let's say that at its best, this kind of consulting leads to a shift of mind ("metanoia"), like repentence. The tricky part is that the client who walks in is not the client who walks out. The client who walks in will not pay a fee to become the client who walks out.  The client who walks in wants to walk out intact, illusions intact, with a plan for remaining himself and doing well with his money.  The consultant's goal is something like an epiphany or repentence, one that will not just transform but transfigure the client.  "Give all you have to the poor and follow me," said one guy in this business. You can't charge for that.  None of the great ones have.  Socrates, Diogenes, Jesus, Buddhist monks, and many a Fool. Instead they went out into the public square and talked to all who came by. There was no business model. The monk grows rice. I help people sell insurance.  If I did my job to the limits of my ability, I would follow the way of the cross or the hemlock.  And that is not a big payday.  So I compromise, praying that my time not come.  Lord, I am called, but call me back later.  You have the wrong number.  I am busy, Lord, can I get back to you? Make someone else your sacrificial lamb.

Three Kind of Questions in Philanthropic Planning

I got a mind to give up living and, yes, and go shoppin' instead. - Paul Butterfield

After too long in academics asking the unanswerable open ended questions about truth, beauty, justice, identity, meaning, and reality, I found myself teaching track selling in a small insurance office in GA and AL to a cross section of those at age 30+ who were as lost as I was at the time.  From there I grew into teaching consultative sales, and advanced planning, and philanthropic planning in the context of estate and financial plans. I have noticed three genres that underlie the asking of questions.

  1. Ask a question or make a statement on the first deck of your powerpoint slides or sales-maker. Provoke one of, say,  four obvious objections. Provide a memorized answer to whichever of the four objections the client makes.  Move to the second slide. The fifth slide is the close or ask. Work the ratios. For every 3 prospects who throw you out on your keister, one will buy. Work the numbers.  Call that Track Selling. I have sat in while fundraisers were taught a version of this method built around, say, a Giving Pyramid, or Case Statement, or whatever.
  2. Ask factual questions to get at the underlying financial, tax, and legal situation. Ask a few goal questions that lead to a yes/no or numerical answer. "At what age would you like to retire?" "What percentage of your current income would you like to retain  in retirement?" "If I could show you a way to reduce taxes in favor of charity would you be interested?"
  3. Ask imponderables: "Who would you like to be, in the time that remains? What kind of world do you want to live in? What do you owe to whom that can't be denominated in dollars? What keeps you awake at night? What have you left undone that still haunts you? When you were in  school what did you dream of becoming? Do you still sometimes have that dream? What is your highest hope for your children?" Those are the kind of questions I used to ask in philosophy classes around an oak table among a few bright kids, who have perused or blown off some ponderous text.  To an experienced teacher, there are thousands of possible answers to each question, but each represents an element of a particular strategic conception of life (as if the person answering were making one of many possible moves on a chess board, where the Master could easily see where they student is in the game, and how deep a game the student is playing, and what moves are open to the student given whatever counter-move.)

To me, Philanthropic Planning is a discipline that rightly begins with questions of the third sort. It then moves to questions of the second sort, as the vision of the client comes into focus, and the need is to plan for efficient strategic and tactical execution. Questions and tracks of the first sort may come in towards the end as the client must choose among, say, this or that financial tool, or this or that charity. 

Question types 1 and 2 lead to predictable outcomes. A firm or professional can position profit opportunities (gifts or sales) along the camel track of question and answer. The fact that these tracks or needs based processes are predictable is the point. What is predictable is the gain to the person ushering the client or prospect along the camel path.  Questions of type 3 lead to a field of possibilities, an infinite range.  They open a space of almost terrifying freedom and responsibility. In such questions we see the spaces between the stars, and between the atoms of our own bodies. How does one position a profit point at every end point of an infinitely open conversation? Well, you could charge by the hour or project as a sophist might.  You might draw a salary like a teacher. Or, you might pass the plate like a preacher, or leave open your music case on the sidewalk like a busker. You might serve a patron, as might a courtier or dancing master in a wealthy person's home. I am reminded, though, of Aristotle's suggestion that philosophy, the play of the active intellect, is the highest happiness for those who have been trained to taste it.   To ask questions all your life of type  1 and 2 is to remain half alive, like a creature kept in a cave.  What is the payoff off of type three questioning? You will never know if you live in that cave, asking type 1 and 2 questions alone.  Well, I must be off. I have a sales training class to teach. Answering objections is the topic.  Still, come to think of it, Aristotle was the Morals Tutor to Alexander the Great.  So maybe there is hope for this Fool. 

Jesus as Lousy Role Model for Values-Based Planners

St. Mark:

15  And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.

16 And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?

17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Did the publicans and sinners realize they were sick? No. Yet, Jesus sat with them as healer that they might repent.  Such is the rhetorical situation in which we find ourselves at the planning table with America's Wealthiest Families.  Did Jesus come to impose his values on other people? I am not sure; I just know he came to a bad end.  For myself, the publican and sinner is a client and whatever a client wants to do within the limits of the law is fine with me.  Jesus was born in a stable and died on a cross.  I have higher aspirations.   

Donor Centered Fund-Raising

Jeremy Gregg, of Central Dallas Ministries:

The more I read blogs like GiftHub, and the more interactions I have with Central Dallas Ministries' most significant donors, the more that I realize that my job is less marketing than counseling. Donors do not need to be "pitched" or "appealed to." They need to be heard.

In the years of blogging this is about the most gratifying comment I have received.  Jeremy is educated in the liberal arts.  In his career he will be taught how to in essence sell gifts. He may be taught all the tax stuff. But in the end this is the key insight that will differentiate his work and that of the ministry from all the others out there "making a case," "making an appeal," "making an ask." Transactional giving is appropriate for small gifts, but transformational giving is the way to create gifts that can fulfill a family, uplift a nonprofit's work, and transform a society.  CDM's ministry to the poor is based on the assumption that we are all neighbors.  To treat donors that way, as autonomous choosers with a moral sense is simply an extension of what CDM is all about.  Donors like the rest of us need to be heard, seen, and loved for themselves in community with others.  What a pleasure to hear Jeremy speaking this way.  Fortunate are the donors whose fundraiser friends give them this kind of open-ended reciprocity and support. 

Who can best hear the donor? The attorney, the insurance specialist, the investment advisor, the tactical philanthropic expert? Could it not be the minister or the fundraiser who works in mission alignment with the rabbi, priest, or minister? Or, could it not be the liberal art professor, or the fundraiser who works in mission alignment with a liberal arts college?

How does your organization foster self-actualization, identity formation, civic virtue? How can your financial outreach be aligned with your mission, so that those who give are in communion with your purpose, treated as civic friends, and as co-creators of a community founded upon an ideal that your own planning process exemplifies? (Live the values of your organization in the process you use to cultivate the high potential donors.)

I realize that I don't do fundraising and am preaching a counsel of perfection. Put it this way, I have preached this gospel to advisors, been ignored as a feckless idealist, so now I am working down the list to fundraisers. Jeremy's response shows more uptake than I have gotten from 99.9% of advisors.  That means that a fundraiser like Jeremy, in stepping half out of his role, and taking the donor's side of the table, is performing an essential function not just for CDM, but also for the donor and the donor's planning team. What Jeremy is doing is precisely the part that advisors consciously eschew - "We don't impose our values on clients; we don't do the touchy-feely; we do tactics, not vision." That kind of principaled and totally defensible reluctance on the part of advisors to address meaning, purpose and civic life, leaves open a role that a fundraiser can play, not just as fundraiser, but as citizen, human being, civic friend, and as a member of the planning team.

You went into nonprofit work because you love something larger than yourself. You as a fundraiser are more likely than many advisors to take a larger view.  Yes, you are managed, given quotas, taught nickle and dime fundraising systems. My advice is, "Don't buck your nonprofit's system. Do as told.  Do the transactions. Process the donors by and large.  But be a human being too, and try treating a few high potential donors as human beings and see what happens. You may be astounded that you are sitting at the right hand of the donor as they convene their planning team to make a life-changing and world-changing gift. When you get a big gift or two, then the quota-meisters may cut you a little slack."

Cultivating Client Values through Active Listening

Planning descends from vision and values.  If we take as part of our job, the Fool's role, of uplifting clients values, what tools or techniques might work?

  • A text that resonates with the client's deeper beliefs and personal history.
  • An open ended question that leads the client to see his or her journey in a new light.
  • A site visit that opens the client's eyes or heart.
  • A conversation between client and a friend who is passionate about a cause.
  • A conversation with an issues advocate or domain expert.
  • Attention to the themes of a client's life, with special attention to those that seem to emerge from a deeper core of memories and commitments, often submerged. (Can often be sensed when the language changes from prosaic to Biblical or other sacred or humane source.  Can sometimes be heard in the silences or seen working in the client's face between confident assertions.)
  • Active listening as the client tells and retells a life story that seems to reach a knot that remains tied.
  • Active listening as the client becomes an instrument of grace, or inspiration, or whatever wells up in us at our most self-transcending moments.

To say that clients come to us with their values and that we implement strategies and tactics is safe enough and represents the worldly wisdom of our guild. But helping clients gain perspectives and become who they really are seems a higher calling, though few have embraced it.  I know I have a daily self, and every so often, my better moments. I think we owe clients a chance to transcend their everyday self. A few will. 

What will be remembered of us? Our daily self? The self we show at our worst? Or, the higher self that we reach upon rare occassions? We can plan with clients for any of those, but to plan for the best we must create an opening where it can show itself.

Healing Our Philanthropic Clients

Let's say you are not a doctor, but a philanthropic advisor. A client walks in and keels over, with a stroke, blood flowing from his nose, limbs convulsing.  Would you call 911, or would you say, "That is not my job; I am a professional wealth manager not a physician's assistant. My role is strictly tactical around financial tools and technques"?

So, likewise, when a client walks in with values that are sick, do you not have an obligation to call in an expert? Remember, just as with ill-health, a wealthy client's sick values are contagious, infecting not only heirs but society.  You might catch them yourself, even if you attempt to remain values-netural.  Many a planner has become as sick as his or her clients from prolonged exposure to a sick worldview.

A sick person with a think tank could bring down demcracy. Surely, we owe it to our clients, ourselves and our country to at least treat and quarantine the morally diseased wealth holder lest the sickness spread.

I realize that reforming sick clients is not your job.  It is mine as Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families and a World Class Fool. So,  give me a call, if your client or patron is found on this list ... (Lengthy List of Names deleted upon advice of legal counsel).