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November 2007

October 2007

How Nonprofits can Enhance their Greatest Resource, their Key Donors

The November Giving Carnival hosted by The New Jew poses the question, "What Business Practices should nonprofits adopt to maximize their resources?" One suggestion: If you are a fundraiser or executive director look upon your organization, key donors, and their professional advisors as part of a single loosely organized system or team. Recognize that the donor gives to many organizations, not only yours. Recognize that the donor plays many roles in life, not only donor, but, say, mother, mayor, CEO, Red Sox fan, daughter, and usher in her church. You can present yourself as one who makes a case and makes an ask, or you can position you and your organization as key players on the donor's team, as she thinks through and implements her plans - a prudent plan to take care of her and her loved ones and an inspired plan to positively effect her community, including your organization. Look for opportunities to reposition yourself in the donor's brain, from the box marked "honored obligations," to the box marked "mission partner" or "trusted ally."

How can you emerge as the donor's mission partner?

  • Well, you might take a cue from Tracy Gary's Inspired Philanthropy. You can download worksheets at her site, under Resources. And within the Resources tab, under Appendices, you can find materials for use by donors and advisors to help them partner together, perhaps under your auspices, if you convene events with that topic. Tracy has been speaking recently on this topic.
  • For other speakers who might advance such a donor-oriented message, you might consider, say, Perry Cochell, Rod Zeeb, Lee Hausner, Doug Freeman, Charles Collier, or Jay Hughes.
  • To get a critical mass of donors and to bring in first rate national speakers, consider teaming up with allies from both the forprofit and nonprofit sector. Other nonprofits might invite key quests, and foot some of the bill. Forprofit financial, tax, and legal firms might co-sponsor. A community foundation might host.

More generally, as a nonprofit, ask yourself, "Are we perceived as adding value in our fundraising process, or would our best donors be happier if we never went through that process with them again?" Given that all these key donors work with financial, tax and legal advisors, when and if they make big gifts, particularly legacy gifts, ask what value you can add to the team.  For example: by inspiring the donor to go to her team with her philanthropic motivation clearly articulated, and by encouraging her to to create a plan that represents her well as a human being and a citizen, not just as a "wealth holder." As an advisor, I can tell you that nonprofit people are often more convincing as exponents of the public good, and of large-mindedness, or of civic engagement, than are we as advisors. We do need your idealism on the team; just don't over-sell your own organization. Let go of special pleading, if you can. Speak up for philanthropic intent, for what is best for the donor, her family and for society, and let the process take its course. If you are at the table, or near the table, when the plans are created, your organization will likely be included. Such well-planned gifts can be substantial, often a big fraction of net worth,  once the donor is fully engaged in the process and her high ideals have been activated.


Fighting To Improve Client Values

"About matters of value, men can only fight." -Milton Friedman

We think of values as "subjective," but so is poetry. Good taste, bad taste we all have taste, but some have better taste than others. Taste can be cultivated. When our clients write down their values, or their mission statement, or their "journey," or moral biography, we have an indictment of American culture, our educational system, and the human race. About our client's values, to modify Friedman, we can only weep. Let us imagine a profession, in which the teacher's goal was to pass on the parent's taste to the children, no matter how deplorable that taste might be.  I wish I could be hired to make Bill Bennett read the poems he collected in this Book of Virtues. That would be punishment for all his sins. "Horatio at the Bridge," Bill, "one for more time from the top." Let us improve our client's values, even if, as Friedman suggests, we have to beat it into them. The test of whether the client's values are improved is the client's own repentence. We are not done until the client kisses the rod and thanks us, and goes on to live a better life. 

What if we all did it? What if we all went around in the public square, accosting passersbye, and trying to improve one another's values? Well, we would all be Hellenic Philosophers, then, or Augustan satirists. How bad would that be?


My Legacy Journey

In his blog post, My Legacy Journey Begins, Randy Ottinger, author of Beyond Success, writes of how he "found his calling." I was struck by that phrase having just read an account of the Calvinist Work Ethic, as developed by Max Weber. Reading client mission statements, or the bromides clients on their death bed pass on to their heirs, I am reminded of Pilgrim's Progress,  Defoe's Robinson Crusoe or his Moll Flanders, or Ben Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac.  What is missing, in our Venture Pilgrims, so often is a sense of sin, of the vanity of human wishes, of the absurd figure we all cut against the immensity of the darkness on which we dance like a bubble on a starlit ocean. Maybe it is my Catholic upbringing, but the idea of a calling strikes me as a potential exercise in self-idolatry. When God calls you, as he did St Paul, on the road to Damascus, you can expect to end up dead before your time, often in agony. The Me Generation is going to go out in style, called to one last effort. I applaud it, but feel as I did when we protested in the 1960's, that we are a bit full of ourselves.  The best thing this generation could do for the world is to die off, and leave it to those who can rectify the terrible messes we have made. My legacy journey is to the Dumpster. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. My journey could be called a trip, not the LSD kind, but a trip to nowhere.  Maybe it would be different if I had been a Success. Maslow always said you had to get to meaning by way of getting on in the world, one step at a time up that pyramid. I started at the top with Meaning, found it did not pay, and so my journey was straight down to the trash. Well, Jesus went nowhere too. At least I probably won't be executed for Treason, unless I am called to it.


The Word of God And How to Evade It: A Practical Demonstration

AKMA, a theologian, writes of Biblical interpretation, "in an ultimate mode of reading, interpretations that do not conclude in committed practice partake of rejection of the truth." Certain modes of discourse mean to leave us changed. Propaganda, sales talks, marketing, parables, socratic dialogue, Zen slaps, the pranks of Diogenes, parental lectures, sermons, soun-dbites, LSD induced fugue as interrogation practice, and certain poems, particularly satire.  In hermeneutics it is usually the reader who is personified as stalking a text that shyly evades him like a deer in the woods.  In my experience, it is more often the author who, like an archer, stalks the errant reader.  The truth befalls us, like a catastrophe.  If it takes two to communicate, God and me, whose fault is it that I am no better than I should be? Prowling the alley behind Wealth Bond*age, teaching values to separate the wealthy from their valuables - sure it's a scam like any other. Blame God, if you get shafted. I am just doing what comes naturally. If God wanted me honest, He would have made me honest. Besides, I'm Born Again, so it makes no difference to my salvation what I do. That's Christian Doctrine. Ask Akma.   


The Charles Bronfman Prize: Open for Nominations

Charles Bronfman’s children have established a $100,000 award in his name to recognize humanitarian visionaries who have made substantive accomplishments. Past recipients have included the founder of a revolutionary bone marrow registry, the founder of a joint environmental center for Israelis and Arabs, and an innovator in medical simulation.  The fourth nomination cycle is now open and will close on November 30.


Trimalchio in Paradise Valley, Montana

Ethicurean reports that along with MacArthur grant winners, Ameya Preserve, a gated community of conscience where nature meets culture in Paradise Valley, Montana, will also feature a gourmet chef, Alice Waters, and "resident farmers," whether slaves, peasants, sharecroppers, or actors, we don't know. Alice will be leading a culinary school, apparently. Perhaps she can reprise Trimalchio's Banquet


Seattle Philanthropic Advisors Network

Randy Ottinger and leaders of Advisors in Philanthropy have organized SPAN:

Welcome to the Seattle Philanthropic Advisors Network! We are a philanthropically oriented network of financial advisors,  insurance advisors, wealth managers, attorneys, CPAs, and other professionals who  advise clients with charitable intent.

Over 150 advisors attended the first session, to hear noted philanthropist, Paul Brainerd. I believe Foundation Source was a sponsor. Now chapters in the network are springing up in several others cities.  National Committee on Planned Giving was supposed to be a cross disciplinary group bringing advisors as well as fundraisers into conversation about philanthropy, but it has become mostly a kind of professional organization for planned giving people. Estate planning councils cover some of the same ground, but are focused on technical issues. The Social Venture Partner movement is for social investors rather than advisors.  We really to need a national organization, with chapters, for advisors to discuss not just the tools and techniques of giving, but also the meaning, purpose, and effect. Randy agreed that the time has come. Five years ago there might not have been critical mass.  Just as five years ago we were blogging virtually alone about giving. Now the world seem to have awakened.


Dig Up Dinosaurs at Ameya Preserve

There is more: If you are one of the privileged few to purchase a multimillion dollar home site in Ameya Preserve, the gated Community of Conscience where Nature Meets Culture in Paradise Valley, Montana, you will also have the exclusive opportunity to dig up dinosaur bones thanks to a $3.275 million dollar grant to MacArthur Genius Grant Winner, Jack Horner from Wade Dokken, the social entrepreneur behind Ameya Preserve. 

I have been consistently passed over for The Genius Grant, but I will be available outside the entrance to Ameya, in the Dumpster in the public right of way just to the left of the guard box, to offer Morals Tutorials to residents. No grant from Wade Dokken funds my work. No publicist from Porter Novelli scripts me. In the spirit of my Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, I as a born again Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families will offer my services strictly pro bono publico, until Wade calls the cops and they run me off. The Geniuses who walk the grounds are tame deer by comparison. These Social Venture Capitalists must shoot us real geniuses on the hoof, from helicopters or jeeps, as best they can. They treated Jesus no better, and for the same reasons. He came to save us from all that. 

More on Ameya, particularly the culinary aspects, from the Gristmill.