Fundraising Feed

The Role and Soul of the Liberal Arts Graduate (Legacy Planning in that Spirit)

Parker J. Palmer, author, teacher, activist on his nonprofit, Center for Courage and Renewal:

As founder and senior partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal, I take deep pride in the way this small non-profit organization provides support for people in the serving professions.

Since 1997—working through a network that now numbers one hundred sixty facilitators in thirty states and fifty cities—the Center has offered programs to help teachers, physicians, clergy and others “rejoin soul and role,” renewing their passion for their work, reclaiming its basic values and deepening their service to others.

I learned of Parker from Diana Chapman Walsh, President of Wellesley College. Writing of Parker at Sharing Witness, she says:

In essence, the idea of vocation is the master theme of Parker's life's work - vocation as the unification of "who we are with what we do," and how we project that out into the world, or vocation as the integration of "soul and role," in the more specialized language Parker uses when appropriate. This focus on vocation and what he calls "the inner work of leadership," for example, has broad social implications in his view. As he wrote in a remarkable early essay entitled "Leading from Within," leaders, by virtue of their positions, have the opportunity to project darkness or light on the people around them. They, therefore, have a special obligation to stay in touch with the forces of darkness and light within themselves. Otherwise, they can do more harm than good. The salience of this message could not be more obvious than it is right now, at a time when exemplars of trustworthy leadership are few and far between.

Although The Center for Courage and Renewal is not oriented to legacy planners as a service profession, nor to donors, it seems to me that a Yale, Harvard, Wellesley, Pitt, Brown, Williams, Amherst, Dartmouth, University of Chicago etc., and the prep schools that feed into them, could well (alone or with other such schools) provide a meditative space to their liberal arts graduates, particularly perhaps to Boomers, as they prepare to make significance life changes, plan their legacy, or to downshift in retirement to a career more oriented to service.

Philanthropy is a liberal art, a civic virtue. A meditative space for graduates who have significant capacity for philanthropy, leadership or late-life achievement would be more than a service for graduates, it would prove to be a great way to raise money by aligning the best the school has to offer with "the role and soul" of the graduates that school has shaped. For many of us, the liberal arts are our "moral compass." A religious organization provides sanctuary for a lifetime, a liberal arts college only until you graduate. At moments of critical life changing decision, it would be wonderful to return to the space that shaped your values and to reflect, converse, connect with others, then go on to lead with full force. Such inspired leadership may include philanthropy for those who have significant assets. To this graduate, who has zero interest in "alumni weekend," or college sponsored luxury tours, such a center or retreat would be of real value. No old college songs, no geezers in college caps, no cruise liners with dancing by moonlight. Take us seriously and allow us a time to reflect with one another as leaders in our own right.

If anyone reading this wants to experiment with events or retreats along these lines, for the benefit of graduates, the college, and humanity, please let me know.

Whose Artful Journey?

I have been re-reading William Sturtevant's, The Artful Journey: Cultivating and Soliciting the Major Gift. This classic "how to" book for major gift fundraisers teaches a proven method to manage 100 high capacity donors a year, moving them through a process from getting their attention, gaining interest, telling the organization's story, making an ask for a specific dollar amount, then answering objections, and asking again. For want of a better term you could call this method, "tell and sell," much as in middle market insurance sales.

Sturtevant stresses that as gifts get larger, to the point of being sacrificial, they become both more reasoned and more emotional. Decisions take longer. More input is received from more people. What he does not say is that among those giving input to donors when the numbers are large will be their financial, tax, and legal advisors. So, in essence, Sturtevant's process has an unmanaged moment, in which the donor exits stage left to talk in private with advisors whom the fundraiser has never met. Then the donor comes back stage center and may say, "I have discussed this with my advisors, and they tell me that now is not a good time." At which point the fundraiser is "answering objections" as the door is closed.

Involving advisors early might be a good move in the "moves management" system recommended by the Sturtevant and others. When an advisor who is handling the client's overall affairs is asked about a big gift, the answer is often, "If that were a good idea I would have thought of it." That is, the advisor will emerge as a gatekeeper and door closer, if the advisor has not been appropriately cultivated or included. In plotting the game with and against the donor, you might as well plot with and against the advisors who may control the end game.

So, who controls the donor? Let us hope, rather, that what controls the process are the donor's own awakened ideals. As a fundraiser with ideals and humane skills yourself: Seek higher ground. On that higher ground help the donor articulate and advance an inclusive vision of self, family and community - the donor's vision of a successful life and legacy. Weave your organization's story into the story the donor tells of a successful life journey. As long as the highest vision prevails, and you are there in the process, accompanying the donor as a trusted confidante, the money will move to good purposes, your own included. Try that more open and elevated process 10% of time, with donors with whom you have rapport, and I will bet that in 24 months the dollars raised will exceed all that are raised with the 90% of time in a traditional "tell and sell" method like  Sturtevant's. But, hey, I have a job regardless. Your's may be dependent on month by month results, so don't drop the 90% until the 10% pays off.

A Civic Dialogue on the Art of Lberality?

For some of us (even today, even post-postmodernism) the liberal arts are like a Church. The problem with Universities, though, is that the day you are Confirmed (i.e. graduated), you are kicked out of Church. No more rituals, no more Congregation. You get to wait outside the gates until the Offertory, then the Ushers arrive to ask for money.

Giving is a moral act. Giving is both expressive and formative of identity. Giving is how we answer the questions of who we are, what kind of community we want to live in, what kind of world we want to leave, what legacy we want for our children.

Fundraisers at Universities and Colleges will wisely ask, "So what? We are running a campaign here." A Fool would say, "Treat the donor like a student and engage her in the questions that are central to the work of the University, the questions of the liberal arts. Let her apply that thinking to her finances, and gifts from the gifted will flow." The proof of the methodology is the huge dollars raised at Harvard by Charles Collier, using a liberal arts methodology applied to Wealth in Families.

The theme of a fundraising project for a liberal arts college, private school, or university might be, "The Art of Liberality: Engaging Donors and Advisors in The Liberal Art of Giving Well." The outcome of such a program would be donors who are better able to articulate their highest aspirations for self, family and society, and better able to engage advisors in creating a plan that embodies these ideals. So what? Well, maybe some of that money will find its way to the university, college or school, as sponsor, ongoing mentor, Alma Mater, as beloved source of the ideals the donor is motivated now to act upon, live up to, and pass on. Not all of the giving will go that way, but the total dollars raised will exceed, I wager, those raised by a traditional "ask." It works that way at Harvard.

"A Civic Dialogue on the Art of Liberality"? Around the country in selected cities? Make it an event for several colleges? Share expenses among the schools? Invite the highest capacity donors from all the schools? Make the event a public benefit in itself. Bring in a speaker like Charles Collier, Amy Kass, or distinguished alums to teach it? (University of Chicago, the Ivies, the Little Three, etc)? Involving key advisors from the community might well raise their level of play and help them see how and why giving matters to their best clients.

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."