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June 19, 2007


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Jeremy Gregg

Donors are like the rest of us: fickle; impulsive; given to sudden bouts of rage, despair and joy; overwhelmingly appreciative of any proof that we do, in fact, exist; skeptical of the same.

I am not sure what they are interested in. I am paid, albeit not very well, to attempt to answer that question. It is, so far, a work in progress. The best I have come up with so far is this:

They are interested in themselves, but more importantly their vision of themselves. They want to see that vision of themselves grow to encompass a vision of world, and they want that larger vision preserved (indeed, imposed on others).

In this way, they are as survivalist as the rest of us. They just utilize charitable giving to achieve their goals. However, I have yet to meet more than a handful who take this giving as seriously as their consideration of what to eat for lunch (let alone dinner).

Am I a cynic? A realist? Under-caffeineted and in need of sustainable forms of unrestricted revenue?


On the giving decision being less considered than where to go on vacation that may be true is you are positioned in the donor's mind as one of 50 organizations to which she gives out of her "giving budget," the money mentally or physically set aside for giving that year. If on the other hand the conversation is about the role of wealth in the donor's life, family, family history, and future, if the conversation is about self-reliance versus family dynasty, well, the interest level can rise.

The issue for the field is, "Who is positioned to engage a fellow citizen in this conversation?" All of us are special pleaders in one way or another. Each of us has an agenda. So donors may create their own space for these conversations. And that does happen. The question I am trying to advance is whether a community can create such a space on purpose by drawing upon advisors, firms, nonprofits, perhaps through a shared sponsorship. The openness of a shared space, where we take off our company jerseys and advocacy hats, and meet as citizens strikes me as pretty important. Givers? Who is a giver? The ballerina from the local troupe, the preacher who has very little material wealth, the academic who has devoted her life to an important abstruse topic, and financial givers too. We need one another for a decent society, a decent Dallas.

None of this saves us from doing a job. I train and manage advisors to achieve company goals as well as client goals. You cultivate and approach donors and structure gifts for one worthy cause among many. We don't get to skip those paying jobs, but we can transcend them, I think.

Jeremy Gregg

Indeed, the space that you describe seems like the nirvana towards which genuine community developers aspire - a space where we can truly relate to each other's dreams without fear of each other's motivations. I believe that it can be created, in small ways, within each donor-fundraiser relationship. The question is how to replicate it at a significant scale so as to make an impact.

Then again, perhaps simply achieving it with a handful of donors -- or even one donors -- will itself be an achievement. Though my aspirations are for a larger group to convene regularly (in the way that people feel so comfortable in a book club or Bible study), perhaps it would be best to focus such an effort on one donor at a time.

Even the pyramids were built one mighty brick at a time, as they say.


One donor at a time, but some donors do prefer the collegiality of a group of peers, and can relate best to peers. One or two enthusiastic participants can draw in others.

Dan Bassill

If someone builds it, will others come?

At http://classroom20.ning.com/ people interested in using technology in education have been gathering. Are donors, donor advisors, policy makers, non profit leaders and others who are interested in this topic also gathering there? From the introductions I've read, the answer is no.

We've talked about creating this nirvana for more than a year. Since I focus on helping kids in poverty by connecting them in well organized non school tutor/mentor programs, I point to my sites as a place where this group can meet becasue I'm already getting many of the other actors to gather for events I organize.

However, I'm also searching the web for spaces hosted by others who are closer to this nirvana than me. Can't say I've found any yet. What about you?


Newdea.com comes to mind. Omidyar.com, sort of. But generally you would not expect funders whose time is valuable to spend much of it in online forums. Even the Omidyars don't spend time on their own forum. If potential funders do get involved in grassroots conversations online and off they would probably not self-identify as wealthy. Community foundations, and Social Venture Partners in Chicago might be a place to look for a group of funders. Regional Association of Grant Makers too. But these avenues are well trodden and you would be one of many soliciting attention, engagement, and money. Your effort, by the way, connects with Holden's at Give Well. Have you noticed? He is a funder of programs that might lift kids out of poverty, and he wants a strong case made for results. Have you tried engaging him?

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