Here is my submission to this month's giving carnival, hosted by Seeking Grant Money. Teasing out the issues, I think we would want to contrast relationship and transactions. Some gifts are just transactions, done almost unthinkingly. Other gifts are done habitually, out of duty to some organization with which we have an "honored obligation," to use Tracy Gary's phrase. But if the goal is to raise from a donor a gift that is a large percentage of her net worth, the relationship must be deeper. Now what does that mean?
- A conman is a trusted advisor, almost by definition
- A cynical seducer has a relationship at least for a moment
- A good pitch-person has a momentary relationship or rapport.
I want to say that what matters about a relationship between donor, advisor, and nonprofit is something more like integrity and moral imagination, or empathy. Kant said that the measure of a moral act is that we treat the other not as a means to our own ends, but as a "Member of the Kingdom of Ends." Everything in a business plan, or quota, or commission based system, or in a firm devoted to fee maximization, militates against treating the holder of wealth as a human soul. She is a pocketbook on two legs, an ATM, she is a lead donor, she is a target, a quarry, a prospective client, an ideal client, a customer, etc. To see one another not under the aspect of "use value," but as fellow frail creatures, each seeking, each alive for such a short time, and so often less than our full selves, that way of seeing is a kind of civic love. You know something? That is meaning of the word philanthropy. Charity is the other word for it. And that comes from caritas, meaning brotherly and sisterly love. So, yes, relationship is the heart of it. I/Thou, as in Martin Buber's thinking.
How do we extract gifts from those we love? Maybe by not doing it that way at all. Maybe we treat the client as a moral agent in her own right and see ourselves as helping her bring into being her best self, through a morally heroic action, or an action much in character for her, in community with others to high and noble ends. That is a role that over and over again I am told, "Nice idea; our firm or charity does not do that. We are trying to get results here. We have our process and that is not it. We have a quota; we have a campaign goals; she is on the call list; and today, I make the ask." So, the niche I am describing is open. It is open between two beats of the heart, and closes quickly. The angel knocks once, and if the door is not opened, she passes on.
To call philanthropy a relationship of love is not necessarily to overly idealize it, as you might well know if you have ever loved anyone in real life.