The only way we are going to disrupt the practice of philanthropy and turn it upside down is to turn it outside in. Playing with words again, “Boys of Joy”? Not really, although we do enjoy a good story, metaphors, word play, poetry, and humor in our work.
Keeping on the theme of Shifts Happen, we will focus on the big shift first. This entails a true focus on benefactor-centric philanthropy. We know many of you already practice this, but Scott and I can assure you that the vast majority of development professionals and institutions do not. The sad irony is that fundraisers almost unanimously believe benefactor-centric philanthropy is the noble way to do our work. Sales-minded and metric-driven institutional approaches are the problem.
Most of our institutions have habituated an inside out approach to the raising of money—reinforced by consulting firms—for decades. It is formulaic and unchanging. We have even heard consultants say, “Philanthropy is a sales business; get used to it!” So what is the formula? Hire a consultant, interview all members of your organization, develop long laundry lists of institutional needs and wants and put them in large three ring binders or spreadsheets, add up all of the needs, and set a campaign goal.
Or, much worse, just set a campaign goal with no data or thoughtful examination of what might really be aspirational for your institution and inspirational for your benefactors—and actually transform your organization. “Organization “X” raised $50M; we should be able to raise $100M!” And voila, we have our target.
After setting the target, rehire the consultants and have them canvas your most generous benefactors and see if the dollar goal is feasible and where “they” would find themselves on a gift chart. Strangers interviewing your most loyal constituents to get “the real scoop” because we either don’t know our benefactors in a trusted and authentic way to ask them these important questions, or we buy into the notion that benefactors won’t share this information with us. Either way we find ourselves in a perpetually sad, and we would contend, counterproductive situation. Practiced in this manner, we are forced to sell institutional needs to benefactors. As soon as you visit a benefactor and pull out the campaign brochure you create a “selling situation.”
Done in this fashion you will raise money, but never raise sights. You will get contributions, but never real partnerships. You will hit some of your goals, but disappoint the majority of your staff while dispiriting development profession(s). When will the madness end? When is it our personal responsibility to say, “Enough already?”
So here we go, with courage and conviction: ENOUGH ALREADY!
What if we truly practiced, benefactor-centric, relationship-based, inquiry-driven philanthropy? How would that change the work we do on Monday? First, we would view visits as respectful conversations with our friends and benefactors. Not in the CNN interviewing sense, pushing and prodding and provoking, but in a human-to-human engagement with curiosity. We would inquire about what is important in their lives, about what values are primary for them and their families. What drives them and what are they passionate about? What makes a great nonprofit and why did they start supporting us? What is worthy of their investment and their desire to preserve? In our workshop, we spend serious time on serious questions. We do this with a deep belief that philanthropy is an important part of a well-examined life. We ask questions that no other advisors ask, that friends rarely ask and, more importantly, questions that perhaps benefactors have never asked themselves. It may sound pretentious, but in this way, we become moral trainers helping individuals write their own moral biographies in light of their hardwired tendencies to be caring and sharing souls in the world.
After these mutual explorations of meaning, we go back to our organizations and examine priorities that would be of interest to them. We ideate with staff on compelling investment-worthy and important ideas. We stop selling and start compelling. We draw on ideas universally important to individuals. We all want to be engaged in just and exciting ideas that are bigger than we are and live on beyond our lifetimes.
We sketch out thoughts that might be appealing. We ask them to join in shaping ideas that are personally meaningful to them. We co-create ideas that increase benefactors’ relationship equity in both the idea and our mission. We enhance their ownership position in our organizations because it is import to them. We bring them into the work we do at our best. It is a beautiful thing in a development professional’s life to hear the words whispered in our ears, “This may be the most important thing I have done in my life.” That is a career in and of itself, dear friends.
Inside out and selling…or outside in and transforming benefactor experiences, our institutions, and ourselves in the process. In addition, the best thing yet—you can practice transformative, outside in philanthropy whether or not your institution believes in it, because ethical inspiration greatly advances investments in your mission. Try it, you’ll like it.
Jim and Scott
Invigorate and inspire your work by attending the three-part virtual training session, Changing Hearts and Changing Minds: Inspiring Principal Giving, in which James Hodge and Scott Arthur of Appreciative Philanthropy and Advancement Resources partner to deliver groundbreaking training. The “Boys of Joy”—with their engaging delivery style and depth of professional experience backed by Advancement Resources’ high-quality, research-based training—will renew your sense of purpose as a development professional.