Monday, June 25, 2007
Sunday, June 24, 2007
In praise of Indian giving
I suspect it is only me -- for there is little discussion regarding this topic elsewhere -- but I am rather fascinated by the cultural roots of generosity. The following excerpt is from a wonderfully titled book, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, by Lewis Hyde.
"When the Puritans first landed in Massachusetts, they discovered a thing so curious about the Indians' feeling for property that they felt called upon to give it a name. In 1764, when Thomas Hutchinson wrote his history of the colony, the term was already an old saying: 'An Indian gift,' he told his readers, 'is a proverbial expression signifying a present for which an equivalent return is expected.' We still use this, of course, and in an even broader sense, calling that friend an Indian giver who is so uncivilized as to ask us to return a gift he has given.According to Hyde, "Tribal peoples usually distinguish between gifts and capital."
Imagine a scene. An Englishman comes into an Indian lodge, and his hosts, wishing to make their guest feel welcome, ask him to share a pipe of tobacco. Carved from a soft red stone, the pipe itself is a peace offering that has traditionally circulated among the local tribes, staying in each lodge for a time but always given away sooner or later. And so the Indians, as is only polite among their people, give the pipe to their guest when he leaves. The Englishman is tickled pink. What a nice thing to send back to the British Museum! He takes it home and sets it on the mantelpiece.
A time passes and the leaders of a neighboring tribe come to visit the colonist home. To his surprise he finds his guests have some expectations in regard to his pipe, and his translator finally explains to him that if he wishes to show his goodwill he should offer them a smoke and give them the pipe. In consternation, the Englishman invents a phrase to describe these people with such a limited sense of private property. The opposite of "Indian giver" would be something like "white man keeper" (or maybe "capitalist"), that is a, a person whose instinct is to remove property from circulate, to put it in a warehouse or museum (or, more to the point for capitalism, to lay it aside to be used in production.)
The Indian giver (or the original one, at any rate) understood a cardinal property of the gift: what we have been given is supposed to be given away again, not kept. Or, if it is kept, something of similar value should move on in its stead, the way a billiard ball may stop when it sends another scurry across the felt, its momentum transferred. You may keep your Christmas present, but it ceases to be a gift in the true sense unless you have given something else away. As it is passed along, the gift my be given back to the original donor, but this is not essential. In fact, it is better if the gift is not returned but is given instead to some new, third party. The only essential is this: the gift must always move. There are other forms of property that stands still, that mark a boundary or resit momentum, but the gift keeps going."
Friday, June 22, 2007
10 reflections on giving and receiving
Sorry I haven't posted much lately, but this homework assignment should be up in time for you to complete this weekend. I'll expect your written essays in my inbox by 10am Monday morning for grading.
- When you have been involved in an act of generosity--large or small--what have you noticed happened in yourself?
- What makes it difficult for you to follow your generous impulses?
- Who was a role model of generosity in your life? Tell that person's story.
- How where you taught about giving?
- What changes in relationships when people are generous with one another?
- Describe a time when you felt that your giving was natural and spontaneous?
- Describe what is both hardest and easiest for you to share: Time? Money? Love? Possessions? Your company? Why?
- How do you receive the generosity of others?
- How do you give without placing yourselves in control or above those you seek to help?
- What steps can you take to liberate your natural generosity and the generosity of those around you?
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Urban gorilla army lets loose on San Francisco
I thought getting men to march against rape in high heels was quite a sight. But that was nothing compared to today's spectacle of four-hundred people who, dressed as gorillas, ran in the first-annual San Francisco Great Gorilla Run to raise funds for mountain and low land gorillas threatened in the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. Give that man a big banana!
Friday, June 08, 2007
How can we foster generosity of spirit?
As I've written before, storytelling is an essential tool of the successful fundraiser. This one made me cry today, which is always a good sign. It's another lesson from Wayne Muller, founder of Bread for the Journey.
"David is a junior high school teacher. He told me that when he was a boy, he was fond of throwing stones. One afternoon, he discovered that if he tossed stones over his neighbor's fence, he could create a crashing sound, the sound of breaking glass. So he would heave a stone, and wait for the crash. Heave, crash. It was great fun. It felt a little dangerous -- he might get caught, after all -- but that, to a small boy, was part of the excitement.
As it happened, he did get caught. The man who lived next door came to his house and told his parents about the boy and the stones. 'I would like David to co me to my home, so I can show him a few things,' the man said, in a tone David took to be quite ominous. His parents, ashamed of and disappointed by their son's behavior, readily sent their son to the neighbor's house.
David sheepishly followed the man into his house, through the back door and out into the yard. There, next to the fence David was so fond of throwing rocks over, was a greenhouse. The stones had shattered many panes of glass. Once whole, the greenhouse now looked wounded, defeated. As the man led David into the greenhouse, David, imagining all manner of punishments, felt he was going straight to hell. What was the man going to do to him?
Slowly, as he led David down the rows of plants, the man began talking about flowers. He took David slowly, showing him each one and explaining what he loved about them. These, he said, are my gladiolas. They can get quite large, and bloom in many colors. These are violets; they were my wife's favorite. When I see them, I remember her, and I miss her. In the deep purple, she lives in my eyes. And these orchids, right here, are very difficult to grow. But when they bloom, they create the most exquisite shape and texture. You cannot believe until you see with your own eyes how a flower can be so beautiful.
David was shocked. There was no lecture, no beating, no punishment at all. After about an hour of showing David everything he loved about his flowers, and the greenhouse that helped him to grow them, he thanked David for coming, and told him he was free to go. As he walked home, David strangely felt as if he had been in heaven.
'At that moment,' David told me, 'I knew I would grow up and be a teacher. This man had done a very small thing -- he showed me what he loved. He could have yelled about the glass, punished me for being cruel, but instead he took a few thoughtful minutes to share with me the fragrances and colors that meant so much to him. In a single hour, that man changed the course of my entire life.'
What if the healing of the world utterly depends on the ten thousand invisible kindnesses we offer simply and quietly throughout the pilgrimage of each human life?"
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Fundraising in the 21st Century: Bananas, popsicles and cookies, oh my!
Permission marketing guru Seth Godin is fond of saying that when it comes to succeeding at marketing, we must all learn to "flip the funnel." Traditional advertisers, according to Godin, spend all their efforts creating a big funnel to draw in people, which results in a constant need to spend more money to attract more people. But what if we gave our fans the power to speak up on our behalf? What if we gave our donors the tools needed to solicit new donors? In his recent ebook of the same name Godin reduces it to this simple equation:
- Turn strangers into friends;
- Turn friends into donors;
- And then ... do the most important job:
- Turn your donors into fundraisers.
But if you haven't started leveraging the new technologies available, now maybe the time to consider it, for the earlier adopters have already established successful beachheads. Take for an example my friend Anna's AIDS/LifeCycle 6 web page. She's currently half way through a 545 mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, raising money on behalf of those infected and affected with HIV/AIDS.
On her customized web page you will find her own personal story, along with photos, about why she supports this nonprofit and why you should too. There are multiple links to where you can learn more about this cause, or with a click of a button, make a secure donation online. Her page displays a running total of the amount she has raised so far. You can also leave Anna a public message, or listen to a podcasts she has recorded from the road. (Be sure to listen to episode #1 to understand the title of this post).
AIDS/LifeCycle provided Anna the tools to construct this page, and she did the rest. So far she has raised over $5,800 on her own. Anna, like the record 2,300 volunteers from 10 countries and 43 states who are currently riding down the coast of California, is not a professional fundraiser. But collectively they have raised a record $11 million this year -- surpassing last year's total by nearly $3 million.
For their part, AIDS/LifeCycle simply contracted with one of the many web-based fundraising application service providers, and let their riders do the rest. The May/June issue of Advancing Philanthropy special section on Fundraising Technology listed nearly 100 from which to choose.
So has your nonprofit taken this step yet? Perhaps you are waiting for your group to grow to a certain size or develop a signature event? But while you're waiting, life, and your donors, will pass you by. Think of it like dating. If you pause first to loose that 25 pounds, you'll find yourself languishing a long time for Mr. or Ms. Right. You need to just jump in and start dating. Next year, the two of you can join AIDS/LifeCycle 7 and work off those pounds together.
Similarly, by giving your donors the tools they need today to advocate on your behalf, you'll find your nonprofit becoming healthier and stronger in the years to come.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
Sharing good people and good ideas
Am happy to let you know I recently become an Affiliate Consultant with the East Bay CBO Center. The Center is dedicated to building the professional capacity of nonprofit organization's serving the counties of Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
I will continue to operate as an independent Fundraising Counsel, but this arrangement will provide my business with additional outreach and referrals. But what makes me most excited is that I now have direct access to a hand-picked network of over 30 of the San Francisco Bay Area's top nonprofit consultants.
So if you need help finding a nonprofit organizational development, human resources, evaluation or technology expert, give me a call and I can now pass you forward to a consultant with a proven track record.
Friday, June 01, 2007
The manifesto of abundance
Hung out last night with my friend Maritza and her friends from the Abundance League. Special guests included two gentleman from Oaxaca Mexico, who shared with us how their families have come together to recover the traditional craft of tapestry making using local plant materials and sustainable practices. The resulting rugs and other items are worthy of hanging in museums.
So who is the Abundance League you may ask? Thank you for asking.
"We believe that abundance flows from helping each other. That mutual cooperation, collaboration, and interdependence lead to health, happiness, beauty, freedom, love, peace and truth.What to get on the Peace Train with me?
That scarcity is created by anything that keeps us from helping each other. That anything blocking increasing levels of cooperation, collaboration, and interdependence cheats humanity of its full potential. That emotions, beliefs, behaviors, and social divisions that keep us from helping each other lead to poverty.
That the purpose of our lives is to be of service to each other. That it is our responsibility as individuals to understand our unique abilities and passions, design a life of service that uses these to the best advantage of others, and find like-minded collaborators to advance our service projects. That it is not only our responsibility, but a powerful source of purpose, meaning, and joy to do the work we were meant to do.
That it is our responsibility to improve the quality of our lives and others. That we should not expect someone else to do this for us. A better world is our responsibility and counts on our every action. That creating a better world is actually easy, counts on many little actions in our daily lives, and is something we can do now starting with those in our local community.
That we have everything we need to create a better life and better world within and around us. That if we act on our most deeply held dreams for humanity with humility, inclusiveness, determination, faith, generosity, honesty, and good intention, the universe will aid you in your quest. That simple actions added up will not only result in a better life for ourselves, but a positive shift in world affairs. That this is not only our responsibility, but a powerful source of pleasure, satisfaction, and belonging."