Fundraising for Nonprofits

Inspiring Gifts that Transform

Monday, December 31, 2007

All fundraising rises and falls on leadership

In preparation for my new role as Board President of the Development Executives Roundtable I’ve been reading a lot of leadership books, by authors ranging from Deepak Chopra to Peter F. Drucker to Marcus Aurelius.

One of my favorites is John C. Maxwell’s classic Developing the Leader Within You. It is a must read for anyone leading a nonprofit development team. I agree with Maxwell, who says the world needs leaders:

  • Who use their influence at the right times for the right reasons;
  • Who take a little greater share of the blame and a little smaller share of the credit;
  • Who lead themselves successfully before attempting to lead others;
  • Who continue to search for the best answers, not the familiar one;
  • Who add value to the people and organizations they lead;
  • Who work for the benefit of others and not for personal gain;
  • Who handle themselves with their heads and handle others with their hearts;
  • Who know the way, go the way, and show the way;
  • Who inspire and motivate rather than intimidate and manipulate;
  • Who live with people to know their problems and live with God in order to solve them;
  • Who realize that their dispositions are more important than their positions;
  • Who mold opinions instead of following opinion polls;
  • Who understand that an institution is the reflection of their character;
  • Who never place themselves above others except in carrying responsibilities;
  • Who will be as honest in small things as in great things
  • Who discipline themselves so they will not be disciplined by others;
  • Who encounter setbacks and turn them into comebacks;
  • Who follow a moral compass that points in the right direction regardless of the trends.
QUESTION: What steps can you take to develop the leader within you in 2008?

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Monday, November 05, 2007

I'll show you mine, if you show me yours

I’ve been tagged. Britt Bravo, of the most excellent Have Fun, Do Good blog, has invited me to participate in a book meme. So without further ado:

Total Books I Own
275. Thought it would be less, as I enjoy giving away books after reading them. Guess I still have challenges with "letting go."

Last Book I Bought
The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert.
If you’ve loved her recent run-away best seller Eat Pray Love like both Britt and me, then you'll also enjoy her previous National Book Award finalist looking at life on the other side of the gender line. I'm nearly finished reading this one, and makes me wonder how much her own personal journey of self-discovery in Eat Pray Love was inspired by Eustace Conway, the real-life protagonist of The Last American Man? Also makes me wonder how some people are able to experience life with insight? If I could only live my life with half, no a quarter, no a tenth of the passion Elizabeth or Eustace experience, I'd die happy. But then again, the message of both these artist adventurers is we can. We only need to choose.

Last Book I Read
Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life by Whitworth, Kimsey-House and Sandahl.
There is nothing I enjoy more than sitting down over a cup of coffee with someone and having a good conversation. So it is no surprise that I am attracted to coaching, which according to this book is the "art of the powerful conversation." What I enjoy about fundraising is its ability to transform lives; coaching has that potential too. I've been seriously considering getting my coaching certificate, because I believe fundraising and coaching together can be very powerful tools for both individual, institutional and social change.

5 Meaningful Books
The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Zander and Zander.
What if we gave each person in our lives an "A plus" grade? What we gave ourselves an "A plus" too? Brimming with optimism, this title written by a husband and wife team argues that life is all invented, so why not invent the life we want to truly live? Filled with engaging antidotes and exercises, it made a believer out of me. Perhaps it will for you too?

How Then, Shall We Live?: Four Simple Questions That Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of Our Lives by Wayne Muller.
I’ve already written before about this book, given to me as a gift, so no need to write a lot more. Other than to say, isn't there something special about receiving a book as a gift, rather than buying it yourself? Even better when it is unexpected, don't you think? So why wait until the holiday season to bring joy into somebody's life? Do it today!

Care of the Soul : A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life by Thomas Moore.
Maybe I don’t have to fix everything? In fact, what if within suffering is the source of healing? This is the message of Moore's extraordinary book, which takes a homeopathic approach to what ills our contemporary spirits. Drawing on over 2,500 years of western cultural and spiritual traditions, this Jungian therapist and former Catholic monk, is a literate man of grace and compassion. Reminded me again how important it is to simply treat ourselves, and others, a little more gently.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.
I used to live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where among other things I was active in the local literary scene: publishing a community arts newspaper, hosting literary festivals and promoting spoken word artists. One day an editor friend visited my house. He seemed a bit disoriented at first. Then after a long pause he told he had been to this house many times before. This was where Natalie lived a decade before when she wrote her now classic text. Told me how he would come over to her house for a book group; sitting on milk crates they would discuss their dreams of becoming successful writers. See what happens when start sharing your dreams?

What Matters: Young Writers and Artists Speak Out edited by Jancie Mirikitami.
Another surprise pick. This poetry collection was written by the children of Glide Memorial Church, located in San Francisco’s tough Tenderloin Neighborhood. However, I still remember one Sunday listening to the young authors read their work. Afterwards I walked up with tears in my eyes to buy not one, but five copies, so that I would have enough to give away to friends and family members. Rooted in the ethos of the 1960's civil rights movement, Glide is world renowned for its gospel choir and extensive social service programs, including serving up 1.5 million free meals a year out of its basement kitchen. These young authors have lived more by the age of ten than most adults I know.

5 People to Tag
So whose book collections would I like to learn more about? Well, here's a short list people I know who occasionally read this blog and have blogs of their own. Perhaps they would like to share what is on their bookshelves with their readers as well?

Phil Cubeta
Susan Herr
A Fundraiser
Sean Stannard-Stockton
Francesco, Ioana and Daniele

TAG, YOU'RE IT: Don't have a blog? Feel free to add book titles which are meaningful to you to the comments below.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Giving: The key to long-life and prosperity

I'm off to have lunch soon with my friend Regina , but first wanted to share with you an article she emailed me yesterday from the Christian Science Monitor. For it is now a proven fact, "researchers say giving leads to a healthier, happier life."

This according CSM and Dr. Stephen Post, who has recently written a book titled, Why Good Things Happen to Good People. For the past five years, he has been funding research projects that test how altruism, compassion and giving affect people's lives and well-being. As head of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (you gotta "love" that name) at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, he has sponsored more than 50 studies by scientists from 54 major universities.

His studies have clearly demonstrated that love and caring expressed in doing good for others lead people to have healthier, happier, and even longer lives. According to Dr. Post, "Giving is the most potent force on the planet (it) will protect you your whole life."

Having a hard time cultivating an attitude of gratitude in your life? It's not easy surrounded in a world populated by Eeyores. One practice is to start a gratitude journal. Another is to start paying attention the synchronicitic elements of your life. You know, when details start to line up without the effort of you or others. There as many opinions as to why this happens as there are bloggers, but finding the cause isn't the point. What is important is that you simply say "thank you." With these two simple words we begin to acknowledge that we aren't on this mortal coil alone. Don't know about you, but knowing that makes my life a lot easier.

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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.

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."
According to Hyde, "Tribal peoples usually distinguish between gifts and capital."

Do you?


Monday, May 28, 2007

What is my gift to the family of the earth?

I'll be forever grateful to Marianna Cacciatore, Executive Director of Bread for the Journey, for introducing me to Wayne Muller's book How, Then, Shall We Live? Muller founded Bread for Journey some years ago to nurture neighborhood philanthropy. Today they have 20 growing chapters across the United States.

Through all his writing Muller shows how we can experience a greater sense of inner wholeness and guidance, living a life of meaning, purpose and grace. In this book he asks us to consider four simple questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What do I love?
  • How shall I live, knowing I will die?
  • What is my gift to the family of the earth?
Knowing me, I jumped forward and read the last chapters first, in which he writes:
"Some of us wish to wait until our gift is potent and comprehensive enough to solve all the world's problems. Seeing that our gift is does not stop all the suffering, we decide it is inadequate. But every gift is a drop of water on a stone; ever kindness, every flash of color or melody helps us remain hopeful and in balance. Each of us knows some part of the secret, and each of us holds our portion of the light. We can thrive on the earth only if we each bring what we have and offer it at the family table...

A gift is like a seed; it is not an impressive thing. It is what can grow from the seed that is impressive. Clearly, we do not always know our real gift. One way to name our gift is to pay close attention to what we love. Many are becoming aware that the that the clarity and courage born of their own healing can also be made available for the healing of those in need...

Many of us believe that giving somehow means we must stop receiving. When I am trying to protect my position as the 'giver,' this marginalizes (those who receive as a) client rather than a human being whom I spent time with, who now wants to give back to me. When I also become a receiver, the walls between us soften, the boundaries disappear, and I am simply one of the family...

Real joy is to be found in the balance between giving and taking. Like breathing, we must both inhale and exhale. Inhaling is not superior to exhaling; one is no more noble or good than the other. They are both necessary. To name our gift is to also to name our need...

So the question 'What is my gift?' is not about coercing us into giving more and more, but rather about becoming more mindful of how we already intimately connected with everything and everyone..."

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer

"Among the numerous faults of those who pass their lives recklessly and without due reflection, my good friend Liberalis, I should say that there is hardly any one, so hurtful to society as this, that we neither know how to bestow or how to receive a benefit. It follows from this that benefits are badly invested, and become bad debts: in these cases it is too late to complain of their not being returned, for they were thrown away when we bestowed them.

Nor need we wonder that while the greatest vices are common, none is more common than ingratitude: for this I see is brought about by various causes. The first of these is, that we do not choose worthy persons upon whom to bestow our bounty, but although when we are about to lend money we first make a careful enquiry into the means and habits of life of our debtor, and avoid sowing seed in a worn-out or unfruitful soil, yet without any discrimination we scatter our benefits at random rather than bestow them.

It is hard to say whether it is more dishonorable for the receiver to disown a benefit, or for the giver to demand a return of it: for a benefit is a loan, the repayment of which depends merely upon the good feeling of the debtor. To misuse a benefit like a spendthrift is most shameful, because we do not need our wealth but only our intention to set us free from the obligation of it; for a benefit is repaid by being acknowledged.

Yet while they are to blame who do not even show so much gratitude as to acknowledge their debt, we ourselves are to blame no less. We find many men ungrateful, yet we make more men so, because at one time we harshly and reproachfully demand some return for our bounty, at another we are fickle and regret what we have given, at another we are peevish and apt to find fault with trifles. By acting thus we destroy all sense of gratitude, not only after we have given anything, but while we are in the act of giving it.

Who has ever thought it enough to be asked for anything in an off-hand manner, or to be asked only once? Who, when he suspected that he was going to be asked for any thing, has not frowned, turned away his face, pretended to be busy, or purposely talked without ceasing, in order not to give his suitor a chance of preferring his request, and avoided by various tricks having to help his friend in his pressing need? and when driven into a corner, has not either put the matter off, that is, given a cowardly refusal, or promised his help ungraciously, with a wry face, and with unkind words, of which he seemed to grudge the utterance.

Yet no one is glad to owe what he has not so much received from his benefactor, as wrung out of him. Who can be grateful for what has been disdainfully flung to him, or angrily cast at him, or been given him out of weariness, to avoid further trouble? No one need expect any return from those whom he has tired out with delays, or sickened with expectation. A benefit is received in the same temper in which it is given, and ought not, therefore, to be given carelessly, for a man thanks himself for that which he receives without the knowledge of giver.

Neither ought we to give after long delay, because in all good offices the will of the giver counts for much, and he who gives tardily must long have been unwilling to give at all. Nor, assuredly, ought we to give in an offensive manner, because human nature is so constituted that insults sink deeper than kindnesses; the remembrance of the latter soon passes away, while that of the former is treasured in the memory; so what can a man expect who insults while he obliges? All the gratitude he deserves is to be forgiven for helping us.

On the other hand, the number of the ungrateful ought not to deter us from earning men’s gratitude; for, in the first place, their number is increased by our own acts. Secondly, the sacrilege and indifference to religion of some men does not prevent even the immortal gods from continuing to shower benefits upon us: for they act according to their divine nature and help all alike, among them even those who so ill appreciate their bounty. Let us take them for our guides as far as the weakness of our mortal nature permits; let us bestow benefits, not put them out at interest. The man who while he gives thinks of what he will get in return, deserves to be deceived.

But what if the benefit turns out ill? Why, our wives and our children often disappoint our hopes, yet we marry and bring up children, and are so obstinate in the face of experience that we fight after we have been beaten, and put to sea after we have been shipwrecked. How much more constancy ought we to show in bestowing benefits! If a man does not bestow benefits because he has not received any, he must have bestowed them in order to receive them in return, and he justifies ingratitude, whose disgrace lies in not returning benefits when able to do so.

How many are there who are unworthy of the light of day? and nevertheless the sun rises. How many complain because they have been born? yet Nature is ever renewing our race, and even suffers men to live who wish that they had never lived. It is the property of a great and good mind to covet, not the fruit of good deeds, but good deeds themselves, and to seek for a good man even after having met with bad men. If there were no rogues, what glory would there be in doing good to many?

As it is, virtue consists in bestowing benefits for which we are not certain of meeting with any return, but whose fruit is at once enjoyed by noble minds. So little influence ought this to have in restraining us from doing good actions, that even though I were denied the hope of meeting with a grateful man, yet the fear of not having my benefits returned would not prevent my bestowing them, because he who does not give, forestalls the vice of him who is ungrateful. I will explain what I mean. He who does not repay a benefit, sins more, but he who does not bestow one, sins earlier."

From On Benefits by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 4 BC–AD 65, a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist and humorist of the Silver Age of Latin literature.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Getting from no to yes: Top 10 flaws that doom your grant request to the reject pile

Last Friday I went to the Commonwealth Club to listen to my friends Cheryl Clarke and Susan Fox give an AFP-GGC luncheon presentation based on their new Jossey-Bass published book Grant Proposal Makeover. If you're like me, you've been to enough presentations before to know the difference between when the guest experts talk at you versus talk with you. Cheryl and Susan know how to do it right.

During the course of an hour they shared with us antidotes and tips they gleaned from surveying over 70 foundation executives, including the following list of 10 most common grant proposal flaws:
  1. Does not address funder's priorities.
  2. Does not follow logical order.
  3. Does not show the need.
  4. Overwhelms with too many statistics.
  5. Relies too much on client stories or testimonials instead of just giving the facts.
  6. Uses poor objectives and/or evaluation.
  7. Includes a bad budget.
  8. Is written "by committee."
  9. Uses overblown, florid language.
  10. Uses vague, abstract language.
For those of you who have experience writing grants, this list may seem rather obvious. But as they talked about each of these points in more detail, I had to admit to myself that I've been guilty of most of these errors at one time or another. It reminded me, that like a professional musician who practices her scales every morning, how important it is for us fundraisers to regularly review the basics, however much experience we may have.

Now if you'd like to start by reviewing the above points in more detail, Cheryl and Susan have graciously offered to shared with you their presentation handout.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Reading is fundamental

If you're like me, trying to decide what books to read, let alone which blogs to track, can be a challenge in and of itself. There are simply too many choices. That's why I love to get recommendations from friends and other trusted sources. The upcoming Philanthropy Carnival with its focus on philanthropy books promises to be such a resource. I just realized yesterday was the deadline for submissions, so I maybe too late with this post, but these would be my suggested submissions for the list.

Hank Rosso, Achieving Excellence in Fund Raising, 2nd edition.
Nothing else really compares to this, the bible of fundraising. Hank is rightly thought of as the godfather of contemporary fundraising, and this book brings together the collected thoughts of him and his peers. Editor Eugene Tempel, executive director at the Center on Philanthropy, work on the updated 2nd edition simply builds on perfection.

Kim Klein, Fundraising for Social Change.
This is easily my most dog-eared reference guide. During my early years as a fundraiser, I devoured this publication with relish. If you are starting out new in the field, this is the one book you must get. Honorable mention also to Raise More Money, a collection of articles from the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, edited by Kim and Stephanie Roth.

Cheryl Clarke, Storytelling for Grantseekers.
When I began my career in this field I was primarily a grant writer. This was the first resource guide I found that made sense to me. Imagine my surprise when years later Cheryl ended up becoming a close friend. But even if I didn't know her, I'd recommend this book without reservations to any aspiring grant writer. Her follow-up publication, written with another friend Susan Fox, Grant Proposal Makeover, is also highly recommended.

Andringa and Engstrom, Nonprofit Board Answer Book.
This book isn't really about fundraising, but I don't know a single professional fundraiser whose biggest challenge isn't working with their Board of Directors. Here's where to go to when you need quick answers and recommended best practices to show to your Board. For example, do you want your Board to better understand their role in fundraising? If so, simply show them chapter 7.

David Allen, Getting Things Done.
Okay, this book is not about fundraising either, but if you are to manage the multiple campaigns and objectives found within any fundraising plan -- let alone find time to write that plan -- this book is for you. I'm not exaggerating when I say, more than perhaps any other publication I've read in the last decade, this one has changed my life. The book's sub-title is the "Art of Stress-Free Productivity." And you know what, David delivers on his promise. Forget the 7 habits, this is the one guide you need to help create balance in your life.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Be the change you wish to see in the world

Peggy Rockefeller Dulany, Founder of Synergos Institute, is one of the many thought leaders highlighted in Peter Karoff's recent book, The World We Want. I suspect she'd understand why this little blog is sub-titled "Inspiring Gifts that Transform," when she says:
"I don't think that the whole system is going to shift until there is a transformation of the human heart. That means starting with ourselves and then working outward, in mostly small increments. Mary Oliver, in one of her poems, talks about saving one life you have to save, meaning your own. And she doesn't mean survival; she means self-transformation. So when I start to feel desperate about the entire world, I try to focus on whether it's possible for me to transform anything about myself and how I relate to other people that might make it more likely that other people might work on their own transformations and the way they relate to others. That is what it is going to take really to get to the bottom of this."

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Be generous and raise money

It bares repeating. There are three levels of fundraising: transactional, relationship and transformative.

Most people view fundraising as a simple market transaction. In exchange for your gift of $250 we will send a Water Buffalo to a Chinese family -- or not. Given the capitalist Kool-Aid our world has downed with gusto, it is no wonder this is fundraising for many. Donors as ATM machines.

Now if you ask, most professional fundraisers will tell you that "We raise relationships, not donors." But unfortunately, the majority of organizations fall short on the final important step of "ask, thank and include." Many staff I've met have little time or interest in engaging donors (let alone Board members) in their work beyond the minimum required to secure funding.

But there's a third level, transformative fundraising, that few recognize and fewer still reach. It build on the former two levels and adds to it. Yet it is clear that Anne Firth Murray, the Founding President of The Global Fund for Women, operated at this level. Reading her new book, Paradigm Found: Leading and Managing for Positive Social Change, makes me glad to say I'm a donor to this important organization. In it she writes:
"When we started The Global Fund for Women, I initially though that we were raising money for our simple and straight-forward reason: we were raising money for our program; we were raising money so we could give it away to women's groups around the world. But over time, raising money and working with donors revealed itself to be much more multifaceted and every bit as interesting as giving the funds away. We made what were learning part of our program. We began to speak of and think of "donor activists" and of blurring the distinctions between givers and receivers. We began to see that money, like leadership and power, grows when you give it away. Donors began to feel connected with The Global Fund and to initiate programs themselves. We weren't simply raising money to support our programs. We were offering people the opportunity to be giving, to be included, to have meaning in their lives. In became increasingly obvious over the years that be encouraging people to be more giving we were offering them empowerment and a sense of connection and inclusion."

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

America justifies itself, give it time

Walt Whitman (1819–1892), was called the "greatest of all American poets" by many foreign observers a mere four years after his death. His works have been translated into more than 25 languages, and his freestyle, liberated use verse continues to inspire poets and readers alike. Leaves of Grass, his most famous work, which he continued to edit and revise until his death, first appeared in 1855. Below is a small excerpt from the remarkable original preface. Enjoy.
"The largeness of nature or the nation were monstrous without a corresponding largeness and generosity of the spirit of the citizen. Not nature nor swarming states nor streets and steamships nor prosperous business nor farms nor capital nor learning may suffice for the ideal of man, nor suffice the poet...

The gaggery and gilt of a million years will not prevail. Who troubles himself about his ornaments or fluency is lost. This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…"

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

With six you can rent a whole house, eat pie for dinner with no seconds, and hold a fundraising party

You've probably noticed there's a growing alternative media movement a foot in the United States. Shaped in response to the growth of the Internet and other distribution technologies, the continuing consolidation of media companies, and the unprecedented deregulation of the industry, a small group of hearty souls is working hard to insure your future will be shaped by a democratic media landscape. But you may not known that a key facilitator behind this dialogue is one of my clients, Rockwood Leadership Program.

Rockwood, with support from a generous 3-year Ford Foundation grant, last year launched an ambitious fellowship initiative to provide ongoing leadership training and collaboration support to over 60 key media reform advocacy, distribution and production groups. Many of these organizations came together in Memphis this past week on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday for the the third annual National Conference on Media Reform.

They were treated to an inspirational keynote address by journalist and public commentator Bill Moyers, who among other things announced his return to reporting. If media democracy is a subject that matters to you -- and as a blog reader I suspect it does -- I highly urge you to take a few minutes and listen to Moyers' address or visit the NCMR website for more information.

But in writing today, I particularly wanted to share with you Moyer's closing words, a reading of Marge Piercy's poem "The Low Road" from her collection The Moon is Always Female, published by Alfred A. Knopf, copyright 1980.

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can't walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t blame them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fundraising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

A meditation on creating a humane world

Here's a story from a book I highly recommend, The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. This tale was first told to them by their good friend Vikram Savkar, and I would now like to share it with you.
Last night, I visited one of my old college haunts, a seedy diner located south of the campus. I took a place at the counter next to a man who appeared, on a second look, to be homeless. Before him, meticulously laid out, were three dollar bills and some change, apparently all he had in the world. When the waitress appeared, I ordered a hamburger -- but the man put out his hand as if to slow me down. With a grand gesture, he announced, "It's on me. You can have anything you want tonight, and you won't pay a penny. It's all on me." I protested that I could not possibly do that. He was offering the whole of his worldly possessions, and I certainly could not accept such a gift. But he was determined to have his moment. "You are going to have what you want, and it's on me." He pushed all his money toward the indifferent woman behind the counter.

I was aware of every delicious bite of that hamburger, every sip of coffee. With a mere three dollars and fifty-odd cents, this man had created a humane world brimming over with charity and abundance. This momentary universe teemed with delicious smells from the grill, while voices of happiness emanated from a couple chatting at a booth. And I, I had the deeply satisfying experience of being there while all this took place. I thanked him for everything.

"Oh, no," he said, winking at my last ditch efforts to find some parity. "The pleasure's all mine."

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Will the master's tools ever dismantle the master's house?

Oscar Wilde, Irish playwright, novelist, poet, short story writer and Freemason, known for his barbed and clever wit, was one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London. His life took a tragic turn, when at the height of his fame, he was accused and imprisoned for homosexual "gross indecency.” Upon release he lived penniless under an assumed name, exiled from society, dying not too long after from syphilitic meningitis. Today his legacy lives on as the gayest of all blades. Yet I never knew that he was a socialist, who had strong opinions about private charity.
"The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism -- are forced, indeed, so to spoil them. They find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this… Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease…

The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good; and at last we have had the spectacle of men who have really studied the problem and know the life -- educated men who live in the East End -- coming forward and imploring the community to restrain its altruistic impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They do so on the ground that such charity degrades and demoralises. They are perfectly right. Charity creates a multitude of sins.

There is also this to be said. It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair."
What do you think? Can even the most well-intentioned amongst us challenge the institutions that made them strong? Would perhaps reframing the debate have a more long lasting impact on alleviating suffering and oppression?

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Where ever you go there you are

"Why do people give?" has been the rhetorical headline seen round the world this holiday season. In the New York Times ethicist Peter Singer recently asked, "Why are the people who are giving doing so? Does it do any good? Should we praise them for giving so much or criticize them for not giving still more?" On Philanthropy 2173 blog maven Lucy Bernholz queried her readers , “If you give without giving, do you get anything?” Down the street at the Gift Hub the literate Phil Cubeta mused, “On what should giving be contingent? Who is the most appropriate person to see about your giving?”

By and large, the public response as been lacking. Across the country many have tried to position their communities as the most giving, or claim somehow there were errors in the reporting methods. Elsewhere, a few dozen grad students, running though a rat-like maze of choices, has resulted in the new oxymoronic term competitive altruism as a way to now explain our giving.

So while pundits across the blogosphere continue to debate the death of charity and the future of philanthropy driven by strategic planning, donor intents, for-profit investments, social entrepreneurism and measurable outcomes, I morn the loss of the simple joy of giving. For a gift that is truly given with an open heart transforms not only the recipient, but the giver as well, collapsing the artificial barriers that keep us all separated.

So during the waning days of this holiday season -- when we celebrate the return of light into our lives in a myriad of beautiful different ways -- I'd like to humbly share with you a simple exercise from Jon Kabiat Zinn's meditation book Where Ever You Go There You Are.
You might experiment with using the cultivation of generosity as a vehicle for deep self-observation and inquiry, as well as an exercise in giving. I am not talking solely of money or material processions, although it can be wonderfully growth enhancing, uplifting and truly helpful to share material abundance. Rather, what is being suggested here is to practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, and above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, and with the world.

By practicing the mindfulness of generosity, by giving, by observing its effects on others and ourselves, we are transforming ourselves, purifying ourselves, discovering expanding versions of ourselves. You may protest that you don't have the energy or enthusiasm to give anything away, that you are already feeling overwhelmed or impoverished. Or you may feel that you give, give, give, and that it is just taken for granted by others, not appreciated or even seen. Or that you use it as way of hiding from pain and fear, as a way of making sure that others like you or feel dependent on you. Such difficult patterns in relationships call out for attention and scrutiny.

Mindless giving is never healthy or generous. It is important to know your motives for giving, and to know when to know when some kinds of gifts are not a display of generosity, but rather of fear and lack of confidence. In the mindful cultivation of generosity it is not necessary to give everything away, or even anything. Above all, generosity is an inward giving, a feeling state, a willingness to share your own being with the world.

Most important is to trust and honor your instincts, but at the same time to walk the edge and take some risks as part of your experiment. Perhaps you need to give less, or to trust your intuition about exploitation or unhealthy motivates or impulses. Perhaps you do need to give, but in a different way or to different people. Perhaps first of all you need to give to yourself first for a while. Then you might try to give to others a tiny bit more than you think you can, consciously noting and letting go of any ideas of getting any thing in return.

Initiate giving. Don't wait for someone to ask. See what happens, especially to you. You may find that you that you gain a greater clarity about yourself and about your relationships, as well as more energy, rather than less. You may find that rather exhausting yourself and your resources you will replenish them. Such is the power of mindful, selfless generosity. At the deepest level there is no giver, no gift and no recipient, only the universe rearranging itself.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Transform your grant request from no to yes

I'm very grateful to call two of the San Francisco Bay Area's top fund raising professionals, Cheryl Clarke and Susan Fox, my friends. Today I'm happy to tell you their new book, Grant Proposal Makeover, has just been published by Jossey-Bass.

As you may already know, nine out of ten grant proposals are rejected. Grant Proposal Makeover shows how to transform lackluster proposals into excellent ones, ones that have the potential to be funded. This book stands out from other traditional grant writing publication, because it illustrates common flaws and problems in proposals and shows exactly how to fix them.

It also includes helpful tips and quotes from foundation program officers and funding community insiders taken from an international survey of foundation professionals. Stephanie Roth, Editor of Grassroots Fundraising Journal, calls it "one of the best tools for grantseekers I’ve seen in a long time."

Copies of the book are now available at all major online vendors, or if you are located in the Bay Area, come meet the Cheryl and Susan at one of the following book signings:

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