Fundraising for Nonprofits

Inspiring Gifts that Transform

Sunday, April 06, 2008

So the Pope emailed me asking for help raising money

Last month I received a very flattering email from a Vatican fundraiser inviting me out to lunch. Said he was being relocated from Rome to San Francisco. Wondered if I could provide him “fundraising advice for seeking major gift donors and capacity building for several agencies in the Bay Area and West Coast,” as well as “explore mutual areas of opportunity.”

Wow, talk about the power of online branding. First, I received a call from a Noble Prize nominee and now the Pope! Who could be next? Bono?

To say I was surprised is a huge understatement! Most groups I work with have budgets of a few million dollars, not the billions under the purview of his Italian employers.

I consider myself a spiritual person, and am grateful to have worked with groups of different faiths in the past, and hope to do so again in the future. However, as someone who identifies as queer and a feminist, I make a distinction between working with organizations that are supportive or neutral on issues of LGBT equality and women’s rights, and those that oppose them. Therefore, I thought there might be others who might be a better match with his needs and values. So rather than meet with him in person, I provided him referrals to several other skilled Bay Area professionals.

In retrospect, I wish I had responded differently. For it was not like he was asking to “get married,” it was only a request for a “first date.” Rather than immediately declining his invitation, I wish I had simply disclosed my identity and beliefs, and let him decide if he would still like to share a meal. Because while I might not ultimately be the best person to provide him advice, I would like to hope that we could still be colleagues. More importantly, I missed the opportunity to learn more about him and the Catholic Church -- and myself as well.

When practiced mindfully, fundraising can teach us to move through the world with more grace. Points of resistance can often be our greatest teacher. For example, exploring why volunteer solicitors often do not follow through on their commitments can begin to help release them from their own internal fears of money, power and privilege.

In this case, after some reflection I realized two important points. One, I still have some lingering fears about being judged by others. I’m not Catholic, but there was something about a prospective meeting with the Pope’s proxy that I found intimidating. Simply stating this without judgment is the first step toward removing this barrier.

Secondly, my values are important guideposts. However, they become roadblocks when they become inflexible and absolute. If the role of a development professional is to cultivate relationships between individuals and institutions based on shared values, than we must be the first to seek common ground with others.

I have no illusions that if I had acted differently my efforts would have changed the Church’s positions on important issues that I value. However, is not breaking bread together the first step toward creating peaceful change in the world? If we are to ask others to change on our behalf, must we also be willing to do so ourselves?

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Everything you know about fundraising is wrong

If you think fundraising is merely raising about money, you really are missing the point. The inspired fundraiser understands her job is to foster greater generosity and gratitude in the world. Development is simply the building of valued-based relationships between prospective donors and organizations. Fundraising is a vehicle for donors to act on these values, bringing joy to themselves and others.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Truth is there is no lack of money for good causes. According to Giving USA, last year $295 billion was given away to nonprofits in the U.S. Over 83%, or $245 billion, came from individuals. All research indicates that individual can provide nonprofits with stable and flexible sources of funding, even in times of recession. The single largest barrier to raising money is your own lack of belief in yourself, donors and your good cause. The first step is healing your own negative relationship to money, power and privilege. If you are having trouble raising money from others, let me suggest you start by increasing your own donation.

It is also a mistake to think you must know rich people to succeed as a fundraiser. You already know everyone you need to get started. The fact is that low- and middle-income folks give at a higher percentage of their incomes than those of upper incomes. Successful fundraisers welcome donors of all levels. Statistically speaking the regular, small annual fund donor is the best planned giving prospect.

Too many of us have forgotten that the ancient practice of giving and receiving of gifts has the power to transform the lives of individuals, institutions and communities, and even connect us to what is divine in the world. Fundraisers can:

  • Help those in need to break free of the cycle of poverty, violence and oppression they might face, reminding them there are those who still care.
  • Help donors express personal values, developing a sense of abundance and generosity by learning they have enough to share.
  • Reduce isolation in communities by connecting people who share common values, providing them opportunities to organize for social change.
  • Create sustainable financial support for organizations that have strong community need, yet often little or no perceived for-profit market value.
  • Through opening hearts to the cycle of giving and receiving, connect people to something larger than themselves, which is the core of every spiritual tradition.
Think about the last time you wrote a donation check or spent time volunteering at a nonprofit? How does it make you feel months or even years later to remember? Isn’t this one of the best feelings? Don’t you want everyone else to feel as you do right now? You can. All you need do is ask them for a gift.

You see, asking for help is one of the best ways you can tell someone they are important to you. If you decide to not ask, perhaps you think they are not rich enough or do not care enough about the issue. You may think you are protecting them. In fact, you’ve taken away one of their most valuable rights: their right to choose. The truth is, people only rise to the level of expectations we place them. To succeed as a fundraiser you don’t need to change donors, only your belief in them.

The inspired fundraiser provides donors an opportunity to put their values into action, to become the hero of their own life story, and to make their dreams for a better world come true.

So let me ask you. When you ask someone for a donation, whose gift is bigger: their’s or yours?

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Monday, December 17, 2007

2008: Let it be a year of a thousand invisible kindnesses

I received the following this morning from the good folks at Bread for the Journey. Thought I'd pass it along to you.

QUESTION: What if the healing of the world utterly depends on a thousand invisible kindnesses we offer simply and quietly throughout the pilgrimage of each human life?

There are as many ways to make a difference as there are people. One simple way you can contribute to a healthier world is to make 2008 your own "Year of a Thousand Invisible Kindnesses." We’ve compiled a list of ideas to inspire you. Please join us in creating a movement of people, each doing something every day to heal our world and create a life that embodies the best of who we are.

  • Turn off your TV, computer and cell phone.
  • Walk places and say hello to people.
  • Refrain from gossip.
  • Get involved and vote.
  • Say “I love you” every day, more than once.
  • Bake something and give it to a neighbor.
  • Find new uses for things you would have thrown away.
  • Love yourself well.
  • Fix it even if you didn’t break it.
  • Forgive someone.
  • Buy from local merchants and farmers.
  • Garden, then share your harvest.
  • Discover what you love and give it to the world.
  • Sing, dance, be in your body.
  • Stop and breathe deeply before you react.
  • Take time each day to meditate.
  • Take children and dogs to the park and play with them.
  • Listen well.
  • Ride your bike instead of driving.
  • Help carry something heavy.
  • Do it even if it isn’t convenient.
  • Baby-sit for someone.
  • Seek to understand.
  • Pick up litter in your neighborhood.
  • Make a monthly donation to a nonprofit you love.
  • Honor an elder you know.
  • Volunteer your time.
  • Recycle it instead of throwing it away.
How would you add to this list? Please add your suggestions in the comments below.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Giving mindfully

Spent Sunday sitting on my pillow meditating with my fundraising friends again. During the Dharma talk, my mentor shared with us a famous parable about washing dishes by Thich Nhat Hanh. As I sat listening, I found myself wondering what the story would have sounded like if it were about the act of giving? Perhaps it would have gone a little something like this:

There are two ways to give. The first is to give in order to change the world, while the second is give in order to give. If while giving, we think only of the new world which awaits us, thus hurrying get the giving out of the way as if it were a nuisance, then we are not truly “giving.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are giving. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while giving away our time, talent and treasure. If we can’t give mindfully, the chances are we won’t be able to recieve the joys of life either. While living we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the abundance present in our lives. Thus we are sucked away into the future—and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Five-year-old fundraising superstar

My five-year-old niece Rylee lives in Marin Country, the home of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Last year, she decided on her own to become a donor to this good cause. Looking under sofa cushions and saving up change given to her Mom, she made her first donation to a nonprofit at the ripe old age of four. Last weekend she took it a step further by becoming a Guide Dogs fundraiser by setting up her own lemonade stand. She raised over a $100 in one afternooon. Words can't express how proud I am of her!

If you would like to offer a few words of encouragement to a budding young fundraiser, please add it to the comments below and I'll make sure she gets a copy. It would mean a lot to both her and me. Thanks.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Why do we (I) give?

Big thanks to Holden at GiveWell for the personal invitation to join this week’s Giving Carnival, which is focused on the topic of “What charitable cause are you personally most passionate about?” He wrote, “I've seen the interest you've taken in what motivates others (including me) to give; I'd love to see something about what motivates you.” Well, how could I say “no” to that?

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Tracy Gary of Changemakers speak on the topic of creating a personal giving plan. After her presentation I stood in a long line to buy a copy of her book, Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan. She autographed my book writing, “Be focused and audacious. Give strategically.”

With my trusty highlighter in hand, I finished reading my new book in one weekend. Soon I ordered the companion workbook, which with simple forms and easy exercises provides a good roadmap for creating your own personal giving plan.

I’d like to tell you I finished that plan, but my mia culpa is that have not. Here we have another example of the old truism, “those who give advice would be best served by following it themselves.” So don’t listen to me, listen to Tracy. I know I should.

But if I were to become more focused, audacious and strategic about my giving, the first step would be to ask myself how I currently give of my time, talent and treasure. After a bit of reflection, I find it falls into four levels—from outside to inside—they are friends/family, work, self and spirit.

As a professional fundraiser, I really appreciate it when my friends and family get involved in supporting causes that they care about. Honestly, I love it when they ask me for help, and I’m always willing to contribute a few dollars. The cause may or may not motivate me, but by giving I know I’m honoring our relationship. The size of the gift is usually small, but this past year it includes the most generous single financial gift I’ve given. They range from contributing to my friend Anna’s bike trip to donating money to a fellow fundraiser undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Later this month I’m looking forward to attending a fundraiser for the Square Peg Foundation, organized by my talented 15 year-old-cousin Natalia. Though I’m happy to give financially to these groups or offer advice when asked, I find I rarely donate my time to these causes.

Given the huge demand for professional fundraising support and because there are only so many hours in the day, I find I’m in the enviable position of turning away jobs on a regular basis. This allows me the freedom to partner with organizations whose values reflect my own. Look at my project list and you can get a good sense of what I care about. One of the practices I’ve made regular habit since consulting is to financially donate to these nonprofits, usually before I start any work. In this way, I try to model one of our core teachings, “we can’t ask others until we give first of ourselves.”

As someone who identifies as queer, it is probably not surprising to learn that the majority of my personal giving is within the LGBTQ community. In particular, I donate and volunteer with organizations at the vanguard of the struggle for gender equality and personal liberty, such as the National Center for Lesbian Rights or the Transgender Law Center. I’m a former Board member and current legacy circle member of New Leaf, San Francisco’s mental health and outpatient center for LGBTQ individuals and families. Last year I helped lead a volunteer effort to remember the 40th Anniversary of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot , San Francisco’s version of the Stonewall Riots, but which happened three years earlier. Internationally, I support the Global Fund for Women, which makes grants to women's groups that work to gain freedom from poverty, violence and discrimination. (Whom I should mention, has most savvy direct mail materials I've ever seen. I'd donated just to be on their mailing list.)

Like many people, I moved to San Francisco over a decade ago looking for a dream, a dream that has unfortunately died in the hearts of many people. One place that I found that it still lives is Glide Memorial Church, a non-denominational, multi-cultural, social justice community rooted in the values of the civil rights movement. For many years they received my largest donation, and over the years I’m sure I’ve given them more money than I have any other group.

But I left Glide a few years ago, looking for a more personal spiritual practice not rooted in Christianity. I’m drawn to the ethics of Buddhism, but as I like to joke with my mentor, my meditation practice is not to meditate. So though I occasionally sit with half-a-dozen various groups in town, I have yet to commit to a particular sangha—a group of people with whom to cultivate wisdom, mindfulness and compassion—that I would call home.

What I am slowly coming to believe is I don’t need to go to a church, temple or any building to practice the precepts in my life. Rather my life, and particularly my work as a fundraiser, is becoming my spiritual practice. For are not those of us working in development called to help people remember the joy of giving, build connections with their neighbors, act on their values and help those in need? From this vantage point, fundraising becomes a sacred activity, one I am grateful to practice in my daily life.

So in fact I do have a sangha, the Development Executives Roundtable (DER). If how we spend our time and money is any indication of what our values are in the world, than DER is at the center of my life right now. Formed over 30 years ago by Hank Rosso, the godfather of professional fundraising, DER is dedicated to growing and enhancing the community of development professionals by providing low cost, accessible learning and networking opportunities directed towards fundraisers at every stage of their careers. The impact of our work, though hard to measure, is quite large. We are a small group of volunteers serving hundreds of nonprofits reaching tens of thousands of clients. So it is not too surprising to discover that last year they received my largest combined donation of time, talent and treasure.

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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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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fundraising for Nonprofit's festive and fiery fourth of july fireworks (and a poem)

Seven Advice of Mevlana

In generosity and helping others, be like a river
In compassion and grace, be like the sun
In concealing other's faults, be like the night
In anger and fury, be like dead
In modesty and humility, be like the earth
In tolerance, be like the sea
Either appear as you are, or be as you appear.
-- Rumi


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.
  1. When you have been involved in an act of generosity--large or small--what have you noticed happened in yourself?
  2. What makes it difficult for you to follow your generous impulses?
  3. Who was a role model of generosity in your life? Tell that person's story.
  4. How where you taught about giving?
  5. What changes in relationships when people are generous with one another?
  6. Describe a time when you felt that your giving was natural and spontaneous?
  7. Describe what is both hardest and easiest for you to share: Time? Money? Love? Possessions? Your company? Why?
  8. How do you receive the generosity of others?
  9. How do you give without placing yourselves in control or above those you seek to help?
  10. What steps can you take to liberate your natural generosity and the generosity of those around you?
For these and other questions with no wrong answers, please visit Learning to Give, a project of the Fetzer Institute.


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?"


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.

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."
What to get on the Peace Train with me?

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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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Friday, May 18, 2007

Remembering the past, recovering the future, and living for today

"What does giving mean? Who is the giver and who is the receiver? How can giving become a spiritual practices? How do we take care of all beings?" These are the questions that opened up Tuesday's excellent panel presentation Caring for Community And Self: Giving as Spiritual Practice, sponsored by San Francisco's Horizons Foundation.

Inside Wells Fargo's Penthouse suite, far above the San Francisco skyline, those in attendance were treated not only to lunch, but words and wisdom from Zen Buddhist Priest H. Ryumon Gutierrez Bladoquin, Episcopal Minister David Norgard, Jewish Rabbi Camille Shira Angel, and Muslim Community Leader Urusa Fahim. I was happy to learn the workshop was organized by my friend Rajat Dutta, and moderated by my mentor Lisa Hoffman.

The common theme throughout the day's discussion is the fact generosity is seen by many spiritual traditions as how we nurture our community and ourselves. Acts of giving create compassion, connection, and have the power to change people, relationships and cultures. Those who give and those who receive are transformed, whether the gift involves food, service or money. Hearts open and lives expand when the welfare of others is valued. Key teachings include:

  • Buddhism
    Generosity is the heart of the Buddha's teachings. It is more than a kind gesture: it is an embodiment of wisdom. It liberates the mind and heart. Dana is a Pali word meaning "generosity" or "the act of giving." Dana is the first of the ten paramitas, or qualities of character to be cultivated in our lifetime (or lifetimes). The Buddha emphasized dana because it is a gateway to compassion and wisdom.

  • Christianity
    The earliest disciples of Jesus recall him saying that "Happiness lies more in giving than in receiving" and this insight has resonated with his followers ever since then. Believing that all that we have is a gift from God, Christians understand that their own spiritual growth is partly a function of their stewardship of what they have been given -- responding with gratitude and generosity being the ideal.

  • Islam
    Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam and is compulsory for every Muslim. It is necessary to give Zakat in order to fulfill the basic obligations of being a Muslim. Zakat is a tax of 2.5% paid on the savings and capital for the year.

  • Judaism
    For many, tzedakah is considered the highest moral obligation of the Jewish people. Tzedakah sets a "just base" for giving since you're given the opportunity to help provide for the poor. Tzedakah can also be understood as a more broad "philanthropic" mission -- to make the world a better place/repair the world/help people in need.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Can you imagine contemporary philanthropy practices based on the above principles? What would it look like? As social entrepreneurs, philanthropists and fundraisers alike call for the "end of charity," urging market-based solutions and measurable outcomes in return for their financial investments, is there any hope that the principles of generosity and compassion that have been at the core of giving for many millennia have any chance of surviving?

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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 11, 2007

The science and art of fundraising

I’d like to direct you to a juicy post on Dollar Philanthropy by guest blogger Michele Martin writing on scarcity versus abundance, and why this distinction is important to those of you who raise money for nonprofits. Her post reminds me that one of the reasons I love fundraising is because it utilizes both my left- and right-brain, the linear and creative parts of my psyche.

As you probably known, your left-brain is home to your linear and mathematical side. Here lives the part of you that enjoys systematic planning and outcome measurements. Many commonplace fundraising tools such as gift charts, research databases and long check-off lists, rely on the strengths of your left-brain.

But the successful fundraiser knows these tools alone aren't enough. In fact, your goal should be to learn and forget them. Not forget as in deny or ignore, but forget as in letting them becoming second nature. It’s the Taoist approach, for the successful fundraiser knows that her job is both a science and an art.

So while the science of fundraising is very left-brained, the art of fundraising is primarily right-brained. The later is home to your holistic and abstract side. Here lives the part of you that enjoys cultivating relationships and inspiring others. Perhaps your most important right-brain fundraising tool is your ability to listen to and tell stories.

Why is this distinction important? Because by understanding both the science and art of fundraising, you can help somebody reframe their life, moving from scarcity to abundance. A gift truly given -- whether $10 or $100,000 -- has the potential to transform not only the recipient, but the donor as well. For in this act of generosity she may recognize -- perhaps for the first time in her life -- that she simply has "enough." Enough that she can even share with others, others whom she may begin to see aren't all that different from herself. This is how we begin to heal the world.

Globe-trekking fundraiser and author Lynne Twist has written a lot about this. "In a world where huge proportions of financial resources are moving toward consumption, destruction, depletion and violence, (our mission as fundraisers) should be to to inspire, educate and empower people to realign the acquisition and allocation of their financial resources with their most deeply held values -- to move from an economy based on fear, consumption and scarcity, to an economy of love, sustainability and generosity."

All this takes is a little planning, a good ear and a powerful story. Are you ready to give it a try?

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Every day is a good day

In case you every wondered what a group of fundraisers looks like after a morning of meditation in the Redwood Forests of Northern California, here's a photo.

That's me, third from the right.


Saturday, March 31, 2007

How can the guard change if you won't open the gate?

A post on Netsquared about the intergenerational transfer of leadership reminded me of the following story:

My last staff fundraising job was at LYRIC, a community center serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth ages 14-23. When I started, I had just turned 40 and was the oldest person on staff by nearly a decade.

One of LYRIC's services was a job training program, which included paid internships for young people. Before placed on site or with a partnering organization, interns received 50 hours of training, including interview skills, financial management, and how to handle workplace discrimination and safety issues.

The first intern I was assigned was just 14 years old. I told the Program Coordinator, "don't you think I could get somebody who is at least 18? I need to have them be able to operate a computer and work independently." His response was to give her a try, and if it didn't work out, to let him know and somebody else could be assigned to me.

The day came for my new intern to start. Barely pubescent, she couldn't have weighed over 90 pounds and looked younger than her 14 years. We sat down and my first question was, "so tell me about yourself."

She looked at me, paused, and said, "I'm a long-time activist and I'm going to end homophobia."

My life changed that day.

She became one of my greatest teacher. For not only was she a long-time activist, having been raised by a straight mother in an progressive household, but she was going to end homophobia, because she held no shame in who she was, and would happily and calmly dialogue with anyone around the issues.

I had her meet with the Mayor.

She called all city's Board of Supervisors.

We talked about her 100-plus Barbie doll collection.

She changed my life, and in doing so, changed my world.

As adults, so many of us spend all our life trying to change the world around us, but if we only opened our hearts to the youth amongst us, we might find a much easier path to peace and liberation.

P.S. That's me on the left.

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Friday, March 02, 2007


Spent last weekend at Spirit Rock, meditating on appreciation and gratitude. While wandering amongst the Redwoods during a break, I came across a small temple marked with the word Katannuta. Inside, away from the winter wind and cold rain was a small sanctuary filled with photos, poetry and other remembrances left in gratitude to those who have gone before us. Amongst the treasures was the following.
"Generosity brings happiness at every stage of it’s expression. We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous. We experience joy in the actual act of giving something. And we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given."
-The Buddha


Saturday, February 24, 2007

547 days and counting

Bar none, my favorite vlog is Chuck Olsen's MN Stories, produced out of my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. While recently on the road covering the Edward's campaign, Chuck met up with this church group volunteering their time to gut flood-damaged houses in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The power of many small red envelopes

Wanted to share with you an email I received from my dear and beautiful friend Cecilia in response to my recent post on race and fundraising. I think she's on to something here.
"Interesting article. I am curious if you are including churches. I also suspect that the concept of giving varies from culture to culture. While some philanthropists engage in a fundraising plan that is fairly intentional, some cultures contribute equally as reflected in the building of new churches and temples around the world.

Take the Chinese culture for example, the Chinese New Year is a perfect example of 'planned giving,' it maybe in small amounts of 5 and 10 dollars within red envelopes, but lots of people benefit. Wealth- sharing is probably more common in communities of color than most people think.

A better question to ask is how to challenge people to give outside their own communities. If each Chinese family begin setting aside one red envelope for charity every year, I wonder how much money could we raise on Chinese New Year alone?"
Cecilia also included a link to a Black Enterprise special report on America's Leading Black Philanthropists, which includes the following important fact.
"Truth be told, African Americans give more than any other group, donating 25% more of their discretionary income to charities than Whites, reports the Chronicle of Philanthropy. On average, Black households give $1,614 to their favorite causes. In addition, many Black families embrace the practice of tithing--contributing 10% of their incomes to the church."
All of which points to the important fact: Much of professional fundraising today does not included within its scope vast amounts of traditional and existing giving. Valuable gifts of time, talent and treasure by millions of Americans go unreported because professional philanthropy is increasingly defining itself in the language of measurable outcomes, strategic giving, social entrepreneurism and return on investments. Qualities which are inherently biased to support the dominate culture's preferences.

So when the Center of Philanthropy reports such low figures for fundraisers of color, it is important to note that this is "among fundraisers who join professional organizations." Volunteers have been, and will continue to be, the heart of fundraising within most organizations and communities.

So while the racial disparity among the professional ranks should be a concern for us all, the continued generosity of all people, including People of Color, should be something for which we are very grateful.

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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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Friday, January 26, 2007

Turning the worst possible Christmas present into a gift from the heart

Learn more about this remarkable story over at The $5 Philanthropist. There are lessons here for both fundraisers and those trying to give a little something back.

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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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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, January 04, 2007

Door-to-door fundraising as Buddhist practice

This is perhaps the best video on the transformative power of fundraising I have ever come across. Produced by the good folks at the Karuna Appeals. Give yourself 37 minutes and 22 seconds to watch this. You won't be disappointed.

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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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