May 27th, 2010
May 27th, 2010
I’ve never thought of myself as a bold giver, although generosity has been one of my core values and is a legacy from my wealthy family. My great-grandfather and his brother founded Champion Spark Plug Company over 100 years ago.
As a teenager, I began making donations to organizations and political campaigns. When I was in my early twenties, my grandfather invited the oldest members of my generation to attend Board meetings of our family foundation, the Needmor Fund. Over the ensuing decades, my family learned a tremendous amount about cooperative decision-making and effective grantmaking. We honed our focus–Needmor supports community organizing in poor and moderate income communities—and did careful due diligence. We always made site visits and had others (including our grantees) evaluate our effectiveness. One of our highest priorities was to respect our grant applicants, and we collaborated with them by offering guidance on raising funds and introducing them to other funders.
In time I expanded my perspective by serving on nonprofit Boards. Fundraising for causes I cared about taught me what it’s like to sit “on the other side of the table” and ask for money. I’m now a bridge-builder: I can advise grant-seekers on what grantmakers tend to look for, and help grantmakers better understand the realities faced by nonprofits.
In my thirties, I completed a doctorate in psychology. I use that background to guide people on the path to happiness. Three practices that lead to happiness are: 1) being clear about your values, 2) making life choices in alignment with those values, and 3) believing your existence makes a difference in some way that is meaningful to you. There are many ways to make a difference, but a powerful happiness-enhancer is to volunteer and support organizations doing work that advances your values. Generosity increases happiness.
A few years ago I used Bolder Giving’s consultation services to help me maximize my giving ability. In fulfilling an assignment to create a written giving plan, I had the epiphany that after a lifetime of careful left-brained giving, I wanted to trust my gut. Rather than create a step-by-step plan (e.g. I will give x amount in y manner to address z issues), I designed a “generosity strategy” that gave me full permission to use my intuition, to be responsive in the moment, and to choose those gifts that would give me the most joy.
While I worried that this intuitive giving would appear inconsistent and irresponsible to recipients, . I realized it was informed by a lifetime of lessons. I had clear priorities: to address issues at the systemic level, especially where there was transformational possibility, to prevent harm rather than repair it, to give where I had personal relationships, and to provide “early money” that helped people get started on creating their dreams. As projects matured and could find a wider range of resources, I would move on.
With my fears addressed and my ‘happiness radar’ activated, my generosity strategy unleashed my giving levels. In the first year I tripled my giving, then doubled it again the following year. I felt deep joy at being able to support people whose work I respect, and my giving was having a meaningful (albeit modest) impact on issues I care about passionately. I finally felt like a bold giver! One of many examples: I was the earliest major financial supporter of a local nonprofit called “Good Grief” that provides support groups to bereaved children and families. It’s now flourishing, with a budget that has grown tenfold and is still expanding its impact. I had the opportunity to share the joys of giving with members of a number of networks, including The Summer Institute and the Threshold Foundation as well as with advisors to wealthy families.
Then the economy started to fail. My asset values fell significantly. I cut back dramatically on my expenses – and giving had become by far my biggest expense. I’m still struggling to figure out the right balance between my responsibility to take care of myself financially and the needs of organizations I’ve funded, along with my desire to fund new ones I have discovered. I feel pulled between fear for my future financial well-being, and love for my friends in organizations doing good work to make the world a better place; between my fear about the future of the planet, and my love of freedom to use my time as I wish (which preserving my assets allows).
I’m still committed to living in the spirit of generosity, even when I’m giving less money. I strive to be generous by sharing my time, strategic thinking (shaped by a half century of interesting experiences), connections, leadership, and love. I’m still guided by my generosity strategy, and experience every day that being generous enhances my happiness.
| Northeast | at least 50% |
| Investing |
Posted on May 28th by Jason Franklin
Related to this discussion of what brings you happiness in giving, I have to say I get great happiness from both “extremes” of my giving.
For a handful of groups I am working to be a more committed and larger donor – applying discipline to my overall giving so that in the next year or two I can be giving larger gifts to about 3-5 groups that I really believe in. I’m excited that I’ll be able to double or triple my support to these groups that I am so energized by.
On the other end of the spectrum, over the last two years I’ve increased my “flex fund” from 5% to 10% to now 20% of my giving – setting aside 20% of what I plan to give in a year to respond to any impulse or request I want to without having to worry about if I have the resources or not. Over the years this has been a great way to respond positively to requests from friends and colleagues for support, to respond in the moment to passionate appeals that touch me, and to just give when the moment/mood/inspiration strikes.
I find the use of a giving plan which has allowed me to think about how to give a handful of big (for me) gifts, a range of modest gifts, and to reserve a pool of funds for spontaneous giving has really allowed me to enjoy and feel fulfilled and happy with my giving.
Posted on May 28th by T. Nestell
Thank you Molly, this is very helpful advice.
I agree, "the ask" is only one part of the bigger whole that is "the relationship." For me it is always a thrill to have someone say yes, even if they commit to less that what I've asked them to do.
I got into this work because I wanted to see the best in people and that is what I have found. Thanks to you, and all the Bold Givers out there, for being a source of inspiration!
Posted on May 27th by Molly Stranahan
Hi Sirie! I 'invented' the phrase Generosity Strategy to describe my version of a Giving Plan. I believe Tracy Gary of Inspired Legacies (www.inspiredlegacies.com) has led many donor workshops on creating a Giving Plan - and she wrote a book on it! She was on today's call, so I'm going to ask her to respond to your questions.
Posted on May 27th by Molly Stranahan
First, a caveat - how I want to be asked may be different from how other people want to be asked. I hope others will respond to this question with their preferences so we can all learn more.
1) I like knowing in advance that asking for money (or time) is on the agenda.
2) I prefer that the meeting be a conversation, meaning that you tell me about what you hope to do and ask for my thoughts and reactions. That engages me with what you are proposing, and whether or not it is true, helps me feel that you respect my opinion and see me as something more than a checkbook. It benefits you because I am more likely to get excited about what you are doing when I feel more involved in it.
3) I like not being pressed for an answer during the conversation - give me some time to think about my response. Ask my permission for you to follow up with me at a time we agree upon.
4) I like to know what the large gift will help you do. For me, that means knowing what it 'buys,' and how it fits in your budget. I'm okay with hearing the potential consequences if my answer is 'no,' but others might experience that as high-pressure.
5) As Carol pointed out during the call, it helps to connect to those being helped by the organization. Meeting people impacted by your services is ideal, but compelling video or testimonials can help me feel connected to your work.
6) Really listen to my answer, and respect my "no." I think if a person feels pressured to give, it destroys any potential joy. You can ask if there are circumstances that would change my answer. If you can tell I want to help, but can't give financially at the level you propose, offer me other ways to help you, like can I think of anyone I can introduce you to, or will I host an event and invite friends.
7) Be detached from the outcome. Is it possible for you come to the conversation with no expectations? It reminds me of one of my favorite mantras, useful in many situations. "If I ask for what I want, and accept what I receive, I will get what I need."
Presumably if you are asking someone for a large gift, you already have a relationship. It is my hope that you value the relationship more than whether or not you get as much money as you hope.
Posted on May 27th by Sirie Thongchua
The reasons why you designed a generocity strategy reasonated with me. I believe donors in my area (Monterey, Carmel, Pebble Bezch, Big Sur, CA) would be attracted to it. Has a donor workshop based on the generocity strategy been held anywhere? If yes, what was the response and feedback from the workshop?
Posted on May 27th by Molly Stranahan
I failed to refresh my browsder during the call, so I didn't see this question until just now, but Deborah had the chance to ask it after 1 PM. There was a guest who recommended some reading: Ted Mallon's book - The Journey Toward Metaphysical Philanthropy, and an essay, turned into a book, The Spirituality of Fundraising, by Henri Nouwen. I found the first at Alibris.com (a consortium of used book stores), but it looks like the other may be harder to obtain.
I'm afraid my answer to Deborah's question would get off track because I am not connected to a religious community. So I hope others will offer their reflections here.
Posted on May 27th by T. Nestell
As someone who's been asked for large gifts face to face, what advice do you have for those who ask? What are your "do's" and don'ts"? What can we do to make the experience of giving more joyful for donors?
Posted on May 27th by Deborah Stern
Can you speak about the distinction of "Tithing" which I have come to understand as giving where I am spiritually nourished and sharing with my life's silent investor, "God." -- as compared with giving to the causes and charities that I care about. Thanks.