Recently, I was in Albuquerque, NM speaking to 300 women and girls at Sandia Prep about the power of leadership philanthropy. I framed the discussion by discussing the overarching goal – life-long inspired, joyful, generous giving of all our innate gifts, talents and expertise, time, networks and treasure. The goal is important. Too often, we only seek a volunteer’s talents and time. Or, we think about the individual as a donor and only seek treasure and contacts. True philanthropy is about giving one’s all so that together we change the world.
Once we all agreed on the goal, we discussed the importance of being inspired and inspiring. As philanthropy leaders, we seek causes that engender passion within us – causes that have touched us, moved us, worry us. We look for problems we’d like to help fix. Similarly, as not-for-profit leaders, we most offer big ideas that address important societal issues and thus inspire deep and lasting commitment.
Next, we spent time on the notion of joyful giving. How we, as donor/volunteers, are engaged, solicited and stewarded matters. When done well, we do feel joy. I can remember being solicited by Don Jackson when he was with national Easter Seals. The conversation was so empowering, personal and fun that I said yes with joy and gave more than he requested. A great solicitation is a wonderful thing.
But joy also comes from within each of us as leaders and donor/volunteers. Yes, we need information, and facts, and trust. But we must also come to the charity with an open mind, giving heart and smile. It is an honor and privilege to help the people, animals, communities, faiths, ideals and environments the not-for-profits serve.
We then moved to the concept of generosity. I asked the audience to share at their tables, “How did you learn to be generous (or how are you learning to be so)?” The spoke with each other for about five minutes – five minutes out of a 75 minute session. Although we spoke about many things after this exercise, it was the discussion about generosity that received the most feedback, tears, laughter and action.
At the end of the program people queued-up to speak with me. One woman asked for advice about starting a scholarship fund for nurses. She wanted to make a difference a difference for others – the potential nurses but most importantly, all of the people the nurses would touch throughout their careers. Thinking about generosity and leadership empowered her to take action. She didn’t have a hospital healthcare organization, medical school or community foundation in mind, but was ready to find the right place and make an investment. That five minute conversation inspired a new and wonderful gift.
Another participant told me she was moved to tears because her colleague told her, “I learned to be generous from you.” She didn’t know her actions had been observed, admired and emulated by her colleague until they shared at the luncheon. Sometimes we don’t know we are empowering others.
A student from Sandia Prep said she learned from one of her teachers. Good for Sandia Prep. Many said their parents or grandparents taught them. Others spoke of religious leaders, neighbors and friends. Everyone said the conversation got them thinking, feeling, wanting to do more or just made them feel proud that they already did so much.
Perhaps the above examples have you thinking. They got me reflecting and I thought I’d share several things worth noting:
- The reason I love the work we do. Everyone at The Osborne Group is a philanthropist and volunteer. We love our clients’ missions. We love teaching. What a gift to be able to do work that is both meaningful and enjoyable.
- How smart it is for an organization to open its doors to others for a conversation not about the institution, but about societal topics with broad appeal. Yes, the room was filled with friends of the school, but also with people with no connection. The Albuquerque AFP chapter, United Way, local businesses, fundraisers and board members from other organizations filled the seats. They all left seeing the school at its best, and the experience created social capital.
- Asking provocative questions and listening to understand is one of the best ways we know to inspire action. I asked them to think about how they learned to be generous and look at the results. Asking a question is so much more effective that pitching and persuading. Great questions get people thinking. If you would like our latest list of strategic questions tailored for your sector, contact me at Karen@theosbornegroup.com
- Modeling behavior is one of the best ways to teach, inspire and empower. I remember reading an article about raising children who are avid readers. When my children were little, I read to them every night, long after they could read the books themselves. I attributed their excellent reading and writing skills to that nightly habit. It turns out that reading to a child is the right thing to do, but what actually creates readers is seeing us enjoy reading. In the same way, by being joyful and generous investors ourselves, we inspire others to do the same.
So, don’t hide your generosity. Share your passion, joy and commitment. Be an empowering, generous, joyful philanthropic leader and let your light lead.
by Karen Osborne