Today marks the first work day of 2020. And, while there is some measure of confusion, today also marks the first work day of the new decade – the decade of the ’20s. Every New Year holiday brings with it the time and opportunity to reflect on the past and plan for the future. A new year that doubles as a new decade makes this exercise even more consequential.
I’m not a futurist, so I won’t attempt to identify broad trends you might see develop over the next 10 years either in the world-at-large or in the world of nonprofits. Others have made those predictions.
However, I am inviting you to think with me about how we might focus ourselves over the next year and beyond. I don’t know what the specific outcomes might be, but I do know that I – and you – can choose how we spend our time, how we orient ourselves to our philanthropic work, and how we engage others in our efforts. If we want to make the biggest, most positive impact we can, or as the 19th century Presbyterian Minister Isaac Anderson was wont to say, “Do good on the largest possible scale,” focusing our attention on our behaviors and activities will reap the most significant rewards.
To frame our thinking, I’m going to employ a version of the “3 W’s” we use when orienting new Board members. In this instance, I won’t be talking of “work, wealth, and wisdom.” Instead, to focus us on how we can do the most good on the largest possible scale over the next year and beyond, I want us to focus on our “our well-being, our work, and our world.”
For “our well-being,” let me encourage you to give more. Yes, you, personally. Be an even greater giver. In all ways. Indiscriminately. If you want to experience an increase in emotional, mental, physical, even spiritual well-being practice and grow your personal habit of generosity. As a society and as professionals in the advancement field, we are precariously close to evaluating philanthropy and other acts of generosity based solely on how “effective” the outcomes might be for society or for those in need. This “effective philanthropy” approach misses the most fundamental and rousing purpose of giving – to change the giver for the better! It truly is better to give than to receive.
So, volunteer more in the future. Give more money in the coming years. I’m not talking about specific amounts or percentages of income. I’m simply encouraging you to be more generous in whatever forms and ways you can.
You will be glad you did.
For “our work,” let me encourage you personally to invite more people associated with your cause to give and to give more generously. We talk a lot about “engaging” others, but I find that language to be too ambiguous to be helpful. Inviting others is much more specific and tangible.
Call more people and invite them to support your annual fund. Write notes specifically telling others you’d like to see them at your important events. And, yes, say the words, “I’m inviting you to make your first gift/increase your giving in support of our mission,” far more often and directly to others.
There are, of course, many facets to productive advancement programs. Inviting others is not all that we should be doing. But, it should be the crux of our work and we should be doing more of it. When you believe deeply in your cause or your mission, inviting others to become more involved becomes a joyful activity. So, do more inviting.
You will be glad you did.
For “our world,” let me encourage you to become an even stronger advocate for generosity in all its forms and expressions. If you haven’t noticed, philanthropy is not always celebrated. Giving is not always viewed as a good thing. And while we should welcome critiques, criticisms, and concerns, we also should promote steadfastly the goodness of giving, in all its forms.
In all major religious traditions, acting with generosity is viewed as a virtue. As examples, Judaism promotes the obligation of Tzedakah (giving to the poor). In Islam, practicing Sadaqah (or non-obligatory charity) leads to the purification of the giver. In the Christian faith tradition, Thomas Aquinas referred to charity as “the most excellent of the virtues.”
Additionally, in the United States today there remains one aspect of our “American experience,” that continues to provide leadership, light, and goodness for the rest of the world – the amount given charitably as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. In fact, when compared to the second most generous country in the world, the United States almost doubles the rate of charitable giving. This is good and should be celebrated.
We need to remind community, business, and government leaders that when more giving occurs, people are healthier, people are more empathetic, and the very fabric of society is strengthened. If those of us employed in various philanthropy enterprises are not the ones leading the charge to orient our world towards more generosity and advocating for the benefits of giving writ large, who, then, should do this work? So, advocate for a world that is more generous. Promote the giving news in your community. Celebrate with colleagues – especially at other institutions – when they receive a significant gift or reach a campaign goal.
So, over the next year and beyond, let me encourage you to focus on strengthening these habits of mind and deed.
We all will be glad you did.