A Message from our President
I was reminded last week that the dog days of summer are
named for the Dog Star (Sirius), the brightest star in the Great Dog (Canis
Major) constellation. Sirius’s ascendency
in the summer signaled a season of heat.
Although I don’t believe it is a portent of evil as many in the ancient
world did, I do recognize that late summer days can wear us all down, demanding
that we retreat to cooler environments and sit quietly to think.
Which brings me to a recent evening on a porch with a fan… I
was catching up on reading my backlog of summer newsletters and discovered this
gem. Aaron Dorfman, the executive
director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and a graduate
of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, gave the
commencement address for the school’s class of 2015 in early May. His comments are directed toward
new graduates of the program, but he has a perspective that is valuable to
anyone at any point in their fundraising career. It is a bit longer than we usually run, but a pleasant
narrative that won’t take you too long. You will also want to read
the full transcription—Mr. Dorfman’s description of his personal history and
career journey is interesting and insightful as well.
In addition, I want to congratulate Lisa Hayworth, the new Executive Director of the Randolph County Partnership for Children.
I enjoy hearing from you and learning
more about who my readers are, so stay in touch and don’t forget to check out
our searches, calendar, and other articles on our website.
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Article of the Month
Word count: 747
Approximate Reading Time: 5 Minutes
[Excerpt only. Click here for complete text.
Permissions given by Aaron Dorfman and IU School of Philanthropy.]
by Aaron Dorfman
Good philanthropy, real philanthropy,
is all about loving humanity. If you want to make a difference with a career in
philanthropy, you’ve got to keep that love for humanity front and center in
your work, all the time. Without that, nothing else matters.
The kind of love I’m talking
about is not sappy or sentimental. Princeton Professor Cornel West said, “Never
forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”
Theologian Carter Heyward wrote
in her great work Our Passion for Justice: “Love is not fundamentally a sweet
feeling; ...As advocates and activists for justice know, loving involves
struggle, resistance, risk.”
fact is that making an impact with a career in philanthropy means you’re going
to have to struggle and take some risks.
You can’t make an impact if
you’re comfortable all the time.
So that’s my overarching piece
of advice – keep love for humanity at the center of your work.
There are three additional,
slightly more concrete, suggestions I want to offer as you embark on and
continue your careers in philanthropy:
Always remember it’s not your money.
When we work in the
philanthropic sector, whether as grant makers or grant seekers, donor or doers,
we have to remember that we are stewards. The dollars entrusted to us are not
our own. We have been given an imperative responsibility to help ensure those
dollars do the most good in the world. Even if you’re the donor, once you give
the money to a foundation, it’s not your money anymore – it’s money for a
charitable purpose. What’s more, tax policy in the United States means that
every time a donor makes a gift, assuming he or she claims a deduction, other
taxpayers are also subsidizing that gift. Charitable dollars are therefore
partially public dollars. If we remember that, it’s easier to feel accountable
for making good use of the funds that have been entrusted to us.
Listen to and share power with people who are directly affected.
Too often in philanthropy, we
listen to the experts, to the “smart” people who have all the right
credentials. But more than two decades of experience shows me that you’ve got
to listen as much or more to the people who are directly affected by the issues
you’re working to address as you do to the so-called experts if you want to
make a difference for the long term. And don’t just listen to them. Share your
power. Put them on the board of directors if you’re in a position to do that.
If you’re spending all your time with technocrats and powerful elites, you’re
doing it wrong. When we democratize philanthropy, we unleash its true power.
Take risks, be bold, and stand up for those who are oppressed.
What philanthropy needs, more
than anything else, is people with heart willing to take a stand. Some people
talk about neutrality or objectivity as one of philanthropy’s assets, but I think
that’s just not true. Neutrality benefits the status quo. People with power and
privilege want you to be neutral. One of my favorite quotes on this is from
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said, “If you are neutral in situations of
injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its
foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will
not appreciate your neutrality.”
If you want to make a difference
with a career in philanthropy, you’ve got to stand for something. And if you’re
on the giving side of the philanthropic table, you’ve got to support the rabble
rousers, the community organizers, and the advocates who are fighting the good
fight. Moving money to those kinds of people and organizations has a tremendous
bang for the buck. It’s true, we’ve done the research.
My friend Senator Wellstone used
to say that he went to Washington to speak up for the little fellers, not the
Rockefellers, because the Rockefellers already had plenty of people speaking
for them. Philanthropy, too, already has plenty of people speaking up for the
Rockefellers. We desperately need people who will speak up for the little
And so I’ll close with a wish.
My wish for you is that at some point in your career, you’ll get in trouble for
standing up a little too boldly for the downtrodden in your communities. Then
you’ll know you’re really making a difference with a career in philanthropy.
you, and congratulations!
Aaron Dorfman is executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), a research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. NCRP works to ensure America's grantmakers are responsive to the needs of those with the least wealth, opportunity and power.
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