Archive for September, 2014

The Power of Love

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

All through high school, and through my first year of college, I was convinced I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. I wanted to listen to people’s troubles and help them figure out a way to solve them. I was less concerned with the tools (psychology) than with the results (relief of anguish).

Then, fall of my sophomore year of college, I took a friend’s advice and tried out Intro to Political Theory. I can still picture the narrow room in Stetson Hall at Williams College. It had a long, wide wooden table around which maybe twelve people could fit, without much clearance between the backs of their chairs and the wall. The professor sat at the far end of the table, framed by a tall picture window. I arrived late, and the only seat left was at the opposite end of the table. I slunk in and began taking notes. The subject was power.

I found myself scribbling in the margins of my notes: power to, power over, power from, positive and negative forms of power…. A whole world had opened itself to me, and I soon left psychology behind. (Didn’t hurt that I wasn’t very good at it.)

Twenty-odd years later, and if you were to ask me in Spanish what my profesión was, I’d say politólogo – politicologist, or in the parlance of the schools I attended for undergrad and doctoral studies, “political science.” I’ve studied institutional power in various permutations.

But the concern with the relief of anguish has remained. And that’s why I work in philanthropy. Because people are using the power of money, and all that it affords, to make change out of love. I was about to say, “out of love for humanity,” referencing the etymology of “philanthropy,” but I’m too much of a politólogo to think it’s just that. Love of control. Love of prestige. Love of attention. They’re all in there, to varying degrees. I’ve written about the expressive dimensions of the act of giving, and that expression has many dimensions, many of them not particularly noble.

But the love is there, the very human hunger for satisfaction of an emotional need, even if it’s just a sense of order and justice in an upside-down world.

For me, then, philanthropy is a kind of palindrome: love of the power of love. Those two qualities, ever in tension, caught up in each other. That’s what keeps me going in this field.

What motivates you about philanthropy?

P.S. Now just try getting that Huey Lewis song out of your head. You’re welcome.

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Brand New Key(s)

Friday, September 19th, 2014

At my day job, we just put out a paper that I was involved in, “Ten Keys, Ten Years Later: Successful Strategic Planning for Foundation Leaders.” As much as strategy has and continues to evolve, we find that the fundamentals of strategic planning remain relevant for a wide variety of funders. One sign of this is that one of our most enduringly popular briefing papers is “Ten Keys to Successful Strategic Planning for Nonprofit and Foundation Leaders.” We just had a potential client say that’s how they found us – and it came out more than ten years ago.

So we thought it would be useful to revisit the Ten Keys and see what was the same and what changed. We also decided to focus specifically on funders this time around.

It was pleasantly surprising to see that most of the keys held up. We framed them a bit differently this time around, but the fundamentals remain sound, and easily overlooked.

There are two that receive different emphasis this time around, and they’re topics that are near and dear to my heart. One is about how non-grantmaking tools are no longer just an afterthought, but an integral part of the strategy discussion. And the other is that it’s more important than ever to frame strategy relationally – in terms of the ecosystem in which you’re embedded. If you’re an education funder, your strategy needs to address its relation to the strategy of the school district, the charter school network, other education funders – your strategy is not just yours alone, in other words. Those who get that do better in strategic planning.

What do you think about the updated Ten Keys? Do they ring true with your experience of strategic planning? How relevant do you find strategic planning in today’s environment?