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In a recent blog I wrote about harmful assumptions for development professionals ministering to wealthy donors. Just as real are the traps that donors fall into with ministry leaders. I say "with" because oftentimes they fall together. I want to be careful here because not every donor to a ministry and not every leader find themselves in this situation. But enough do to make it a concern that we don't talk about nearly enough.
In Judges 17 a wealthy man named Micah uses his family money to build a private chapel and ordain one of his sons as a priest. However, a young Levite "seeking his fortune" shows up at Micah's house and impresses him. In no time he says to the ambitious Levite, "Stay here with me...and be my priest." The young man fit right in and became one of the family and took over the duties as family chaplain. Micah could not be more pleased. "Now I know that God will make things go well for me - why, I've got a Levite for a priest!" As it turns out, the young Levite soon finds a better position with a tribe whose offer of more influence, job security and compensation is too attractive to turn down.
I have seen something like this happen and, unlike the story, many times it is not intentional. A donor is impressed with a ministry leader and wants to do something special for them. A leader becomes the family chaplain in exchange. However, I have also seen relationships turn into what we see in the story above. The donor has purchased his own lucky charm and the ambitious leader has a profitable relationship with a wealthy family. It corrupts both in the end.
Check your relationships carefully. Are you as a donor or wealthy family buying favor with God by supporting a charming and successful leader? Are you as a young leader encouraging a wealthy family to make your life more comfortable with the use of homes, planes, extra money or perhaps a paying board position that does not require responsibility? It slips up on you. Trust me.Comments
Most everyone is familiar with the famous Jack Palance line in "City Slickers".
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
Curly: This. [holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s***t
Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.
In 1996, I visited with a friend who had been a consultant for more than 50 years. Esteemed around the world for his ability to tie principles together and ask penetrating questions, he had built a career on the foundation of discerning what was the unique situation of the organization and then reaching in his bag of almost Yoda-like truths and helping the client find a remarkable clarity. He did not spout truisms or formulas. He simply waited while you rambled and then asked that one question. He did not have one generic question or one question for which he was famous. Every question was shaped and honed for the particular situation.
I was meeting with a young ministry founder today and talking about the transition both she and the organization were making from a visionary project that was a platform for all her energy and creativity to an organization that now needed structure and more resources to grow. As we talked about what she loved to do and what was weighing on her I thought back to my friend who asked me a tough but kind question. "What is the one thing your organization needs from you right now that is your responsibility whether you want it or not?" I knew the "one thing" I wanted to do and had managed to do that for the first few years. But now was the time I had to decide whether I was going to serve the needs of the organization or continue to have the organization serve me. It was not easy. I did not really want to stop doing what I loved and start doing what was simply required...but I knew he was right. I had to settle that before taking the next step.
It's always the same with new ventures. There comes a time when we all have to identify (and sometimes painfully) take on the responsibility of the one thing the organization needs from us that only we can do. The mission deserves it.Comments
I am going to upset some people now. It's not intentional but I think there is a good deal of misinformation that has been floating around for years about the idea of ministering to donors. I am not arguing with the overall concept of ministering to people - just with a couple of assumptions about what ministry is to donors.
First, it assumes donors (especially major donors) need a particular kind of ministry due to their circumstances. Those circumstances are described as isolated, lonely, spiritually dry, weighed down with family problems that include shaky marriages, troubled kids and misplaced priorities. There are more but these seem to be the most common. I have heard these described in generous detail in fund-raising seminars, books, websites and numerous articles in journals.
In so many words, "Donors are needy people and your ministering to them will create a bond that will result in a productive relationship for the ministry." Get out there and start ministering!
When I think about my own experience over the course of 30 years with donors and their families, I long ago came to the conclusion that more often than not major donors are at least as "healthy" as those asking for support and their lives are often far more balanced. The average tenure of a development person is eighteen months. The average tenure of a donor is decades. The family life of a major donor is filled with options to spend time with his family and, in most cases, they are in control of their schedule and commitments. The life of a fund-raiser for an international ministry requires constant travel and separation. Major donors are typically active in their local church. Development professionals are often gone on week-ends and cannot make commitments to the local congregation. Many, many major donors are involved in Bible studies and personal growth. In other words, whose life needs more ministry?
It's regrettable that more development people cannot turn the tables and ask themselves what they can learn from major donors. I can assure you they are open to teaching and being examples of healthy spiritual lives if we can get rid of the image of them as needy, isolated and spiritually immature people hungry for another companion to help them.Comments
I grew up in a Protestant tradition that had no creeds. Well, we did sing "Just As I Am" and that was pretty close to a creed. So, when I branched out as a young adult and encountered the Apostle's Creed and, especially, the phrase "I believe in the holy catholic Church", I could not understand how the fellow Protestants were blithely mumbling the words without a hesitation. How could that be? What had I missed? I grew up thinking Catholics abducted babies and shipped them off to Rome and practiced strange rituals late at night. Everyone reading this who grew up in a similar non-creedal church knows what I mean. After some instruction I began to understand that the Creed was affirming the holy and universal church - not just those who practiced Catholicism. I grew to understand that catholicism, the historical Church, was okay but it didn't allay my concerns about those who practiced Catholicism.
Today, I learned about a couple of surveys that polled people on their perception of two words: philanthropy and philanthropist. It turns out that people have a very high regard for the concept of philanthropy. It means doing good things for the less fortunate. It includes not only giving large sums of money but very small gifts to a wide variety of causes. It includes raising money for charity - not just giving. As well, it embraces volunteering for worthy organizations - civic, religious, and secular. Even if the service does not include giving money, it is perceived as philanthropy. Bottom line: virtually every good thing you do could be considered philanthropy. It is innately good and available to everyone. It is universal.
On the other hand, the term philanthropist is not quite so positive. While not as negative as the classic Ambrose Bierce definition: "A rich (and usually bald) old gentleman who has trained himself to grin while his conscience is picking his pocket", it is still nothing like the warm feelings we have toward philanthropy. How can a person who practices something we so highly prize be characterized in such a negative light - so un-philanthropic. I've seen the same when the word "Christianity" is used. The response is relatively positive among non-Christians. Test the word "Christian" and it is negative and loaded with images of narrow, bigoted, angry and unloving people. The very people who practice something so highly prized are seen as un-Christian.
So, I am thinking about it. How can people find it so appealing and rewarding to become involved in philanthropy and yet are reluctant to be called philanthropists?Comments
The real challenge in estate planning is not the technical and financial part. According to Roy Williams at The Williams Group only 2 to 3 percent of failed estate transfers were caused by professional incompetence on the part of advisors, accountants and attorneys. The major cause of failure is the lack of preparing the heirs for assuming the responsibilities and benefits of wealth.
Why is that?
The results of interviews with 3,250 families showed the primary cause of failing to prepare heirs is a breakdown of trust and communication within the family. “Parents were routinely decisive in dealing with business matters or in selecting their professional advisors. But when it came to inviting their heirs to become involved in the preparation of wills, trusts, etc., they were very reluctant. Parents feared that heir awareness of the estate parameters might diminish their children’s motivation and distort their values.” The result? “This desire to “protect” only led to mistrust which led to less communication, which finally resulted in a “cordial hypocrisy” among family members agreeing to not bring up the subject.”
In fact, the study identified the top six concerns of parents that, in turn, proved to be obstacles to communication and trust.
65% Too much emphasis on material things
55% Naïve about the value of money
52% Spend beyond their means
50% Initiative could be ruined by affluence
49% Won’t do as well financially
42% Hard time taking financial responsibility
By not having adult to adult conversations and building trust, the parents spend far too much money on professionals and assuring themselves that the trusts are even more restrictive and focused on managing the finances of the heirs. “The outcome: less prepared heirs more likely to fail in their future responsibilities.”
Fortunately, there are ways to break the pattern and I would encourage you to read the full article for how to do that.Comments