I have a dream…
Today would have been Dr. Martin Luther King’s 95th birthday. During his lifetime he challenged us to recognize the privilege of being part of the struggle for goodness to prevail. He did not live to get to the promised land, yet he saw it from the mountain top. And in his famous speech he mused on the question of what he would say were he to be given the extraordinary opportunity to live in any moment in history. His answer to the Almighty was, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.”
Today we are more than two decades in, and our challenge is whether we can approach our world with the same degree of gratitude and moral resolve. Our times are challenging. Political division, escalating, senseless violence across the planet, threats to taken-for-granted freedoms, the spread of fake news, a deepening divide between classes, the existential threat of climate change, and a creeping sense of dread as events begin to seem out of our control. The world can seem a cruel and barbaric place. Philanthropy – love of humankind — can seem elusive. Yet it’s right here. In each of us. And at this particular collective moment it has never been more essential for us to develop our capacity to care for one another, to show up for one another, and to love.
King challenges us to recognize that even in dark times, there is light to be found: “I know that it’s only when it is dark enough that one can see the stars.” As we toil in the vineyards of the social benefit sector, it is our privilege — and responsibility — to carry Dr. King’s torch and let shine the light. To muster all our spiritual, moral, individual, and communal resources to drive out the darkness. Today, with my annual “I Have a Dream” post, I invite you to consider what you can do to cultivate loving awareness, adapt, stay positive and make a beneficial impact on the world within and around you — yourself, your family, your friends, your neighbors and strangers.
“The time is always right to do what is right.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
I have a dream for 2024 – and beyond. I have a dream this is the year your organization will move beyond defining yourself by what you’re not (nonprofit) and will begin to define yourself by what you are (social benefit). I have a dream this is the year your people will move from an attitude of taking and hitting people up (aka “fundraising”) to a mindset of giving and lifting people up (aka “philanthropy”). I have a dream this is the year your staff and volunteers will move from enacting transactions to enabling transformation.
I have a dream you will push yourself and your organization this year. You will take the bull by the horns, fully embrace the digital revolution, look at the ways artificial intelligence can be used for good, and open yourself to the possibilities change brings. You will give up on the static donor pyramid, ladder and funnel theory of engagement and put your donor at the center of a new, active engagement model that reflects the myriad ways people connect with organizations and causes today. You will find donors where they are.
I have a dream you will learn who your best influencers and advocates are and you will embrace them. You will recognize you are no longer your best messenger. You will understand many forces beyond you influence your donor’s decision to invest with you, and you will expand your thinking and operations from a one-dimensional to a multi-dimensional model. You will allow your constituents to engage with you at multiple points of entry, and to move freely between these points during the life cycle of their engagement.
I have a dream you will think big, because thinking small will not get you where you need to go. You will understand there is great power in a big, wildly exciting vision. You will share this vision broadly to attract people — and financial resources — to your cause. You will no longer be content to remain a “well-kept secret.”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
… the sun will rise…
I have a dream you will ask not what your donors can do for you, but what you can do for your donors. You will recognize they don’t serve you; you serve them. They don’t owe you; you owe them. Your job is to help them experience the joy of giving. It is through you they will achieve their most meaningful work. You will embrace the true meaning of philanthropy as love of humankind. You will remember your donors are humankind; you must love them if you want to be a part of philanthropy. Otherwise, you’re just transacting business.
I have a dream you will reevaluate your raison d’etre. You will ask yourself whether you’re in the business of selling, and you won’t answer cavalierly. You will not pat yourself on the back simply for being a ‘nonprofit do-gooder,’ as if this was all that was needed to justify your existence. You will reevaluate why people compare ‘making the ask’ to ‘making the sale,’ coming to understand that selling is necessary if what you’re selling is a dream requiring communal commitment if it is to come to fruition.
I have a dream you will embrace your role as salesperson, understanding how fundamentally human this is. You will understand that ‘selling’ (the very definition of which is ‘to exchange or deliver for money or its equivalent’) is something we’re all constantly doing. And you will have an “ah ha” moment that this is also what ‘fundraising’ is about — a value-for-value exchange. A donor gives something of value (money or an in-kind good or service) and the charity returns something of value to the donor. As Daniel Pink writes in his book To Sell Is Human “the ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have is crucial to our survival and our happiness. It has helped our species evolve, lifted our living standards, and enhanced our daily lives. The capacity to sell isn’t some unnatural adaption to the merciless world of commerce. It is part of who we are.”
“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
… the clouds will part…
I have a dream you will come from a place of love, not need. When interacting with your supporters you will do more than tell folks how much money you require. You will consider how your supporters benefit and what’s in it for them if they invest with you. You will make helping donors part of your mission. You will help people value your communal accomplishments by assuring they understand your joint impact. You will develop systems for collecting and sharing countless stories about impact. You will recognize if you don’t demonstrate impact, then you can’t expect folks to worry what might happen were you to be unable to grow or, even worse, cease to exist.
I have a dream you will speak to peoples’ hearts; not just their heads. You will become aware if the bulk of your communication with supporters is about numbers, finances and pie charts rather than stories of real people being helped, it will become increasingly difficult to expect anyone to care enough about your mission to invest in your success. You absolutely must clarify your stories and share them.
I have a dream you and your leaders will embrace a culture of philanthropy that engulfs your entire organization. You will eliminate silos and include everyone in the transformative power of your mission. You will make sure everyone associated with your organization is clear about the values you enact and has stories they can tell about the ways you help to repair our world. Philanthropy will become the glue that binds everyone together – every department and every volunteer – working towards a common goal.
… and it will be because of the light you shine.
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
I have a dream you will have a bias toward action. You will not sit back and rest on your laurels or content yourself with the status quo. You will understand that, while change is hard, when you stop growing you die. You will be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. You will see there is much more good to be done, and you are the one to do it. In fact, you are the one to lead it!
I have a dream you will get, and stay, in touch with your passion. You will talk to people you help. You will visit your programs. You will talk to donors and learn why they are so invested with your cause. You will “get religion” in order to be able to “preach religion.”
I have a dream you will understand fundraising is not an end in itself. You earn the privilege, and responsibility, to fundraise only when you make a case to enough people that you deserve to exist.
I have a dream you will engage in philanthropy; not fundraising. You will embrace the fact that just as business has changed fundamentally, so must fundraising change fundamentally. You will accept we’re all social businesses now; merely “transacting” no longer cuts it. You will agree that for too long fundraising has been approached as transactional – as being primarily about money – and this approach results in fundraising being seen at best as an onerous chore; a necessary evil.
I have a dream you will see philanthropy is fundamentally social; it’s about love — and nothing could be more transformational.
“Hatred paralyses life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Keep shining the light and love.
I know this work is not always easy. King cautioned in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize lecture titled “The Quest for Peace and Justice” that the journey may often be beset by a “frustrating and bewildering wilderness” of opposition before the “majestic shores of the Promised Land” can be reached. To tilt reality towards the dream requires each of us to dedicate ourselves to building a society where we truly care for one another. Where we come from a place of love (philos) of humankind (anthropos).
All comments are welcome, below.
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This article has been modified from an article originally published January 24, 2013 on Clairification.