More Than Money
Issue #35

Money and Leadership

Table of Contents

“How Do You Lead without Being Pushy?”

A Conversation with More Than Money Members

Conversation Facilitated by Bob Kenny

Have you ever read something in More Than Money Journaland wished you had people with whom you could talk about it? Well, wish no more. More Than Money discussion groups provide that opportunity. Every time a new issue of the journal is published, small groups of readers meet in people's homes to talk about the ideas it raised. All around the country, thoughtful, engaging conversation unfolds in an atmosphere filled with camaraderie.

We asked some journal readers to talk about money and leadership. Here is an excerpt from their conversation.

Bob: We want to talk today about the challenge of exercising leadership among our peers on issues we think are really important, and the balance between getting people involved and seeming pushy. For example, recently, after a service at my church, a member of our congregation set up an information table about a charitable organization she supports. She told me that she had been reluctant to do it because she didn't want to seem pushy, but I said that if she hadn't, a lot of us wouldn't have learned about and participated in the project. What are some of the barriers you face in exercising leadership with your peers?

Jim: First, I make a distinction between peers and friends. It's more difficult for me not to appear pushy when I'm talking about a pet project with my friends than when I'm talking with other peers. Among friends, this type of discussion usually leads to reciprocal giving, as in, "You take a table at my event; I'll take one at yours," and I find that distasteful. So I tend to avoid hitting up my friends, except in very restricted circumstances. However, I used to have a group of four or five friends with whom I discussed these kinds of things. Any time one of us came across a good project, we would feel free to tell the others about it; we then had the option of giving or not giving. But that was based on longstanding, mutual, stated interests, and there was not a lot of pushing.

Bob: You knew what each other liked, and when you learned about something the others might like to support, you told them.

Jim: Yes. I didn't usually make major donations that way, but I certainly contributed.

Toni: I share Jim's feelings about not wanting to impose on friends. What works for me when talking with friends is enthusiasm. For example, I might pay for a table at a fundraising dinner and then invite my friends to attend. It's exposing them to the organization in a pleasant and fun way. I did that recently, and two of the three couples I invited made a nice donation. Sometimes they contribute and sometimes they don't.

Molly: I used to be much quieter than I am now about the organizations I am involved in because I tend to have more liberal beliefs than people I know socially, but when I went on the board for Planned Parenthood, I started to come out more. Through my involvement there-first as a volunteer, then as a board member, then as the board chair-I became more comfortable about being more open.

When I first got involved, I noticed that everyone seemed to have thoughts and feelings about Planned Parenthood -it touches on deep issues. Some people were really interested. Others thought it would send me straight to hell, and we agreed not to talk about it. I talked to friends about it because I wanted to inform them about what Planned Parenthood really does. I didn't need to have my friends support the organiza tion, but I wanted them to understand it better. For instance, only about half of the agencies across the country do abortions; they more often provide a whole range of women's health care. Now, my involvement with Planned Parenthood is just one thing I talk about with friends. If people ask what I'm up to these days, I feel comfortable telling them about a national meeting I just went to.

I have also been more open about our family's foundation, The Needmoor Fund, which has decided to take an active role in advocating for funding of community organizing as a way to increase social justice. People learn from other people what is exciting, how they might take action, and how they might lead in different ways.

Bob: I know it can be hard to talk about this, but I'm wondering if you could talk about some of the resistance or reluctance you feel when you are trying to cross over some of the kinds of barriers you've mentioned.

Toni: First, I would like to add that I've found people to be prejudiced about certain organizations, such as the local health clinic in my community. It's an absolutely wonderful organization, but it doesn't have the classy, "I want to be seen there" cachet. It has been so difficult to promote. Most of my neighbors have not been interested.

Bob: Why is that?

Toni: It just doesn't have the social status -which is painful to see, considering that it does so much good.

Molly: There are some socially desirable charities, and then there are others that are doing such good work, but there are no pictures of their fundraisers in the newspaper. How do we inform people about the good that they do?

When you care about an organization like that, is it harder to take a leadership role because it may change your social standing? Are you at risk, socially, because you're involved with it? I find that happens with political campaigns I support. I'll be reluctant to talk about them because I'm afraid people who don't agree with me may think less of me.

Giving Circles
"Giving Circles are an enormously powerful way to effect social change and pave the way for a new frontier in philanthropy. In a Giving Circle you pool your resources with colleagues and/or friends who share a common interest in a social cause or issue. Together, you gain in-depth understanding of your interest area, focus on ways the group can have an impact, make joint social investment decisions, and leverage your monetary contributions with volunteerism and expertise for the charities you support. Donors often commit to participation in a Giving Circle for several years at an established dollar level, and the entire group engages in strategic decisionmaking to determine which charities to partner with."
-From the Giving Circle Starter Kit,
Giving Network, 2000. Available at www.givingnetwork.org.

Jim: That carries over to nonprofits, too; I think you can't mix politics and your nonprofit involvement. I also think it's extremely important that people not be anonymous in their giving. Having your name listed as a donor helps you serve as a role model for other people, and as a reference. For example, if an organization gets an inquiry or thinks someone might be interested in contributing to the organization, then, as a donor, you can talk to that person. I have frequently done that on boards I've been on. As a person committed to the organization, I can tell a potential donor why I give to the organization and why someone like them may want to contribute.

Bob: It's identification, peer building, and bonding-and transferring that to the organization.

Jim: I have a particular nonprofit I support. I could be a spokesperson for it, but I feel uneasy bringing it up in conversation with friends. It just would not be appropriate to bring it up with the group of men I meet with once a week for breakfast, for example. I wouldn't want to start hustling my cause to those friends.

Bob: Why do you think people are so reluctant to be "out" about their gifts?

Jim: I've been talking about this with people for 15 years, and this is what they tell me: First, the fear is that if their name appears someplace, they are going to get swamped with requests from other people. Second, if their name appears high on the list of people who are giving, there may be nuts out there who will find them and invade their house, harass their kids, or whatever. I'm respectful of that, but at the same time, I don't think it happens enough to warrant the level of fear there is around it.

Toni: Also, we're taught to do things anonymously because we'll get to heaven faster!

Jim: The twelfth-century Jewish rabbi Maimonides said it's best to give anonymously, but I don't think he ever faced the competitiveness of today's fundraising!

Bob: There is a certain modesty to get over; there is the sense that you are showing off if you are broadcasting your name around.

Jim: Also, if I'm with people and I don't know their level of affluence, I'm reluctant to talk about the contributions I've made to various organizations. I feel it puts a barrier in our relationship.

Bob: I think we're all reluctant to talk about money, in so many ways.

Jim: Ruth Ann Harnisch, who is on the board of More Than Money, is unrelenting as a proponent of giving openly and discussing money with everyone. She has a question she'll ask anyone: "What is the best thing you ever did with your money?" It's a wonderful question because you can ask it of anyone, whether they're a cab driver or a multimillionaire. It can start people talking, because it doesn't matter how much money they have.

I also think we need to explore giving circles a lot more. [See sidebar, p. 31.] The term hasn't gotten into the vernacular yet, but I think it's a way of drawing people into more socially active giving, instead of what's referred to as the BOMS-ballet, opera, museums, and symphonies-which are where most people donate, because those organizations are socially acceptable. Giving circles are great because you can get people together in an informal setting where they have the freedom to speak about what matters to them. That's where they can feel comfortable and be more open.

Molly: You mentioned that people might feel reluctant to give openly out of a fear that they may be put at risk. In some cases, there actually is some risk. When I became involved in Planned Parenthood, I learned that some volunteers had received threats against their children. After our evening board meetings, I would look around the parking lot for suspicious people. When I went to my first meeting of the national organization, I kept seeing a woman walking around the hotel with what I thought was a seeing-eye dog, but it turned out that it was a federal bombsniffing dog. Security was pretty tight. We decided that as board members, it was important for us to put our names on the organization's letterhead, despite any risk involved.

Bob: There is a certain amount of courage involved.

Molly: I think the organizations you give to say something about your values and who you are. In a way, when you give to an organization, you're exposing who you are and what you think is important. Some donations are about, "what am I getting out of this donation?" But some people really are caring and committed and want to make things better with what they are giving. Their contributions are not about what's in it for them; they are about how they want to impact the world and what they think is important. It can be scary to reveal that about yourself. Sometimes, when people find out what you care about, they see a different side of you and sharing that side of yourself can feel risky or uncomfortable.

Bob: But there is also a certain thrill to it. I hear an extra energy level in your voices when you talk about the organizations you care about. There is an excitement and a passion. I think there is an integration here-of who you are and what you're doing in the world-and it creates a new energy. Do you think that's true?

Molly: I definitely think so.

Jim: Someone once said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." 1 Historically, leadership has been achieved by people who have stood up and taken some degree of risk. Life is not without risk. I could get hit by a car tomorrow. I would rather go in support of a cause I believe in than be run over by a big truck.

Bob: Or than live a life of quiet desperation because you haven't spoken up for who you are.

1British statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797)


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