More Than Money
Issue #26

Effective Giving

Table of Contents

“Personal Identity & Philanthropy”

How I practice philanthropy cannot be separated from who I am as a person. I am a Jungian analyst, which always informs what I do as a funder.

In the mid-1990s my marriage of thirty-some years ended. I had been married to a man who had been the CEO of a computer company. Since I ended up with more money than I needed, I began to think about how I could use it creatively.

I went first to The Minneapolis Foundation and set up a donor-advised fund. Next, I endowed a fund at the Headwaters Fund, to support projects in native communities in the headwaters of the Mississippi River. I also bought a piece of wetlands in my neighborhood that was going to be developed; I gave it to the city so it could be preserved.

After that, I started truly inventing myself as a funder. I was relieved to go to a National Network of Grantmakers meeting recently and discover there's a word for me: activist funder. Actually, I'd say I'm a Jungian analyst activist funder -everything I've learned as an analyst always informs what I do as a funder.

I knew when I started that I would make mistakes. I have made some big ones that I am sorry about, in the sense that I wish I had that money to put other places. But I did what I thought was the right thing to do at the time. There is no other way to learn. A lot of funding gets shut down because people are afraid of making mistakes. Since I am using my own resources, I can make mistakes.

I have learned that funding is an expression of who you are. To say that I know who I am would be arrogant; it's more that I feel open to learning who I am, knowing that what I do as a funder is integrated with the rest of my life, my passions, priorities, and values. However, it's not my identity; it's just something I do. One of my friends is Lakota and he does art. He says that only for Western minds would "artist" be understood as an identity that defines you, rather than one of the things you do because you are a human being. Similarly, everyone can be a "funder," even if you give only 20 bucks.

When I started, I knew I had the tools I needed, gained from my experiences as a lawyer and an analyst-I just needed experience. The only way to get that was to follow my heart, and keep my head attached. At first, I funded things that I felt passionate about and where I recognized passion in those doing the project. Since then, I've learned that I want to stay with the passionate, but at the same time ask, "Who is carrying out the project? What's my assessment of how able they are to make this happen? Can they get funds down the road? Is it a good idea? Is it doable? Is it realistic?" This approach has kept me from walking into some things that would have been a mistake. I'm a little more hard-nosed now. It's probably keeping me out of trouble, but I'm not sure.

I have also moved away from supporting intellectual projects to funding activist projects. Working with Headwaters has focused me more on what they describe as social change, rather than social service. I'm getting a clearer sense of where I want to put money (not where others should). I like to think I'm on my own creative edge and funding others who are on theirs.

I learned a lot about listening as a lawyer-listening to facts and information. I also have a pretty good ear for vision. That's the piece I want to discern in the projects I consider funding: Is this vision alive? Is the project really following it? It has to do with whether or not you believe there is something transcendent in the individual that is pushing them to evolve. We Jungians call it the Self. I wonder: "Where is the Self in this organization? In this person?"

One thing I have learned from my Lakota friends and teachers is that we are all part of the circle of life. As they say, mitakuye oyasin-all my relations. If you understand that you are part of the circle of life, you are responsible for its preservation and maintenance. What I hope I am doing as a funder, and as a human being, is being a responsible part of the circle of life. The resources I have access to are not "my" resources, but I am responsible for allowing them to move through me into the community in a thoughtful way. There, the passion and creativity of others puts them into the service of life. What happens may not be successful in the way the project defined success-as achieving x, y, and z. For me, it doesn't have to do that exactly. I want to have the sense that this project is really alive. When I feel that about a project, I feel blessed that I've been in a position to have those resources move through me and into it. It's an extraordinary opportunity, for which I am profoundly grateful

- anonymous author


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