More Than Money
Issue #26

Effective Giving

Table of Contents

“Satisfaction Counts”

Effectiveness is not the only benchmark in grantmaking. I want to put in a word for satisfaction, too.

Conservation is my life work, so it is the focus of most of my grantmaking. I manage family lands for commercial forest products, harvesting trees and selling them to sawmills. I currently chair the Maine Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, which holds land not to produce commodities but to protect natural communities. Annually, I lead a wilderness rite of passage in which we give up all thought of using nature; we simply return to the land as a humble member of her community.

All this work is satisfying, but only some of it can be quantified. Sawlogs can be measured by board feet, annual growth, and income generated. We can count species on a preserve; ascertaining ecosystem health requires more guesswork and intuition. The results of a successful rite of passage are profound, yet they defy quantification. I derive deep satisfaction from each, although I'm not sure that I can define the work in terms of effectiveness.

My involvement in conservation issues has increasingly moved me to value bringing opponents together to find common ground-because I believe that the greatest movement comes from shifting how people think. I have funded and led many collaborative efforts that help change people's thinking. It's hard, though, to assess the effectiveness of this kind of work. It doesn't offer the immediate results of laws passed or fines assessed. But looking back over ten years, I can see that foresters in Maine now instinctively include protecting habitats as they lay out cuts, and that the industry now supports the previously (to them) unthinkable notion of setting lands off-limits to harvesting to protect and better understand natural processes.

When initiating or supporting these efforts, however, we didn't have the benefit of hindsight. We had to call on our intuition as well as our minds to assess the good faith of participants and the quality of the process. Many other potential funders decided the odds for success were too long, the outcomes too fuzzy. But, to me, the work felt right. Watching defenses melt was satisfying. And ultimately, we can see the effort was indeed effective. But focusing only on effectiveness might have prevented this watershed work from getting underway in the first place.

I have also funded projects where I am not at all a participant. For almost ten years I have supported the American Indian Institute, whose sole purpose is to help indigenous elders from around the world get together for mutual support, teaching, and ceremony. The leader of the Institute is a white man who has dedicated his life to this work. His involvement has been to communicate a vision to funders and then stand back and let the elders work. For years he sat outside the gathering place as the elders met. The work was for them and their culture, not him. In wilderness rites of passage I have touched a profound connection with the natural world that seems similar to that which informs the work of the elders as they seek to care for their peoples, their traditions, and our Earth.

Is the Institute effective? I assume so, because more elders come each year. What difference is it making in the world? I don't know, but I find it deeply satisfying to support the elders in maintaining their way of life. I, too, am sitting on the outside, supporting, following my heart, and trusting these tradition carriers to know what will serve them best.

So in my view, effectiveness is but one metric for successful grantmaking. Trusting your heart and following your intuition can bring a different kind of satisfaction, and ultimately, even greater success.

- anonymous author


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