An Outpouring of Love

Last Sunday, I spent some time on LinkedIn looking for blogs or articles about how to respond as a leader, or non-profit to the COVID-19 Pandemic. There was so much about “uncertainty,” including messages from firms reassuring me that they still wanted my business. I only found one post from my friend Jennifer Harris on “Love in the time of Corona.” 

Inspired, I started writing my thoughts and wrote about Certainty and how there are many things that remain certain in these times. This led to a list of Ten Things We Can Do to build relationships and community when we cannot meet physically. 

A week later, a similar review of LinkedIn offered many great articles and blogs related to generous responses to COVID-19. For #example, my friend Jim Langley provides a timeless perspective about focusing on relationships. He advocates a long-term point of view to best enable an organization to deliver on its mission. 

Now we see inspiring stories of national, global and local responses undertaken by individuals, organizations and even governments. Around the world, celebrities are pledging millions of dollars to addressing need. Motivated by a deep desire to help, not to make money, these responses represent the creative, instinctual, multifaceted and organic ways that philanthropy grows. 

Big companies are shifting production to better meet needs for materials, ventilators, food, and other essentials. They are donating millions of dollars’ worth of product where the need is great and where what they have can help. In Singapore, the Ministry of Manpower staff worked around the clock for days to secure accommodation and defrayed costs for 10,000 foreign workers after they were stranded following a lockdown of borders with Malaysia. 

Universities are focusing research to better understand COVID-19, its causes and effective treatments. They are developing and processing tests for better and faster diagnoses. Higher education has put course-work on line. University medical centres are on the front lines of treatment, diagnosis and research that can slow the spread, flatten the curve and keep more of us safe. These institutions are examples of decision making based on evidence and expert knowledge. Research on public and economic policy, and technology advancements will serve society as we emerge from this pandemic. 

Community foundations are offering funding and grants to local non-profits who are caring for the most vulnerable in their communities. The community groups in small towns capture my heart for their efforts, and I want to provide a shout out to The Cass County Community Foundation and the work they are doing. This work is replicated in hundreds of communities around the world. I encourage you to find one in your community and support their efforts.

Arts organizations are responding by providing on-line content for free. It is possible to take on-line tours of many of the great museums of the world. Music organizations are providing free streaming of concerts since large gatherings are not allowed. One of my favourite examples is the Richmond Symphony Orchestra in Richmond, IN, whose leadership is finding new ways to deliver their mission.

People are looking out for one another. Freely streamed yoga sessions help with the stress of uncertainty and working from home; on-line music lessons keep children on track; and YouTube church services are ubiquitous. Those with sewing skills are sewing “designer masks” for care givers to use. A friend in Chicago has a number of elderly neighbours put together and delivered “care packages” with essentials, including toilet paper, to help them through this time. 

Not all giving involves funding, but all giving is an expression of love, kindness, and encouragement. This is what Philanthropy (love of humankind) is all about. This is Charity (expressing unconditional love for others) at its best. It is thousands and millions of people recognizing our common humanity, doing what we can, with what we have, where we are. The needs of our world, our communities, and each person’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being are met by an outpouring of love.

Some donors will be recognized and praised for what they do. Their gifts will have a direct impact and will inspire others to act and to give with their example. Most donors will be unsung. Either way, the reward is the joy of making a positive difference. Together we are making our world a better place with our expressions of love for one another.

It is exciting to see the sheer breadth and depth of generosity in action. The creativity, the myriad of needs addressed in ways that are bespoke to the need. This is the democratic nature of philanthropy, where each donor gets to choose where they want to give. 

“There are those who give little of the much which they have…And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty…There are those who give with joy…And there are those who give…as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space….And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.”

Kahlil Gibran – The Prophet

LOVE LETTERS AND VIRTUAL HUGS – part 2

Finding Certainty in Uncertain Times

Families and Giving

In my first post, I listed seven certainties that are true in these times of uncertainty. Today, I list ten ideas for actions that we can all undertake to build relationships and communities. These are not meant to be comprehensive; I imagine those who read this can add several more to the list. If you can, please share them. The following are ten ideas for relationship and community building that can take us through the next 6 – 12 months of COVID-19.

 Ten Ideas:

  1. Focus on building relationships and community. Don’t worry about raising money. These relationships will generate far more resources in the mid-to-long term than any short-term transactional approach can.
  2. Stay in touch. Communicate both broadly and personally. My friend, Jennifer Harris, calls these personal communications “love letters.”  Let’s send love letters to our partners and supporters.
  3. Be strategic and purposeful. Focus on what is most important. The more we can focus, the more impact we will have. Make the hard decisions about what we will and will not be doing… and stick to them. 
  4. Get together on-line. Brainstorm about problem solving, host workshops, webinars and talks by experts who are addressing the critical issues and challenges of our day. Share the recordings with alumni and constituents. Post these sessions on our websites and in social media.
  5. Get good at Zoom. We all will be participating in lots of video meetings in the coming months. Learn to use its functionality and how to be effective communicators in this format. If you can, invest in learning about Zoom functionality to take communications to another level.

6. Be responsive. Answer and send texts, emails, messages, calls, blog comments, etc.

7. Set the tone. Make your own gift first. We are working to attract others to give of their time and resources. We will be more credible and more effective if we model the behaviour we are asking of others.

8. Be open and authentic. Share not only successes and inspiration, but also challenges and disappointments. Be positive and affirming. Ask for advice. Our constituents can help us address the challenges we face. Not only can they help to solve problems, this is an excellent way to keep them engaged. Nature may abhor a vacuum but the rumour mill loves it. Frequently communicate the facts in your own voice.

9. Send “Virtual Hugs”. Tell staff and constituents how much we appreciate and love them. We can say it in words, and in our actions (responsiveness).

10. Invite others to join us. As we get to know our constituents, it is natural to invite them to join our communities. Don’t assume they will ask to join, invite them. An authentic, sincere, humble, “We need you. Please join us in changing the world,” is a compelling invitation and a great way to get more partners in our cause.

Our work is noble and important. In difficult, challenging, uncertain times, we can provide encouragement, community, relationship and ways for people to make a difference. This is our time. Let’s embrace the moment.

Eric Billman

LOVE LETTERS AND VIRTUAL HUGS – part 1

Finding Certainty in Uncertain Times

The first two and a half months of 2020 have been unsettling. New uncertainties seem to arrive on a daily basis.  Smoke from nearby bush fires, a freak hailstorm and increased fire danger made life in Canberra unusual and dangerous.

This month has seen a realization of the seriousness of COVID-19, which has now been declared a Global Pandemic by the WHO.  This virus has led to cancelled flights, quarantines, banned travel, and the suspensions of large gatherings.  In recent days, a large number of universities and colleges in the USA have suspended face to face classes for the rest of the term.  At the Australian National University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) we have been offering online options for 94% of our courses since the beginning of the term.

The disruption in higher education has been going on for several years. Outdated economic models, declining enrolments, a shift in student preference from smaller to larger institutions, have all led some to predict the demise of half of the higher education institutions in the USA over the next few years. Will the shift to online coursework quicken this demise?  Will it change the value proposition of the campus experience? While the campus educational experience is important and provides valuable experiences, especially outside the classroom, one needs to ask, at what cost?

Innovation continues in the face of adversity

Yet, many things have not changed. At CECS, the Mission and Vision to reimagine engineering education – to keep humanity in technology while creating the new world of technology – has not changed. The need for a savvy, educated workforce that resembles the people and society they serve, skilled in addressing society’s needs through solving technological problems that ensure the solutions include humanity, is more important than ever. AI, Cyber security, alternative energy, advanced materials, computer systems that enable education and communications of ideas in new ways, climate change, treatments for disease and enabling technologies for those who need them, are all a part of what we do.

“Fear is the non-acceptance of Uncertainty. If we accept that uncertainty, it becomes adventure.”  –Rumi

In a time of social distancing that includes domestic and international travel bans and bans on gatherings of over 25 people, advancement professionals are forced to ask, “How do we build community and relationships in this strange new world?”

Seven Certainties

I suggest the following “Certainties” remain with advancement despite the extreme disruptions.  Choosing to reflect on the certain, rather than the constantly changing, can help to find the ways to answer the above question. 

  1. Community and Relationship: Humans are created for relationships and community. We need them to thrive. If we cannot meet in person to create and build them, we must find other ways. We have new tools available, but the underlying need has not changed.
  2. Belonging to something greater than ourselves: We find fulfilment as a part of something greater than ourselves. We want to join together to enable a larger impact than any of us can do on our own. We need to join together to address intractable challenges. 
  3. Joy of Giving: Giving of ourselves, our financial means, our time and talents and our connections produces joy. We give to express our love for others, to express our values, to right wrongs, to address problems and to make our communities better places to live and work and play.
  4. The Power of Synergy: When we join with others of like mind, our joint efforts are synergistic. This coming together is the best way to have impact, fulfilment and joy.
  5. Advancement & Non-profit work: As advancement and non-profit professionals, our work is even more important in these times of upheaval, suffering and uncertainty. We can facilitate the creation and growth of communities of interest. We can bring people and organizations together for greater impact. Our work in building community and relationships leads to joy and satisfaction for all who seek to join us. Our combined efforts can address the pressing issues in front of us.
  6. Heartache and Joy Intermingled: During our partnership, we will struggle, meet with success, experience setbacks, and heartaches. All these experiences will be intertwined with joy.
  7. Evolving Tools: The tools we use to bring people together and to build these communities will continue to evolve. At one point, the hand written letter was the technological standard of the world. (It is still the gold standard.) The letter has been eclipsed by the phone and by email that in turn are being supplanted by social media, video calls, text, etc. We must become masters of these new and evolving means and use them in service of our work – connecting people and organizations and making them equal partners in our work together.

A focus on these certainties can help us navigate the rapid changes and shifting landscapes in which we find ourselves.

Eric Billman

A Donor Bliss Experience

The personal touch

Eric Billman presents the Lionel Billman Memorial Scholarship
(Cass County Community Foundation)

Last night, Eric had the privilege of presenting this year’s Lionel Billman Memorial Scholarship award at his hometown high school.

About 60 students received scholarships, some received multiple scholarships. Amounts were to cover book costs ($500) to full tuition ($180,000 for four years).

In addition to a number of memorial scholarships, awards were given by organizations representing The Arts; Primary and Secondary Education; specific student activities; A variety of community, regional and national Organizations; Student Government; Scholarly Groups; Higher Education; Local Businesses; the US Military and others.

Attending the ceremony was a great reminder of why we at Donor Bliss Consulting do what we do — our clients are able to give generously through achieving their mission.

The Lionel Billman Memorial Scholarship was established by Lionel’s widow, Elizabeth about 17 years ago. Because Lionel was devoted to his hometown, the scholarship is awarded to a student who desires to return and give to the community after higher education.

Quralew Co-op Wins Top Prize

Earlham College Creative Capitalism Competition

Sometimes we just have to brag a little and this is one of those days. Through the past three months we have been coaching a team of students who have big plans for making an impact on employment and waste management in Ethiopia. Their team leader, Bini, has been a part of our lives for the past two school years and we were happy to share our strategic planning expertise with his team.

Their journey included many hours of working out the business numbers and preparing for incremental presentations. Along the way, they created a professional level two minute infomercial video and made a mock “Shark Tank” pitch. Three of the team are devoted members of the track team. Did I mention that they are also full time students and none of them business majors? One is also a freshman.

On Saturday, we attended the final competition. Four other teams had great ideas in various stages of implementation. All competitors were passionate about their ideas for saving the world. We just about held our breath for the entire 20 minutes of our team’s presentation.

Please join us in congratulating the Quralew Co-op team on their win. They worked hard for it!

Book Announcement

Donor Bliss Consulting

We are pleased to announce that we submitted the manuscript of our book, The Art and Science of Donor Bliss, to our publisher.  It has been a 20-month journey of meeting many wonderful people and hearing their giving stories, many of which are featured in the book. Our thanks to everyone who has supported us, helped us and told their stories about the Joy of Giving.

Please celebrate this major step with us. We anticipate a release date sometime this summer and will let everyone know when the book is available.

Book club for Nonprofit Leaders

Introduction

A few months ago, a hand full of nonprofit leaders in our town started a nonprofit book club. We meet once a month to discuss a book that is either about nonprofits or has lessons that can be applied to nonprofits. I agreed to lead the discussions and drafted an initial list of suggested books for the year. It has been a very rewarding and fun experience.

Any given month we have between 5 and 15 participants. We meet in the Sherlock Holmes room in Two Sisters Bookstore. Someone brings snacks and wine.

The conversations are as much about sharing common concerns as they are about the book we are reading. We have a wide variety of organizations –  environmental, arts, schools, a couple funders and a couple consultants. I know I come away encouraged from seeing our work with new perspectives.

My goal for this new year is to share the conversation and books we discuss. Over the next several weeks, we will catch up on the first three books:

Good to Great for the Social Sector, Jim Collins

The Spirituality of Fundraising, Henri Nouwen

Start With Why, Simon Sinek (this link for the book summary and meeting discussion)

Next month we are reading Give and Take by Adam Grant.

We hope those who read this blog will also gain something from our conversations as well.