Elizabeth Cushing joined our class this past Monday to talk about fundraising and, happily, I found having my spouse join the class to be surprisingly enjoyable. We like working together (which I realize is not everyone’s jam) and I don’t think there is anyone from whom I have learned more about fundraising, so it was great to get to watch her with the students. Not sure exactly what the students thought of it, though they seemed more engaged than usual.
Elizabeth used a myth-busting framework (one that I had borrowed from her to structure an earlier discussion in the course) to talk the students through both her own thoughts on fundraising, as well as Playworks’ experiences of raising money in our efforts to scale. While her talk covered a number of the more technical aspects of fundraising – how and when to talk about the challenge addressed, the percentage breakdown of giving sources, leveraging earned revenue in accessing philanthropy – the remarks that engaged the students most were largely philosophical: Who do you say no to? How does an organization’s values impact decision-making, and how does this in turn shape culture?
It was an interesting and important conversation, spinning off of the questions around accepting corporate donations. When asked about the idea of Playworks accepting money from tobacco companies, there was a universal cringe. Cannabis money? Some thoughtful head shaking. Alcohol? Soda? There were questions about what factors the staff and board used to make these decisions, and perhaps mild surprise to learn that our employees’ feelings on the subject were a significant consideration. There were also questions about the motivation of companies - such as those manufacturing tobacco and soda – to donate to an organization like Playworks, and a discussion about the most obvious and nefarious impulses as well as a more nuanced recognition around business needs, such as employee retention, and more genuinely altruistic instincts.
Elizabeth emphasized the importance of authentically listening in her remarks and modeled it in her discussion with the students. She talked about emotion and storytelling as key to fundraising, and, of course, included both of those in her presentation as well. Later in the evening over dinner, Elizabeth asked me what I thought the students were actually learning in my class. It’s a question that I’ve wondered about a lot, both in designing the course, and also in these weekly musings that this blog has afforded. While I would be thrilled if some of the students opted to become social entrepreneurs, or to work in the larger ecosystem of social entrepreneurship, I think my biggest desire is that the class is offering up some insights about empathic leadership and changemaking that can be applied in whatever they pursue. I don’t think that’s what a lot of people associate with raising money, but I have come to believe that in operating in this capitalist society, raising money in a way that is directly tied to my values is essential to achieving the change that I seek.
After Elizabeth spoke, we discussed the week's readings and one 'watching'. If you have not ever watched it, I highly recommend Anand Giridharadas’ talk “The Thriving World, The Wilting World, & You” which ultimately led to his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. The students also submitted their self and peer assessments for class participation for the past month which asked them to reflect on the questions: Did you/they do the readings? Did you/they contribute to helping a classmate understand the material? Challenge their/your understanding? Bring a different perspective to the conversation? Did you/they contribute meaningfully to the project work? Did you/they lead in the project work? If someone were starting a business, would you/they want them/you on your/their team? Why? (Who knew you could turn possessive pronouns into a game!)
This week we will be joined by Roger King to talk about scaling and the readings include:
“Going to Scale,” Bradach https://ssir.org/articles/entry/going_to_scale
“Why Proven Solutions Struggle to Scale Up,” Deiglmeier & Greco https://ssir.org/articles/entry/why_proven_solutions_struggle_to_scale_up
Creating High Impact Nonprofits, Heather McLeod Grant and Leslie Crutchfield https://ssir.org/articles/entry/creating_high_impact_nonprofits
Four Strategies for Large Systems Change: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/four_strategies_for_large_systems_change
People need meaning, the opportunity for mastery, and community to thrive. Creating opportunities for people to contribute, and to find their best selves is some of the most important work we can do.