Honoring Goodness: Fund Raising Policy and Practice as if Giving Mattered


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"In organized fund raising . . . a good way to begin is to learn as much as you can about people." -Harold J. Seymour, Designs for Fund Raising1

" Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free, Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, It will be in the valley of love and delight.

"When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we will not be ashamed, To turn, turn will be our delight Til by turning, turning we come round right." -"Simple Gifts," Traditional American Shaker Hymn2

Some fifteen years ago, to honor the memory of a child lost in a miscarriage, a friend of my wife decided to sponsor a child through a well-known, well-regarded international charity that focused on supporting third- and fourth-world children. The idea was that every month she would contribute a fixed amount of money that would be used to provide a designated child with clothing, school supplies, and an occasional gift at birthdays and holidays; in return, she received periodic reports on the child's progress from the charity and an annual letter from child himself. She also received from the charity a quarterly "reminder" of the next payment on her pledge. This arrangement was all very satisfactory both to my wife's friend and, by all indications, seemingly to the charity as well. In the fifteen years since she started making her gifts, she missed only one contribution, when she and her family were residing outside the country for several months. At some point during this time, however--her best guess is about twelve or thirteen years into her sponsorship--the tenor of her quarterly notices from the charity changed. Instead of being simply reminders of her pledge, they became invoices billing her for an amount that was "due." In this light, the one contribution she had failed to make some years ago, and which she had chosen not to make up, was held up to her as an arrears, for which her "account" was "past due." While this change in nomenclature actually changed nothing about her legal or financial obligation toward the organization, it did signal--at least to her--a change in her moral obligation to it. She steamed about this terminology, in fact, for years, but did nothing for fear of causing some break in the support going to the child she had been sponsoring. Finally, after the "child" turned 18, she terminated her involvement. In her letter resigning her sponsorship, she noted that "as for my owing' you a payment, and my account being past due,' let me just say that I owe your organization nothing, not one penny. Rather, the checks I sent you each month were gifts, done of my own volition, initiated by me for my own personal reasons and sustained by me under no obligation other than to my own conscience. Had your organization been more cognizant of that, you might still be counting me among your sponsors."

A case, one might conclude, of unfortunate phraseology, or at worse some over zealous marketing. And in isolation, such a conclusion might, in fact, be considered correct. But placed in the context of modern fund raising, this example can be seen perhaps more accurately as being rather symptomatic of the whole, as an accurate and insightful sign of the state of modern philanthropy. For if we look closely at the policies and practice that govern modern charitable organizations in general, and in particular at those organizations with which I am most familiar--viz., colleges and universities--we will find that they deal almost exclusively with processes involved in receiving a gift, with gift-getting, as it were, while saying next to nothing about gift-making, about giving itself. To take my own institution, Georgia Tech, as a typical example, our official Development Handbook 3 devotes considerable space to such topics as "Prospect Management," "Gift Management," "Gift Processing," "Donor Recognition," and "Gift Planning." It even quotes the "Donor Bill of Rights," which is a statement developed and endorsed by all of the major professional organizations representing fund raisers. But on the topic of "Giving," the handbook is silent; indeed, the word "giving" itself is virtually absent from its pages. Rather, the preferred term for such is "private funding"--a telling phrase.

Neither is the topic of giving any more active or prominent in deliberations among professional fund raisers or it the literature of fund raising. At the annual CASE conference involving advancement officers from colleges and universities throughout the southeast held last winter in Atlanta, I attended General Sessions on Strategic Planning and the "Environment of Education in the South." I also attended breakout sessions on topics ranging from the "Changing Role of Women and Minorities in Philanthropy" to "How to Hold It All Together" (which was about managing the relationship between unit and central development in larger universities) and "Pearls of Wisdom," which, through the reminiscences of two 25-year advancement veterans, one of whom is the director of public relations charged with both marketing and caring for arguably the nation's most famous and beloved donor-of-the-hour, Oseola McCarty, the 82-year old washwoman who gave her life savings to Southern Mississippi, an institution she herself could never attend, came about as close to the topic of giving as the conference got. Nor does giving receive any wider attention at the national or international level, or among fund raisers not affiliated with higher educational institutions. At the most recent international convention of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives (NSFRE), the professional umbrella organization for all professional fund raisers from all types of charitable organizations around the world, Annual Giving was discussed, Capital Giving was discussed, even International Giving was discussed; the topic of Giving per se, however, never made it into the program. Even the literature of philanthropy pays scant attention to the topic. Just to take one sampling, in the 30-odd books and articles which constitute the theoretical basis upon which the NSFRE written examination for professional certification as an advanced fund raising executive was devised, only four attempt to address giving directly--Robert H. Bremner's American Philanthropy4, Jerry Panas' Mega-Gifts5, Robert L. Peyton's Philanthropy6, and the so-called "bible of fund raising," Harold J. Seymour's classic Designs for Fund-Raising--while less than a handful of the others mention the topic even cursorily.

So, why is the topic of giving so rarely discussed by professional fund raisers, or little dealt with in the policies and practices of charitable organizations? In sum, why is the question "Why do human beings give?" so difficult even to ask, much less answer?

At least in part, the reason has to do with the fact that the question is deceptively complex, for imbedded in it are actually two questions: 1) what is giving? and 2) what causes someone to give? When we look for the answers to these questions, however, we find that the topic is addressed for the most part in terms of the second question rather than the first. (Even Panas', Seymour's and, in a different way, Bremner's and Peyton's books do so primarily so as to render giving more attainable, more acquirable.) In so doing, the question of esse (Being) is subsumed by the question of techne, often to the point where it is assumed that by answering the one the other has been answered as well. The danger in such a misunderstanding of giving is twofold. In the first instance, as Heidegger has pointed out, techne is a mode of revealing, which, in the process of disclosing the essence of something, also determines the nature of this essence. Indeed, in its modern expression, Heidegger argues that techne has come to mean something more than simply technology, but is rather an aggressive, relentless, challenging way of knowing that sets upon everything, that seizes everything and requisitions it for its use. In this technological way of knowing, which Heidegger calls enframing (das Ge-stall), things are not even regarded as objects, but rather are only given significance in terms their utility, or readiness for use.7 Heidegger calls this fundamentally undifferentiated supply of the available the standing-reserve: "Everywhere everything," he states, "is ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering."8

By way of illustration, Heidegger, in his essay "The Question Concerning Technology," sets out the example of a hydroelectric plant on the Rhine River.

The hydroelectric plant is set into the current of the Rhine. It sets the Rhine to supplying its hydraulic pressure, which then sets the turbines turning. This turning sets those machines in motion whose thrust sets going the electric current for which the long-distance power station and its network of cables are set up to dispatch electricity. In the context of the interlocking processes pertaining to the orderly disposition of electrical energy, even the Rhine itself appears as something at our command. The hydroelectric plant is not built into the Rhine River as was the old wooden bridge that joined bank with bank for hundreds of years. Rather the river is dammed up into the power plant. What the river is now, namely, a water power supplier, derives from out of the essence of the power station. . . . But, it will be replied, the Rhine is still a river in the landscape, is it not? Perhaps. But how? In no other way than as an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry" (p. 16).

In the same way, perceiving giving in terms of techne opens it to the danger of enframing, and so to being seen only as standing-reserve, and thus valued only in terms of its readiness for use by the gift-getting industry, as it were, as "private funding" for universities. In fact, I believe we can see evidence of enframing in the story of my wife's friend, of how the technological way of knowing seized upon her giving and rendered it significant only as standing-reserve, as an account payable. And too, the story also gives evidence as to the danger inherent in such a misunderstanding.

But let me cite perhaps an even more telling example of the danger inherent in modern fund raising practice. Among the most useful and common technical tools used by modern fund raisers to identify and classify prospective donors is demographics, which consists of sets of facts about people that relate to their behavior as consumers. Indeed, the systematic and increasingly sophisticated use of demographics is arguably the aspect that most distinguishes modern fund raising from that which was practiced prior to the turn of the century. Be that as it may, the use of demographics bespeaks of a world measured in terms of "bodies and bucks," to cite a phase used by the editor of a leading demographic publication. "To me," writes Judith Nichols, author of Changing Demographics: Fund Raising in the 1990s (1990) , "['bodies and bucks'] seems a fair summary of what fund raising is all about: finding the people who will give the dollars."9 Using data sourced from census statistics and proxy statements, from property tax records and credit card purchase records, fund raisers can determine not only your age, gender, family relations, and employment--old hat, in so far as database information goes--they can also learn where you live, how valuable your home and property are, how much stock and insurance you own, what your credit rating is, just to name a few of the data bits that can be generated about a given potential donor. In fact, thanks to the gathering of "psychographic" data collected from surveys and focus groups, we fund raisers now can also learn your social values and beliefs, your attitudes, interests, and opinions, your lifestyles and your benefits.10 All of these data are assembled to build a profile of you as a consumer, or potential donor, which in turn is used to devise and direct or "manage" interventions called "moves" designed expressly to effect your behavior as such. I can think of no clearer example of techne enframing giving as standing-reserve that this.

There is still a deeper danger, however, in assuming the essence of giving can be known merely by knowing how gifts are gotten. The more profound danger is that, by perceiving giving only as standing-reserve, we may never come to understand fully not only the essence of giving but, even more disturbingly, we may also never fully come to understand ourselves. "It seems as though man everywhere and always," writes Heidegger, "encounters only himself. In truth, precisely nowhere does man today any longer encounter himself, i.e., his essence" (p. 27). The reason why man can no longer encounter his own essence is because the technological way of knowing makes such an encounter impossible. The root cause of this problem can be traced back to Thomas Aquinas. It was Aquinas who first noted that "There are two ways something is known: by itself [.i.e., ontologically] and by us [i.e., subjectively]." He then went on to argue that to know something in terms of itself is impossible, because to do so would mean that we human beings would somehow have to be or become the object we seek to know. The only way for us to know an object, therefore, is subjectively, in terms of our senses and our reason. The problem with this subject-object way of knowing, as Paul Tillich has pointed out, is that it limits the knowledge of all things to what can be perceived by human senses and understood by human reason. Tillich reminds us that some things, in particular human awareness, which is itself composed of esse, verum, bonum--Being, Truth, Goodness--precede our senses, and so precede our reason. Indeed, in as much as sensory perception and reason are functions of human awareness, Tillich argues that ontological knowledge must therefore always not only precede subjective knowledge but also be the ultimate object of such knowing.11 In short, all human inquiry begins and ends with the question "what does it mean to be human?" Thus with regard to the question of giving, the answer can only be sought ontologically in terms of the fundamental question of human essence. As such, giving cannot be reasoned to or inferred; it can only be known directly, ontologically, in terms of esse, verum, bonum, and in particular bonum, or human goodness.

Now, just to be clear on this point, am I saying that all of the techniques of modern fund raising render giving as standing reserve, or that giving therefore cannot be truly known or experienced via the methodologies of modern fund raising? Am I saying that all modern fund raising practices are immoral or unethical? No, I am not. What I am saying is that such practices allow for the possibility of the danger of enframing, and so allow for the possibility of a flawed and narcissistic understanding of giving to come to stand, but it is equally possible for these same policies and practices to yield up quite a different result. Elsewhere, in an essay called "The Turning," Heidegger states that "Where the danger is as the danger, there the saving power is already thriving also." 12 Thus The Turning his title refers to is the possibility of Being becoming aware of the danger of enframing, becoming aware of the oblivion that is the destiny of such Being, and in that moment of awareness turning inward-- "turn[ing] homeward" (p. 41) is Heidegger's phrase-- into that awareness itself, into the "safekeeping" (p. 42)--also his word--of what Tillich would call the "Unconditional," the awareness which for him "is prius of the separation and interaction of subject and object, theoretically as well as practically" (p. 22), the awareness filled with "the power of being in which every being participates" (p. 25), the same "saving power" that Heidegger also refers to. And what, Heidegger goes on to ask, does "to save" mean in this context? "It means to loose, to emancipate, to free, to spare and husband, to harbor protectingly, to take under one's care, to keep safe" (p. 42). Doing any or all of these things enables modern man in the throes of the danger of his own making to save himself, to turn from the oblivion of enframing to the saving power of his own being, to the power of being in which every being participates as well. In that moment of turning, "the truth of Being [esse] flashes," says Heidegger, "the essence of Being clears and lights itself up" (p. 44).

So now how, in the throes of the danger of modern gift-getting, can we turn inward, turn homeward, into the saving power of gift-making, and so illuminate the truth, the essence of giving? Allow me to suggest that, first of all, in the practice of modern fund raising there must be a priori an awareness and emancipation of goodness (bonum). Just as all human beings have an a priori awareness of self, so they also have in this awareness an understanding of goodness, and when we look for this fundamental goodness in the culture of mankind, we see it most clearly and most frequently expressed in the many and various acts of giving. These acts, when they are encountered, must be acknowledged, must be, in fact, celebrated or honored, to borrow the usage of a term found in the lexicon of members of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, as the expressions of this fundamental awareness of human goodness that they are. The Faith and Practice of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting counsels that "The idea of the Inner Light"--a common Quaker term for the "God within," remarkably similar in concept and phraseology to Heidegger's "flashing" of "the essence of Being [that] clears and lights itself up"-- "enters all concerns of Friends. The recognition that others share the inward Light leads to a sympathetic awareness of their need and a sense of responsibility toward them."13 In the context of giving, therefore, "honoring goodness" means not only recognizing giving as the expression of goodness that it is, but even more importantly, it means also seeking out and overcoming estrangement from that goodness that is in all others as it is in ourselves. Only by first grounding or "centering"--to borrow still another Quaker term--ourselves first as human beings and then as fund raisers can we become sympathetically aware of that goodness in others and of the unique context of needs and desires which led to its expression in the form of a gift, and only by gaining such awareness can we manifest the appropriate sense of responsibility upon which to build a good and honorable relationship with the individual in question. Or, to put in the context of this discussion, only by honoring goodness can we avoid the danger of enframing giving, of valuing it only as standing-reserve. Only by honoring goodness can we know giving in terms of itself, and in so doing, know ourselves.

How, then, can this insight be translated in to the policy and practice of university fund raising? How can fund raisers become aware of the first question of giving, the ontological question of esse prior to the subjective question of techne? How can fund raisers insure in a practical way that they address the question "what is giving?" before they address the question "what causes someone to give?" A full response to these questions is beyond the scope of this paper, but perhaps we might begin to address them by again returning to the practice of Friends. As a sect, the Society of Friends has no doctrine, no dogma, no written theology, in fact, on which to base the expression of faith by its members. Instead, Friends view their actions, their day-to-day thoughts and behaviors, as the text of their faith, and so have evolved the practice of testifying as to their beliefs with their lives, which each individual Friend is responsible for the ministry thereof. So, as a practical matter, how do Friends insure that they address the question of esse before they address the question of techne? To help members in the living practice of their faith, which Friends call "testimonies," various meetings have developed series of questions or "queries" which individuals might ask of themselves. States the Philadelphia Faith and Practice: "The Queries are a profile of the Quaker way of life and a reminder of the shared ideals Friends seek to attain. Concerned with action, not with theological belief, they have long served as a unique form of self-discipline . . ." (p. 187). It strikes me, then, that perhaps one way to start the practice of honoring goodness in our fund raising practice might be to begin a Development Handbook with a series of queries for fund raisers, which in typical Quaker fashion, are first addressed to the Meeting or in this case to the institution, and then to the member or fund raiser herself. Such a set of Fund Raising Queries might, then, read as follows:

For the institution:

For the fund raiser:

These are queries I ask of myself and my organization; but they are by no means cast in stone. Perhaps the best way to go about developing a set of queries for others in other organizations is to ask the fund raisers there each to write out their own queries, and then through discussion and consensus develop a set that works for everyone in the organization. Even then they should not be cast in stone, however, but rather reviewed periodically as people and missions change and evolve.

How will this exercise change the way we do modern fund fund raising? I believe that this exercise can, if practiced diligently, re-center fund raising on gift-making rather than gift-getting. Such a re-centering can affect the turning inward, homeward, within enframing that Heidegger refers to, so to discover the saving power of being, of goodness, of giving. To take a case in point, how could this exercise affect the use of demographic profiles in modern fund raising? It could insure that such profiles are in fact centered on disclosing the full humanity of donors, not just their standing-reserve for gift-getting. Indeed, "By taking the time to analyze the compatibility of prospects and proposals," notes Changing Demographics author Judith Nichols, "the development officer indicates a sincere interest in the needs of the potential donor" (p. 173)--this from the same author who earlier advocated the "bodies and bucks" concept of modern fund raising! Moreover, she goes on to say that

In my initial meeting with a prospect, I explain our organization's concern with linking interests and needs to provide the strongest of relationships. I stress that such a linkage must provide satisfaction to both sides, and invite the prospect to help me on his/her behalf by letting me know if my analysis of his/her personality type is accurate . . . . We work as partners rather than as adversaries (p. 173).

Here is the possibility of turning within gift-getting, the turning inward into giving, into the power of the donor. If done by a re-centered fund raiser in the context of a re-centered institution, then goodness will indeed be honored, this time and every time.

What do I expect will be the end result of this exercise? Nothing dramatic, at least to start with. But over time, the changes could be profound. For charitable organizations in general, such a re-centering can work to make each of them aware that they have a moral obligation to go beyond attending just to the well-being of themselves, that they have a responsibility to attend also to the well-being of giving itself, and thus to the acknowledgment of goodness of which giving is an expression. For colleges and universities in particular, such a re-centering can work to expand and inform their understanding of what it means to provide teaching, research, and public service, and for liberal arts institutions especially, such a re-centering can work to illuminate their historic charge to build character, citizenship, and leadership. Conceivably, re-centering might even help to create an institutional culture within our universities which would enable the humanities once again to come to stand as the essence of a truly liberating education--a pet hope of mine--rather than continuing to be enframed as "service courses," as standing-reserve to a techne-dominated curriculum. Be that as it may, over time the diligent practice of re-centering the institution also can work to overcome the historic segregation of modern fund raising departments--not the fund raising function, which has been part the warp-and-woof of university life since the onset of the institution--from the mission and culture of the university, and so promote the integration and integrity of the university itself instead of its continuing fragmentation. For fund raisers themselves, over time the diligent practice of re-centering can enable them to re-focus their actions on giving rather than getting, on their personal responsibility for the maintenance and well-being of charitable giving and philanthropy, and, most importantly, cause them to re-commit themselves to the care and well-being of their donors. In so doing, re-centering should enable each fund raiser individually to see his or her vocation as a calling, rather than merely a profession, and to understand his or her role as a member of a secular priesthood of giving, as it were, rather than merely a specialized "niche" marketer or salesperson.

And what, finally, would be the end result of re-centering on the donor? It would be, in fact, literally that: re-centering the donor. By putting the donor in the center of all our caring, all our giving, as it were, as well as the center of all our getting, we will honor her, ourselves, our institutions, and goodness itself. For, in fact, a donor "owes" us, owes our organizations, nothing, not a penny. His or her account is never past due. Rather, the checks donors send us are gifts, make no mistake about it, done of their own volition, initiated by them for their own personal reasons and sustained by them under no obligation other than to their individual consciences. If we as fund raisers, as charitable organizations, are cognizant of that, we will continue to be able to count among our sponsors and patrons not only the millions of individuals who have given to our organizations in the past, but also, I believe, millions more who have never given to us at all. For giving is contagious. If we honor it, we honor ourselves and others, and in so doing, honor goodness. By honoring goodness everywhere, we bring it to light, we disclose it to the world, and so enable all to see it, seek it, in themselves and in others in turn. In sum, by honoring goodness we make giving matter, not just in our fund raising and institutions, but in ourselves and our lives as well.


1. 2nd edition (The Fund Raising Institute, 1988), p. 3.

2.Worship In Song: A Friends Hymnal (Friends General Conference, 1996), no. 271.

3. (Georgria Tech Office of External Affairs, 1995).

4. 2nd. edition (University of Chicago Press, 1988).

5. (Pluribus Press, 1984).

6. (American Council on Education/Macmillian, 1988).

7. "Introduction", The Questioning Concerning Technology and Other Essays , trans. and introduction by William Lovitt (Harper & Row, 1977), pp. xxvii-xxx. For translator's notes on Ge-stall (Enframing), see fn 17, p.19.

8. Lovitt, "The Question Concerning Technology," p. 17. All quotations are from Lovitt translation.

9. (Bonus Books, 1990), p. 7.

10. Nichols, pp. 8-11.

11. Tillich, "The Two Types of Philosophy of Religion", Theology of Culture , ed. Robert C. Kimball (Oxford University Press, 1959), pp. 16-19.

12. Lovitt, p. 42.

13. (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, adopted 1955; revised 1972), p. 8.

Copyright F. A. HILENSKI, PH.D.

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