Interview with Lynne Twist
Interviewed by Pamela Gerloff
Is giving an art?
That's a wonderful
question to ponder. I've never thought of it quite that
way before, but I would say that yes, you could call it
an art. Anything is an art when it reaches a certain level
of consciousness and refinement. When giving reaches that
level of refinement, it seems to have almost a "divine field"
around it. I've seen people who are extraordinary contributors
and philanthropists whose ego is almost not at all involved.
They're not giving to establish a particular track record
with a particular group of people, to get their name on
a building, or to reap other benefit for themselves. They
are moved to make something happen and they realize they
are in a position to do so.
One thing that allows people to contribute-and,
in fact, makes contributing easy-is when you experience
that you have enough: when you feel whole and complete in
yourself. I've seen this in my own life and in the lives
of so many I have worked with. People who are experiencing
that feeling give from the heart. That kind of giving is
an affirmation not of their ego, but of the state of perfection
they find themselves in. When they experience that they
have enough, they experience their sufficiency, their wholeness,
and their completeness-and they look around to see where
their philanthropy can best mirror their heart and soul.
Your question makes me realize how many
of the people I've counseled in their giving have taken
this experience to a state of absolute art and refinement.
When I think of those individuals- and that moment when
they have seen that they want to express themselves through
a particular form of giving-I realize that in that moment
they are touching into the deepest place in their being.
They are touching the source of who they are and allowing
their money to be an expression of that, at the deepest
Do you think
everyone has those kinds of giving moments?
I think everyone
does, although it may be in ways they wouldn't call philanthropy.
It is those times when you feel so full that you want to
overflow. I experience that feeling with my grandchildren.
When they come in the door, I'm so overflowing with love
that I think I'm going to die. Whenever you have that feeling
of wholeness, you naturally want to give, and you want your
giving to match your deepest commitments.
Some people use philanthropy to try to fill
up the emptiness they feel, rather than as an expression
of being fulfilled. They may give out of sorrow or pity
or a sense of obligation. I'm not opposed to that; each
of us should express ourselves on a path that is right for
us. But when giving comes from those places, we're giving
to relieve our own suffering, and that isn't as satisfying.
That isn't the motivation that fulfills. When you come to
a place within yourself of peace and wholeness, that feeling
nourishes a project or commitment that you have and money
becomes the conduit for that wholeness.
How do you cultivate
that way of giving? Does it come, as you talk about in your
book, from developing a more conscious relationship with
I do think
we can cultivate the experience of fullness in giving, and
consciousness with our money is part of it, but we also
cultivate it by being open to the universe. Sometimes we
can be rather driven and purposeful with our philanthropic
goals, and that can eclipse that moment of exquisite presence
that comes sometimes with giving.
A leading company in the food industry asked
me to help design their corporate giving program. They are
deliberately not categorizing gifts by the areas in which
they want to make a difference, such as environmental change,
health, or education. Their position is that employee giving
needs to come from the heart and soul of the community of
the company. It needs to be something that the givers authentically
feel is a match for them.
It's hard to write guidelines and a mission
statement for that kind of giving program, and this company
hasn't done that. Instead, employees are asked to give where
they are moved to give, where they feel an individual connection
or calling to contribute. I would say that in every case
where a contribution is touching or authentic-where some
special connection is felt- the giving becomes a partnership,
rather than a transaction between a donor and a recipient,
and the money carries the special power of that heartfelt
Would you say
more about the partnership aspect?
I think of
it as an image with two people at the base of a triangle.
At the top of the triangle is a common vision for the world.
One person is the philanthropist who has the financial resources,
but may not have expertise or time to give to realizing
the vision; the other has the capacity or experience to
deliver that mission, but is lacking the resources.
That's a co-equal partnership. The arrows
go up toward the point of the triangle, indicating that
the co-equal partnership is in service of the common vision.
What connects people at the bottom is a deep resonance with
the common vision they share, and the resources to make
that vision real.
If we three-dimensionalize the image, all
the people standing in a circle at the bottom of the cone
have some resources they're providing with an eye toward
a common vision. As the circle gets bigger, the more donors
there are-and the higher the cone can go. As the base gets
broader, the height increases.
So, I think the best kind of giving-both
the most satisfying and the most artful-is where there is
a co-equal partnership, where "donors" and "recipients"
are sharing a common vision. Money is not more important
or more valid than other types of contribution. Everyone
contributes that which is theirs to give.
The kind of giving
you talk about in your book seems aimed at changing underlying
social conditions. It's not just a handout that temporarily
relieves a problem. Is that part of giving artfully?
I think there
is a misunderstanding of philanthropy as people with resources
giving to people without resources. But it's not appropriate
to divide the world into "haves" and "have nots." Everybody
has talent and the capacity to make a difference. People
just make their contribution in different ways.
This is important to understand if we want
to give in order to change the underlying causes of conditions
like hunger or poverty. Because we in the West tend to value
everything in terms of the money attached to it, in a measurement
system that values only the money, we miss the fact that
the greatest wealth of humanity comes from people who don't
necessarily have money, but who have tremendous riches like
knowledge, wisdom, energy, and deep commitment to make things
happen. Money alone can't do it-it takes the partnership
to make anything happen.
Having worked on the issues of hunger and
poverty for so many years, I can say that the billion hungry
people themselves are the greatest asset to ending world
hunger. They are imaginative, creative, intelligent, and
competent. If we extend our resources in partnership, they
can generate effective solutions themselves. They are incredibly
I believe there is a natural sufficiency
in people. At our core, we are all whole and complete. When
people are not behaving that way, or when their efforts
are ineffective, something has happened; some circumstance
or system or structure has blocked them from being who they
are. Some people get trapped in circumstances of nature-droughts
or floods or other natural disasters. Other people get trapped
in structures that oppress them, and those structures keep
them from acting and expressing in a healthy way. There
are places like Bangladesh, for example, where people received
so much aid for so long after the war that they lost track
of their own sufficiency. The job of all of us is to create
structures to help restore individuals and communities to
that natural sense of their own sufficiency. That happens
best when we give from our own sense of sufficiency and
wholeness, in partnership with those to whom we are giving.
Lynne Twist is the founder and president
of the Soul of Money Institute and is the former director
of global funding for the international nonprofit organization
The Hunger Project. She serves on the board of directors
of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and the board of trustees
of the John E. Fetzer Institute. She has been a member of
the international advisory council of The Gorbachev Foundation
USA and the Global Commission to Fund the United Nations.
In 1994, Ms. Twist was honored as a woman of distinction
by the International Health Awareness Network. She is the
The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship
with Money and Life
(W. W. Norton & Company, 2003).
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