Conversation with More Than Money Members
Facilitated by Bob Kenny
Have you ever read something in More Than Money Journaland
wished you had people with whom you could talk about it?
Well, wish no more. More Than Money discussion groups provide
that opportunity. Every time a new issue of the journal
is published, small groups of readers meet in people's homes
to talk about the ideas it raised. All around the country,
thoughtful, engaging conversation unfolds in an atmosphere
filled with camaraderie.
We asked some journal readers to talk
about money and leadership. Here is an excerpt from their
We want to talk today about the challenge of exercising leadership
among our peers on issues we think are really important, and
the balance between getting people involved and seeming pushy.
For example, recently, after a service at my church, a member
of our congregation set up an information table about a charitable
organization she supports. She told me that she had been reluctant
to do it because she didn't want to seem pushy, but I said
that if she hadn't, a lot of us wouldn't have learned about
and participated in the project. What are some of the barriers
you face in exercising leadership with your peers?
First, I make a distinction
between peers and friends. It's more difficult for me not
to appear pushy when I'm talking about a pet project with
my friends than when I'm talking with other peers. Among
friends, this type of discussion usually leads to reciprocal
giving, as in, "You take a table at my event; I'll take
one at yours," and I find that distasteful. So I tend to
avoid hitting up my friends, except in very restricted circumstances.
However, I used to have a group of four or five friends
with whom I discussed these kinds of things. Any time one
of us came across a good project, we would feel free to
tell the others about it; we then had the option of giving
or not giving. But that was based on longstanding, mutual,
stated interests, and there was not a lot of pushing.
You knew what each other liked,
and when you learned about something the others might like
to support, you told them.
Yes. I didn't usually make major
donations that way, but I certainly contributed.
I share Jim's feelings about
not wanting to impose on friends. What works for me when
talking with friends is enthusiasm. For example, I might
pay for a table at a fundraising dinner and then invite
my friends to attend. It's exposing them to the organization
in a pleasant and fun way. I did that recently, and two
of the three couples I invited made a nice donation. Sometimes
they contribute and sometimes they don't.
I used to be much quieter
than I am now about the organizations I am involved in because
I tend to have more liberal beliefs than people I know socially,
but when I went on the board for Planned Parenthood, I started
to come out more. Through my involvement there-first as
a volunteer, then as a board member, then as the board chair-I
became more comfortable about being more open.
When I first got involved, I noticed that
everyone seemed to have thoughts and feelings about Planned
Parenthood -it touches on deep issues. Some people were
really interested. Others thought it would send me straight
to hell, and we agreed not to talk about it. I talked to
friends about it because I wanted to inform them about what
Planned Parenthood really does. I didn't need to have my
friends support the organiza tion, but I wanted them to
understand it better. For instance, only about half of the
agencies across the country do abortions; they more often
provide a whole range of women's health care. Now, my involvement
with Planned Parenthood is just one thing I talk about with
friends. If people ask what I'm up to these days, I feel
comfortable telling them about a national meeting I just
I have also been more open about our family's
foundation, The Needmoor Fund, which has decided to take
an active role in advocating for funding of community organizing
as a way to increase social justice. People learn from other
people what is exciting, how they might take action, and
how they might lead in different ways.
I know it can be hard to talk
about this, but I'm wondering if you could talk about some
of the resistance or reluctance you feel when you are trying
to cross over some of the kinds of barriers you've mentioned.
First, I would like to add
that I've found people to be prejudiced about certain organizations,
such as the local health clinic in my community. It's an
absolutely wonderful organization, but it doesn't have the
classy, "I want to be seen there" cachet. It has been so
difficult to promote. Most of my neighbors have not been
Why is that?
It just doesn't have the social
status -which is painful to see, considering that it does
so much good.
There are some socially desirable
charities, and then there are others that are doing such
good work, but there are no pictures of their fundraisers
in the newspaper. How do we inform people about the good
that they do?
When you care about an organization like
that, is it harder to take a leadership role because it
may change your social standing? Are you at risk, socially,
because you're involved with it? I find that happens with
political campaigns I support. I'll be reluctant to talk
about them because I'm afraid people who don't agree with
me may think less of me.
"Giving Circles are an enormously powerful way to
effect social change and pave the way for a new frontier
in philanthropy. In a Giving Circle you pool your
resources with colleagues and/or friends who share
a common interest in a social cause or issue. Together,
you gain in-depth understanding of your interest area,
focus on ways the group can have an impact, make joint
social investment decisions, and leverage your monetary
contributions with volunteerism and expertise for
the charities you support. Donors often commit to
participation in a Giving Circle for several years
at an established dollar level, and the entire group
engages in strategic decisionmaking to determine which
charities to partner with."
-From the Giving Circle Starter Kit,
Giving Network, 2000. Available at
That carries over to nonprofits, too; I think you can't mix
politics and your nonprofit involvement. I also think it's
extremely important that people not be anonymous in their
giving. Having your name listed as a donor helps you serve
as a role model for other people, and as a reference. For
example, if an organization gets an inquiry or thinks someone
might be interested in contributing to the organization, then,
as a donor, you can talk to that person. I have frequently
done that on boards I've been on. As a person committed to
the organization, I can tell a potential donor why I give
to the organization and why someone like them may want to
It's identification, peer building, and bonding-and transferring
that to the organization.
I have a particular nonprofit I support. I could be a spokesperson
for it, but I feel uneasy bringing it up in conversation
with friends. It just would not be appropriate to bring
it up with the group of men I meet with once a week for
breakfast, for example. I wouldn't want to start hustling
my cause to those friends.
Why do you think people are so reluctant to be "out" about
I've been talking about this with people for 15 years, and
this is what they tell me: First, the fear is that if their
name appears someplace, they are going to get swamped with
requests from other people. Second, if their name appears
high on the list of people who are giving, there may be
nuts out there who will find them and invade their house,
harass their kids, or whatever. I'm respectful of that,
but at the same time, I don't think it happens enough to
warrant the level of fear there is around it.
Also, we're taught to do things anonymously because we'll
get to heaven faster!
The twelfth-century Jewish rabbi Maimonides said it's best
to give anonymously, but I don't think he ever faced the
competitiveness of today's fundraising!
There is a certain modesty to get over; there is the sense
that you are showing off if you are broadcasting your name
Also, if I'm with people and I don't know their level of
affluence, I'm reluctant to talk about the contributions
I've made to various organizations. I feel it puts a barrier
in our relationship.
I think we're all reluctant to talk about money, in so many
Ruth Ann Harnisch, who is on the board of More Than Money,
is unrelenting as a proponent of giving openly and discussing
money with everyone. She has a question she'll ask anyone:
"What is the best thing you ever did with your money?" It's
a wonderful question because you can ask it of anyone, whether
they're a cab driver or a multimillionaire. It can start
people talking, because it doesn't matter how much money
think we need to explore giving circles a lot more. [See
sidebar, p. 31.] The term hasn't gotten into the vernacular
yet, but I think it's a way of drawing people into more
socially active giving, instead of what's referred to as
the BOMS-ballet, opera, museums, and symphonies-which are
where most people donate, because those organizations are
socially acceptable. Giving circles are great because you
can get people together in an informal setting where they
have the freedom to speak about what matters to them. That's
where they can feel comfortable and be more open.
You mentioned that people might feel reluctant to give openly
out of a fear that they may be put at risk. In some cases,
there actually is some risk. When I became involved in Planned
Parenthood, I learned that some volunteers had received
threats against their children. After our evening board
meetings, I would look around the parking lot for suspicious
people. When I went to my first meeting of the national
organization, I kept seeing a woman walking around the hotel
with what I thought was a seeing-eye dog, but it turned
out that it was a federal bombsniffing dog. Security was
pretty tight. We decided that as board members, it was important
for us to put our names on the organization's letterhead,
despite any risk involved.
There is a certain amount of courage involved.
I think the organizations you give to say something about
your values and who you are. In a way, when you give to
an organization, you're exposing who you are and what you
think is important. Some donations are about, "what am I
getting out of this donation?" But some people really are
caring and committed and want to make things better with
what they are giving. Their contributions are not about
what's in it for them; they are about how they want to impact
the world and what they think is important. It can be scary
to reveal that about yourself. Sometimes, when people find
out what you care about, they see a different side of you
and sharing that side of yourself can feel risky or uncomfortable.
But there is also a certain thrill to it. I hear an extra
energy level in your voices when you talk about the organizations
you care about. There is an excitement and a passion. I
think there is an integration here-of who you are and what
you're doing in the world-and it creates a new energy. Do
you think that's true?
I definitely think so.
Someone once said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph
of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Historically, leadership has been achieved by people who
have stood up and taken some degree of risk. Life is not
without risk. I could get hit by a car tomorrow. I would
rather go in support of a cause I believe in than be run
over by a big truck.
Or than live a life of quiet desperation because you haven't
spoken up for who you are.
statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
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