More Than Money
Issue #34

The Art of Giving

Table of Contents

“Out of the Fullness...”

An Interview with Lynne Twist

Interviewed by Pamela Gerloff

MTM: Is giving an art?

TWIST: 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 level.

MTM: Do you think everyone has those kinds of giving moments?

TWIST: 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.

MTM: 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 money?

TWIST: 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 commitment.

MTM: Would you say more about the partnership aspect?

TWIST: 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.

MTM: 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?

TWIST: 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 motivated.

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 author of The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life (W. W. Norton & Company, 2003).

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