Meet lonely George.
George is a seasoned philanthropist. Someone I’ve known for years. George leads a full, meaningful life that includes giving to a number of global organizations. But he revealed something to me recently that caught me by surprise: that his experience of giving is often profoundly isolating.
Wait a minute. Isn’t giving a deeply joyful act? Doesn’t it make one feel more connected? So how could this wise, generous man feel isolated in the act of giving? He declaration took me by compete surprise.
George said he often feels alone after he gives because it feels like “people see me as nothing more than a walking checkbook.” He said he gladly gives, but he has much more to offer than just money.
He is certainly not alone. When money is at the center of a relationship – of any relationship not just philanthropist:
What I suggested to George was a simple, powerful solution: organize a small dinner with a few partners from the organization, including some fellow philanthropists, the executive director, several key staff members, etc. Then, in “Jeffersonian-style” fashion, go around the table and invite each person to tell a story of a time when he or she felt especially connected to the work, to the organization and to its people.
We had a dinner like this with the key board members and senior staff at Millennium Promise not too long ago. We all shared stories from our time in a Millennium Village and how that changed the way we viewed the world and the impact of Millennium Promise’s mission.
I can say with conviction that it was one of the most powerful evenings of my life. I remember feeling a deep sense of community, shared experience and passion. Not to mention a true solidarity with my partners. There was a warmth and commitment from that evening that urged each of us delve a little deeper into what resources we could offer to our collaboration. The evening remedied, in just a few hours, any feelings of isolation, burn-out or frustration that we may have had — and lit every member of the room on fire with a renewed spirit for the mission of the project.
The key to this work – and to not feeling isolated (in whatever “role” we are playing) – is simply remembering why we have come. “Why” questions are profoundly important and regularly asking them of ourselves and others will open up the whole experience of the work we are all doing.