Partners in Philanthropy   Partners in Philanthropy
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On Knowledge

Knowledge, as many words in the English language, has contrasting meanings or usages with both positive and negative connotations. Reflexively, we regard knowledge as a constructive pursuit. However, consider these phrases and references: the tree of knowledge of good and evil; carnal knowledge; knowledge is the source of all evil; the Book of Knowledge (one of the ancient Hindu metaphysical treatises of the Upanishad about man’s relationship to the universe).

Knowledge has two meanings. One is the act, fact or state of knowing which is further defined as awareness or understanding. The other is all that has been perceived by the mind which includes unconscious awareness as well. By the way, we often use "knowledgeable" incorrectly when describing someone who has considerable knowledge. Actually, "knowledgeable" means the potential or capacity for knowledge.

The knowledge required of development professionals is more than the how-to understanding that anyone can acquire through diligent study and application. This is the type of knowledge we are anxious (and eager) to acquire when we are new to the development field. We are anxious because we desire to find our comfort zone, that place where we feel competent and secure, that place where we do not feel vulnerable and threatened by our un-knowing. Although, this is often when our learning is most prodigious and accelerated. Unfortunately, when we find our comfort zone, we can become smug in our knowledge and impervious to further learning.

The kind of knowledge that sets successful development professionals apart resides at a deeper level. It is less definable and not easily measured by an examination such as that required in seeking certification by one of our professional organizations. It is "knowing" which psychoanalyst Erich Fromm defines in To Have Or To Be? as "to penetrate through the surface, in order to arrive at the roots, and hence the cause." It is the difference which Fromm describes in this way: "Having knowledge is taking and keeping possession of available knowledge (information); knowing is functional and part of the process of productive thinking."

"Functional" and "process" imply an ongoing, dynamic practice. Getting to know our donors is also, therefore, a process of productive thinking. It involves what philosopher Frederich Nietzsche refers to as the "third ear’ which is instinctual. Psychoanalyst Theodor Reik in Listening With The Third Ear describes it in this way: "The instincts, which indicate, point out, hint at and allude, warn and convey, are sometimes more intelligent than our ‘conscious’ intelligence....It can catch what other people do not say, but only feel and think...." Successful development professionals use their instincts which are gained through years of practice but also which are enhanced by close attention to nonverbal signals, to a donor’s choice of words and to the stories they share.

Reik goes on to give us an idea of what we can gain when we listen to our donors with our third ear. "Only he who...opens all his senses to these impressions will be sensitive to the wealth he will encounter." This wealth is the essence of our donors — their beliefs and values, their ideas, their hopes — which we can fruitfully employ to engage them in our organizations. This listening does not require the training of a psychoanalyst. Reik tells the story of a patient he was having difficulty in reaching until the patient related an insightful comment made by his girlfriend. Suddenly, the road to this man’s inner psyche was opened to him. He mused to himself, "Who had taught her the fine art of psychological observation and discernment?...It was her heart that had told her." Just so, when we relate to our donors from the basis of love and not manipulation, our hearts will encounter another heart and result in a wealth of knowledge.

Fromm in The Art Of Being refers to "a law in human relations: There is no contact between human beings that does not affect both of them." We should be mindful of that law, for it is what enriches our work. We affect our donors, not just in compelling them to support our organizations, but in inducing them to think and relate in different ways. Likewise, our donors have an effect upon us. They show us a different way of being, they draw us into their lives, and they love us.

This love between us and our donors is different than romantic love because it involves productive thinking which is characterized by objectivity. This faculty allows us to see them as they are and not as we wish them to be. As we grow to know our donors more intimately over time, we see them more objectively and less subjectively. Initially, we may think of them in terms of being able to make a major gift if they are properly motivated. This is the standard approach to major giving. But it is a kind of wishful thinking, a fantasy, a false belief that we can control the donor’s thinking.

As we come to know our donors, we cannot be indifferent to them. As Fromm writes in Man For Himself, "In productive thinking the intensely interested in his object, and the more intimate this relation is, the more fruitful is his thinking." This is how major gifts unfold. As our knowledge of our donors grows, we are able to be creative in making the connection with our organizations’ missions, to effect a merger of purpose. It is a kind of dance with two partners. One may indeed lead, but the two are acutely aware of one another and sensitive to cues. The result is mutual responsiveness, pleasure and satisfaction.

I typically advocate being well-prepared for meetings with donors. That means reviewing files, determining primary and secondary objectives, structuring the flow of conversation, anticipating questions and objections. My thinking is changing, though. Too often that approach leads to over-controlling the encounter. It sometimes feels more like a struggle than a meeting of minds. As I reflect on my value as a consultant, I believe that some of the most productive time is spent in my asking questions — lots of questions — which make the client think and do the challenging, creative work of using his third ear. Far better, I think, to follow Fromm’s advice on conversing in To Have or To Be? The quote is long but especially instructive. As you read it, think of yourself meeting with one of your prospective major donors.

"Who has not experienced meeting a person distinguished by prominence or fame or even by real qualities, or a person of whom one wants something: a good job, to be loved, to be admired? In any such circumstances many people tend to be at least mildly anxious, and often they ‘prepare’ themselves for the important meeting. They think of topics that might interest the other; they think in advance how they might begin the conversation; some even map out the whole conversation, as far as their own part is concerned. Or they may bolster themselves up by thinking about what they have: their past successes, their charming personalities (or their intimidating personality if this role is more effective), their social position, their connections, their appearance and dress. In a word, they mentally balance their worth, and based on this evaluation, they display their wares in the ensuing conversation. The person who is very good at this will indeed impress many people, although the created impression is only partly due to the individual’s performance and largely due to the poverty of most people’s judgment. If the performer is not so clever, however, the performance will appear wooden, contrived, boring and will not elicit much interest.

"In contrast are those who approach a situation by preparing nothing in advance, not bolstering themselves up in any way. Instead they respond spontaneously and productively; they forget about themselves, about the knowledge, the positions they have. Their egos do not stand in their own way, and it is precisely for this reason that they can fully respond to the other person and that person’s ideas. They give birth to new ideas, because they are not holding onto anything. While the having persons rely on what they have, the being persons rely on the fact that they are, that they are alive and that something new will be born if only they have the courage to let go and to respond. They come fully alive in the conversation, because they do not stifle themselves by anxious concern with what they have. Their own aliveness is infectious and often helps the other person to transcend his or her egocentricity. Thus the conversation ceases to be an exchange of commodities (information, knowledge, status) and becomes a dialogue in which it does not matter any more who is right. The duelists begin to dance together, and they part not with triumph or sorrow — which are equally sterile — but with joy."

Joy! A much better result than we usually experience. It takes courage — courage to be real and courage to give up control. Successful development professionals know the rewards: satisfying personal relationships with donors and significant financial results for our organizations. This is the value of the knowledge that we as development professionals bring to our organizations. It is awareness and understanding of others, not how to run a special event or produce another half percent in direct mail response or write a grant application. Those skills can be easily learned or, better yet, the tasks can be delegated to others.

To practice this kind of freedom requires the right kind of organization run by the right kind of chief executive. Our firm’s purpose is to help our partners succeed. We realize that an organization’s fund raising success lies in large part with hiring the right kind of development director. If you seek this kind of environment, we invite you to contact us.

As you go about your tasks today, keep these words of essayist Francis Bacon in mind. "For all knowledge and wonder (which is the seed of knowledge) is an impression of pleasure in itself." You owe it to yourself and to your donors.

Suggested readings:

Fromm, Erich, Man for Himself, Fawcett Publications, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1947.

Fromm, Erich, The Art of Being, Continuum Publishing Company, New York, 1989.

Fromm, Erich, To Have Or To Be?, Bantam Books, New York, 1981.

Reik, Theodor, Listening With The Third Ear, Pyramid Books, New York, 1948.

Michael R. Maude, ACFRE, FAHP
Partners In Philanthropy


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