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On Love

This subject is a little daunting to write about. After all, it has had the attention of the greatest minds of civilization — from poets to playwrights, philosophers to pundits. We all consider ourselves to be experts to a degree; we have all had the experience of love.

Love is the root of philanthropy. We all know that philanthropy means love of humankind, caring for others as expressed in acts of giving to further the human condition. It is interesting that its close cousin, philander, also means love of man but in a particular and superficial sense. So, we might conclude that philanthropy is characterized by giving and by its general, but profound, concern for the human genus.

In his book The Art of Loving, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm offers one of the most compelling arguments for why people give that I have ever read. He writes that "the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving....Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness."

Fromm goes on to explain that the most important kind of giving is not of material things but of ourselves to another. "He gives him of that which is alive in him; he gives him of his joy, of his interest, of his understanding, of his knowledge, of his humor, of his sadness....In thus giving of his life, he enriches the other person....He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and this which is brought to life reflects back to him; in truly giving, he cannot help receiving that which is given back to him. Giving implies to make the other person a giver also and they both share in the joy of what they have brought to life. In the act of giving something is born for both of them. Specifically with regard to love this means: love is a power which produces love."

I quote Fromm at length because he is able to say so well what so few people outside our profession understand. One of our greatest rewards is to experience the joy of seeing others give generously of themselves, enriching both themselves and others. And we ourselves experience life as givers and lovers, as people who are alive and potent, as people who are able to change the world in some small but important way.

Philanthropy is predicated on love. There are several types of love, but the most fundamental is brotherly (and sisterly) love according to Fromm. He writes that "love is... an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one object of love. There is the experience of union with all men, of human solidarity, of human at-one-ment. Brotherly love is based on the experience that we are all one." This is the attitude of the philanthropist.

Fromm is of the opinion that "love of the helpless one, love of the poor and the stranger, are the beginning of brotherly love." He believes that this love arises from compassion — knowledge of and identification with another.

That speaks to our role as development professionals. Last month’s column concluded that our challenge as development professionals is to love and be loved. As we grow to know and understand our donors, we grow to love them. Fromm believed that there are basic elements common to all forms of love: care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.

Care is described as an active concern for the life and the growth of another person. Fromm thought that care and labor in this respect are inseparable, that we love that for which we labor and we labor for that which we love.

This is why we seek to involve our donors in our work with us — to connect labor and love. Our work with one Catholic campus ministry began with a strategy to do just that with a view toward a future major endowment campaign. We recruited nearly 80 people dedicated to the Church to help us establish program priorities and to develop the content of those programs. We drew upon their knowledge of their parishes, their commitment to their faith and their desire for a meaningful role in the Church. The result so far have included commitments totaling well over $1 million.

Responsibility is a voluntary response to the needs (mainly psychic) of that person. It is not a sense of duty, but an internal belief that we are our brother’s keeper. We have a stake and a genuine interest in his or her well-being.

I recently received a telephone call from a former colleague reporting that I had been paged at the hospital where I used to work. An elderly woman who had been a volunteer and small donor had been admitted and had asked for me. No one knew she was in the hospital and she didn’t want to call her son halfway across the country until she knew what was wrong. She just needed a friend, someone to intercede with the nursing staff, someone to calm her fears. The relationship we had developed was both personal and professional.

Respect is the ability to recognize the person that she uniquely is and to want her to be as she is. As Fromm says, "If I love the other person, I feel one with him or her, but with him as he is, not as I need him to be as an object for my use." We have to regard our donors as ends of our attention, not as means to achieving our own purposes.

I recall another woman who attended one of our planned giving seminars when I worked for the same hospital. In talking with her, it was clear she had no particular interest in our organization, but it was also clear she needed her options explained from an unbiased perspective. It took two years and a lot of our help for her to make important decisions. She ultimately did include a gift in her trust to our organization because she was grateful that we had her interest, more than ours, at heart.

Fourth is knowledge. Here Fromm’s insight has much instruction for us as development professionals. "To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge. Knowledge would be empty if it were not motivated by concern. Knowledge...does not stay at the periphery, but penetrates to the core. It is possible only when I can transcend the concern for myself and see the other person in his own terms."

We cannot only see our donors in terms of their financial potential to further the missions of our organizations. We must come to know what their values are, what their hopes for the future are, what it is that they want to achieve. I have witnessed this time and again. Particularly in a campaign, we often succeed in securing a gift from a prospective donor, perhaps even the gift amount we have requested. However, it is when we penetrate to their core and connect with them spiritually that we sometimes receive a truly sacrificial gift that is humbling.

Fromm believes that "the deepest need of man, then, is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness." This need gives rise to our most powerful striving: the desire for interpersonal fusion. Love is the means to bridge our separateness, to relieve our loneliness. It is our most fundamental passion; it is the force which binds the human race. We can invite our donors into union with our organizations, with us, with those we serve, by loving them, by knowing them.

Psychoanalyist Theodore Reik in The Need to Be Loved tells us that it takes very little to meet the minimum need to be loved. Just to be asked their advice makes people feel appreciated and liked! As we age, the need to be loved can even be a matter of life and death. Reik cites a study which observed that "old people let themselves die when they recognize that they are no longer needed or wanted."

However, we humans are very clever at disguising our need to be loved. In fact, we develop strong and effective defenses to avoid revealing what we too often perceive is a vulnerability. Reik notes, "We are all in a way ashamed to admit that we need to be loved, as if it were a confession of a hidden weakness or an expression of emotional immaturity." Our typical defense is to appear to others — and even to ourselves — that we are self-sufficient "while we are actually deeply insufficient in our emotional isolation." Our task as development professionals is to ignore the appearance and to pierce the armor of our donors’ self-sufficiency and to make ourselves vulnerable.

The Art of Loving could be used as a handbook for fund raising. Fromm has a good bit of advice for us: learning theory and its practice are not enough to master the art. The mastery must be "a matter of ultimate concern; there must be nothing else more important than the art [of loving]. Almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power — almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving."

Which brings me to my last point. I have often described development as a noble calling. Michael Novak in Business as a Calling, notes that a calling has certain preconditions. One is ability and, as Fromm as pointed out, we can master the art if it is our ultimate concern. Another is love, not just love of the results, but love of the struggles and frustrations as well. Third, it brings enjoyment and renewed energy. Last, a calling is not easy to discover.

When you discover your calling, I recommend you make an intentional decision to find an organization which will encourage you in your journey toward self-actualization. What do you look for? A chief executive who encourages you to assume leadership, to take risks, to be creative and expressive. A board of individuals committed to the mission who are willing to assume and share responsibility for the organization and who perceive development as an investment rather than a cost. A chief executive and board together who have a vision for the future and who look outward rather than inward.

What do you do when you find such an organization? You stay — for a long time. You develop loving relationships that enrich your own life, as well as the organization and the people it serves. You will be rewarded financially, too. However, you will find personal satisfactions that far outweigh the financial remuneration. You will look back on a long career with gratitude for the achievements that together you were able to accomplish, the good that you were able to do.

Our firm is in the business of helping nonprofits succeed. Success depends equally upon the chief executive, the board and the development director. As a result, we also find ourselves in the matchmaking business: finding development professionals with the personal qualities that best match the characteristics of the organizations for which we work. The results of such matches are remarkable. If you hunger for this kind of relationship, we invite you to contact us.

In closing, think about these words of Fromm: "Man is gifted with reason; he is life being aware of itself , he has awareness, of his fellow man, of his past, and of the possibilities of his future. This awareness of himself as a separate entity, the awareness of his own short life span, of the fact that without his will he is born and against his will he dies, that he will die before those whom he loves, or they before him, the awareness of his aloneness and separateness, of his helplessness before the forces of nature and of society, all this makes his separate, disunited existence an unbearable prison. He would become insane could he not liberate himself from this prison and reach out, unite himself in some form or other with men, with the world outside." What an opportunity for liberation we have in our calling! Make the most of it for life is short indeed.

Suggested readings:

Fromm, Erich, The Art of Loving, Harper & Row, New York, 1956.

Novak, Michael, Business as a Calling, The Free Press, New York, 1996.

Reik, Theodore, The Need to Be Loved, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 1963.

Michael R. Maude, ACFRE, FAHP
Partners In Philanthropy

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