Before launching Stronger Philanthropy and offering our services to multiple families, I used to work for our own family’s foundation. People would always ask, “What’s the best grant you’ve ever funded?” And I would reply with several examples that warmed my heart. But then I would offer, “Do you want to know the best grant we never funded?”
In 2003 our foundation had the opportunity to finance the initial printing and dissemination of celebrated author Henri Nouwen’s The Spirituality of Fundraising, a now-published work that has gone viral within the Christian fundraising community and benefited so many (including me). Regretfully, our committee couldn’t come to agreement and chose not to fund it. Dejected, I called up another funder to introduce him to this project, and they proceeded with that initial grant. The impact from their donation is still felt today. It was the best grant we never funded.
I thought of that strange sequence when the e-newsletter from the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University dropped into my inbox a few hours ago. Rarely do we see anything in the world of advancement where spirituality is referenced. But Meredith McNab writes of the opportunity for fundraisers to offer spiritual discernment practices that intersect with the aspirations of donors.
Discernment is the process by which people clarify their choices and values in order to see which next step best aligns with what they believe to be the right thing, so that then they can make a decision. In some sense, it is a process of clarifying one’s choices and comparing them with one’s “yardstick” that holds meaning, with an expectation that God is in some way present and active in the process.
It’s in conversation with others about one’s deeply held values and how they might intersect with their donations that the interests of the charity and the donor can converge. This process moves grantmaking from a stale, technical exercise to a potentially joyful encounter with the world. As McNab states, having the courage to do so may unlock these sacred moments.