3 Ways to Make a Difference

AaronDorfman_LillyFamilySchoolIt’s graduation season, and the transcripts of the most inspiring commencement speeches are making the rounds. For those of us in the nonprofit sector, Aaron Dorfman of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy had some great words of wisdom in his speech at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Here are some highlights:

  1. Always remember it’s not your money.

“When we work in the philanthropic sector, whether as grant makers or grant seekers, donor or doers, we have to remember that we are stewards. The dollars entrusted to us are not our own. We have been given an imperative responsibility to help ensure those dollars do the most good in the world. Even if you’re the donor, once you give the money to a foundation, it’s not your money anymore – it’s money for a charitable purpose. What’s more, tax policy in the United States means that every time a donor makes a gift, assuming he or she claims a deduction, other taxpayers are also subsidizing that gift. Charitable dollars are therefore partially public dollars. If we remember that, it’s easier to feel accountable for making good use of the funds that have been entrusted to us.”

  1. Listen to and share power with people who are directly affected.

“Too often in philanthropy, we listen to the experts, to the “smart” people who have all the right credentials. But more than two decades of experience shows me that you’ve got to listen as much or more to the people who are directly affected by the issues you’re working to address as you do to the so-called experts if you want to make a difference for the long term. And don’t just listen to them. Share your power. Put them on the board of directors if you’re in a position to do that. If you’re spending all your time with technocrats and powerful elites, you’re doing it wrong. When we democratize philanthropy, we unleash its true power.”

  1. Take risks, be bold, and stand up for those who are oppressed.

“What philanthropy needs, more than anything else, is people with heart willing to take a stand. Some people talk about neutrality or objectivity as one of philanthropy’s assets, but I think that’s just not true. Neutrality benefits the status quo. People with power and privilege want you to be neutral. One of my favorite quotes on this is from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said, ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.’ If you want to make a difference with a career in philanthropy, you’ve got to stand for something.”

You can read the full text of Mr. Dorfman’s speech here.

– Posted by Julie Price, @Impact_Julie

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