Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday & The Morning After

happy-thanksgiving-turkey-1By Avrum Lapin

As we approach and are guided by the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, and Giving Tuesday to follow, I am struck by the many things that we as Jewish leaders might be thankful for and the “arrows” we have in our “quivers.” We have power; we have opportunity; we have resources; and we have the capacity to touch and to improve the lives of so many.

What do we do with these capabilities that our leadership in today’s society provides to us? Do we make it work for the benefit of our community? What will our legacy, our message, be to those who we lead and those who will follow us? Come with me as we engage this question in a few different ways, using a number of real life experiences.

I recently had the pleasure, together with their top officials, to meet a prospective donor and leader for a prestigious university in Israel on the west coast. The gentleman whom we visited was a successful investment banker and hedge fund manager who had found our client through a mixture of our outreach and research and his desire to help a deserving and innovative University. He was intrigued by the mission of this institution, which related to his own life experience and was in sync with his philanthropic activities.

When our delegation walked into his simple but elegant offices in Beverly Hills we were struck by his preparation. He knew who we were, why we were there, what each member of the team – five of us – represented, and what the nature of the discussion would be. His analyst had prepped him. After some introductory chit chat about his family and himself we launched into the presentation of the institution, the conversation about the goals of the institution and our meeting, what we were looking for from him, and what the next steps would be.

By the time that we left about 30 minutes later, we had achieved many of our goals. We had an interested prospect with great capacity to support financially and to lead by example and we had a path forward to achieve the balance of our objectives.

By all accounts, it was a successful meeting. Why? …because we all recognized and acted upon leadership as being bigger than the individual; that the meaning of the connection and the relationship being built was about exercising the power, using the resources at our fingertips, for the good of the community – to improve the lives of people.

A few weeks later, another meaningful leadership experience. Yes … still traveling, this time with the CEO of another world class institution, this one successfully serving people and generating innovation and thought leadership around new and cutting-edge programs for people with intellectual and other disabilities.

A number of direct introductions and connections in a locality in the US were made by a local board member, who did so despite having no personal or family connection to the services of the organization to which he has dedicated his energies and support. His introductions were well thought out, correct and appropriate and resulted in a number of very successful meetings and a potentially expanded presence in that region.

Why was this successful? It was combination of a keen understanding of his role on the part of the board member and leader, a positive and engaged partnership with the organization’s professional team, and an enthusiasm for doing the right thing for the right reasons. He assessed his power and used it effectively.

A third example is, unfortunately, not so triumphant. The core leader in this instance was a visionary, a person of great integrity and deep scholarship and learning, with a determination to realize a high purpose by obtaining the funding for and constructing a cutting edge campus for an institute that would achieve a number of significant and laudatory goals. When ultimately completed, the new campus would be the global hub for a broad effort to change the world – to truly make a difference in the direction of world events.

However, despite the exceptional vision and goals, this leader has not been able to translate his vision into the creation of an effective team, nor did he work to attract and mobilize the efforts of others. As a result, his global vision remains a vision and ever too far from reality.

Finally, as Giving Tuesday draws near, we laud the sponsors and participants of this global initiative. Organizations that are part of the Giving Tuesday program are seeing large increases and spikes in participation. The challenge is to sustain the wonderful advancements made through this exciting global enterprise to all year round and to make giving a more fundamental part of the way that Americans and others live their lives and relate to their fellow human beings. The key is to use the power, the resources, and the capabilities to grow this amazing undertaking and generate the leadership to achieve so much more.

So if there is a guide in this for all of us, it is to:

  • See philanthropy and giving in particular as something bigger than you. There is nothing wrong with using it as a platform for networking or connections, but make that goal #2.
  • Be a leader, not a manager. Push the envelope and see how what you are doing changes the lives of people and communities. Let your philanthropic work enable you to break boundaries and see ROI in different ways.
  • Embrace the competition in the marketplace, and be smart. Think about what you are doing and how to best understand and use your resources to achieve success. But remember, this is not about you. If you keep that in mind, you, together with friends, colleagues, and people whom you will meet along the way, will accomplish great and wonderful things.

This is a wonderful season, and Thanksgiving and Giving Tuesday set the tone and use our influence and abilities in a proactive and meaningful way. We have the power to meet our challenge to extend that tone, and the results that it can create, throughout the holiday season and into the coming year.

My colleagues and I welcome your comments and insights. Let us know what you think.

Avrum Lapin is the President at The Lapin Group, LLC, a fundraising consulting firm located in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits seeking fund, organizational, leadership, and business development solutions, offering contemporary and leading edge approaches and strategies. Avrum is a frequent contributor to and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.

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