An Encouraging Word

I hope that you have enjoyed my posts this week focused on and inspired by Bill Somerville and Fred Setterberg’s book, Grassroots Philanthropy. Feel free to read my earlier posts A New Kind of Philanthropy and A Look in the Mirror. I am including a longer quote from the book than I usually would. I found this passage of great comfort and inspiration. I know that all of us in the nonprofit world have been confronted with the enormity of societal problems and our own smallness in our ability to respond to them.

I love Bill’s response because it comes from many years of seasoned experience. In Bill’s shoes I might have a cynical approach to philanthropic success and I know myself that I have asked the question sometimes, “Are we really making a difference?” Bill writes to grantmakers but I think the message is the same to all of us in philanthropy. I encourage you to read the following as if it were written to us fundraisers.

Initiative grantmaking [fundraising] is also tempered by matters of size and scale…We focus on locating outstanding leaders and giving them free creative rein in discrete pockets of the community that they know best…It does not transform the world utterly or overnight.

We [Foundation Bill works at] don’t tackle projects beyond the scope of our modest resources. Despite the temptations, we will never attempt to untangle the Bay Area’s nightmare commute by underwriting massive public transportation projects or launch bottom-up reforms to transform our national healthcare system… we do not suffer from delusions of grandeur regarding our ability to burrow into vast and intricate public policy issues and emerge with the answer.

Does that mean grantmakers [and nonprofits] of limited size must content themselves with treating their communities’ ills with figurative Band-Aids?

Not at all. We know our limits—but only because we’ve repeatedly tested them… We also admit to ourselves that we will not achieve all of our goals during our collective lifetimes, never mind within the course of a single career.

But instead of dwelling on what lies beyond reach, I often find myself reflecting on the prospect of social tipping points—the means by which small improvements on a continuing basis trigger widespread change… I believe that if we all keep working with the smartest, most dedicated people in our midst, then we’ll make progress. At any moment the odds are stacked against us as grantmakers [fundraisers or social entrepreneurs], but time is on our side.


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