Tag Archives: Thank You

Lifetime Achievement

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

It’s a funny thing to talk about Lifetime Achievement. The words suggest summation. A grand total. A backward look.

This past weekend, Rich and Deb Tarrant were presented with the 2016 Lifetime Achievement in Philanthropy Award from the University of Vermont Foundation. The award was given in recognition of the tremendous investments made by Rich and Deb, and by their Foundation, in efforts to improve middle-level education, advance medical research, and strengthen the University.

lifetime-achievement-2016

I could not have been prouder. And, I think it’s safe to say, Rich and Deb could not have been more uncomfortable.

Neither Rich nor Deb likes to be praised for their generosity. You’ll hear Rich say in the video below that even the word philanthropy doesn’t sit well with him. It’s too soft. Rich considers the resources he and Deb invest in communities and programs around Vermont to be just that – investments. In exchange for those investments, he expects a non-monetary return, in the form of lives impacted, communities strengthened, and futures changed.

Rich and Deb accepted the award, with characteristic modesty, graciousness, and big serving of humor. They shook hands, smiled, and stood for pictures. Then they did what they do best: get back to work.

In just the couple of days since the award presentation, Rich and Deb have met with numerous leaders who are tackling some of our state’s biggest challenges. They have talked statistics, theory, efficiency, and impact. They’ve emphasized the crucial balance between thinkers and doers. They’ve considered scope and next steps and how, as ever, to make the very most of the resources they have.

As much as I love to see Rich and Deb honored for all that they have done, for them the conversation is always about what lays ahead. What’s been done is only ever a tiny part of what can be done. Our job is to get focused, get organized, and tackle what’s next.

Onward.

                                                                                                                                                                

Lauren A. Curry has served as Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

Thank You to the Doers

Friday, April 8, 2016

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

Yesterday was a road day. I spent more time in my car than I did actually visiting the program that prompted my journey. It was rainy and I was tired. Not my favorite kind of road day.

When I got where I was going I had to circle the block a couple of times to find parking. I noticed two women about my age talking on the sidewalk in front of a promising lot. Each had a heavy-looking tote bag over her shoulder, and one a big stack of paperwork in her arms. Neither had an umbrella.

While I waited to make the left turn into the lot, an oncoming car started honking its horn. The women turned and we all watched the car pass between us, windows down, middle fingers flying, jeers hurled.

It took me a second to catch my brain up to what I’d seen. It all happened fast, and at first I thought perhaps the car was honking at me. But the young occupants weren’t looking or shouting or middle-fingering in my direction. They were aiming at the two women, loaded down with work, standing and talking in the rain.

I watched the women pass quickly through startle, confusion, grimace and sigh. By the time I’d parked, gathered my own stack of folders and walked – umbrella in hand – to where they were standing, I was ready to share a moment of upset with them. I expected to find them commiserating over such a hurtful, hateful moment.

But when I drew into earshot, that’s not what I found. At least not that I could tell. They seemed engaged as they originally had been, sorting through some professional matter, and apparently moved on from the insult.

So I walked past. Without catching either’s eye. Without acknowledging my witness to the ugly thing just perpetrated at them.

Down the block I entered a bustling elementary school as it progressed through its busy end-of-day. The halls were still full of young bodies, loud young voices, and developing minds. This was where the two women had obviously spent their day. Their evenings would be busy with papers, new lesson plans, and building that next inspiring learning moment.

I don’t know who was in that car or what decided them on their insults. I’m sure there’s a story.  What I do know is it left me feeling bad.  And not saying something left me feeling bad.

So I’ll say something to them now, and to all of those like them:

To those women, thank you. Thank you for standing in front of a child every day and teaching them the world.

Thank you to the afterschool volunteers I was there to visit yesterday who give crucial extra support when and where it’s needed most. Thank you to the business owner I’ll see next week who, in her non-existent spare time, built a program for people isolated by difference and disability. Thank you to the retiree who came by recently who volunteers full-time fighting a far-away wrong.

Thank you to all the doers.

Your doing is important. Your doing is powerful. Your doing is so very much more powerful than middle fingers in the rain.


Lauren A. Curry has served as Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

 

 

 

Long-Term Investments

Friday, September 4, 2015

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry.

This foundation cares about a lot of things. Recognition isn’t one of them. Why? “Because,” my boss would tell you, “this isn’t about us.”

Look around Vermont, in fact, and you’ll find buildings and facilities given in honor of other people – people who perhaps don’t have the means to make a “naming” contribution themselves, but who have given deeply of their passion and their labor. Naming buildings after folks like that is our way of celebrating those gifts, and of staying true to our core belief that no amount of money can have an impact without the people who do the real work at the community level.

But that’s a different story.

Today I’m thinking about another side of donor recognition. And I’m wondering if we – the philanthropic community – have been getting it wrong all along? And if, in doing so, we’re undermining the true nature of what philanthropic relationships are supposed to be about?

Here’s the problem. Last week I walked up to the post office and collected my typical pile of stuff: urgent notices about my (non-existent) business cable account, yet another IRS acknowledgement of our change of address three years ago, checks from our board treasurer, a couple of glossy non-profit magazines, and a stack of newsletters and annual reports.

As you’d expect, we get marketing pieces from all the non-profits to which we’ve written a check this year. And last year. And really ever. Some are slick and expensive, others about as homemade as you can imagine. In virtually every one, there’s that ubiquitous, clunky, tree-killing feature of the non-profit landscape: the donor acknowledgement list.

Please don’t tell my boss, but I actually read those lists. If we’ve given a gift recently, I check to be sure we’re listed and listed correctly. If we’re not, I drop a friendly, hey-this-really-isn’t-a-big-deal-but note to the organization to get the issue resolved.

Mind you, I hate writing those notes. I used to be in charge of donor lists when I worked for a community foundation out west. Whether compiling or just editing them, those lists pretty much never left our office without my initials on them somewhere. And I sweated those lists hard. I read them and read them and re-read them. I checked and double-checked. More than a decade later I can still tell you the correctly spelled names of a whole bunch of people I never even met. (Bet you can too.)

But mistakes inevitably happened, and the error notices came to me. So any time I have to alert a grantee now to an acknowledgement issue, it’s done with legitimate empathy.

The error I found last week was completely understandable. It happened because we’d made a complicated gift that wasn’t easily tracked in a database. The gift came as a mix of direct, indirect and in-kind support, conveyed over multiple years. I can only imagine the challenge of tracking each component for tiered recognition by fiscal year.

That’s the thing, though. Why try?

More and more we’ve come to understand that philanthropy is a long-term game, and that donor relations unfold over lifetimes – even beyond. Our Foundation certainly considers our non-profit partners to be long-term allies, and we view our investments as having a compounding effect.

So what does it tell donors when support is acknowledged strictly within an arbitrary date range? What does it suggest when thank you lists reset to zero each year, and support that may have built up over decades is functionally swept aside?

There are of course accounting realities and operating budgets that open and close on fixed dates. But that’s where I think we get into trouble: building donor recognition – better yet donor engagement – scenarios based on financial management tools.

I’m not suggesting that non-profits publish forever-additive lists. Perish the thought. But it does strike me that in as much as non-profits want to forge sustained relationships with donors – and vice versa – consideration of new systems of acknowledgement is warranted.

I’m imaging what my personal donor profile at my favorite non-profit might look like if it were structured to focus and build on the full history of our relationship. It’s a relationship that goes back to my early 20s, and includes years when even tiny gifts meant sacrifice. The few occasions when I didn’t send my check within their non-calendar fiscal year, my name was of course omitted from the published list.

Makes me wonder what the marketing of such a list is really intended to encourage. Is it motivating me to rush my gift in before the wonky fiscal year cut-off? I’m not sure. Right now I’m feeling something far less inspirational … like it reveals fickleness in a relationship I consider enduring. Certainly there’s a bit of a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately flavor in it.

Of course the answer isn’t for non-profits to acknowledge donors who don’t give. But perhaps it is to forgive the occasional lapse, and publicly thank donors anyway for being part of a philanthropic movement that helped get the organization where it is today. Or maybe, for groups using a tiered acknowledgement system, it’s to orient those systems in a way that values a donor’s lifetime commitment to the cause, not a snapshot.

My boss, while not a fan of me spending time on donor recognition issues, is a fan of getting to the bottom line. So here it is:

Let’s acknowledge donor support as something deeper and with far broader a horizon than a fiscal year could justly describe.


Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.