Monday, July 30, 2012

Philanthropic Studies: The Leaven in the Loaf

Robert L. Payton, 1926 – 2011
A few weeks back, there was big news from IUPUI that the nationally known Center on Philanthropy, pending approval from Indiana Commission for Higher Education, is to become its own school of philanthropic studies. The idea is that the new school will raise the bar
on excellence in philanthropic studies, helping to prepare people professionally for careers in the philanthropic world by offering a variety of degrees at undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. This is news because currently no school in the nation offers a school specifically dedicated to the study of philanthropy. If all goes as planned and IUPUI receives the approval it needs from the state, classes could begin in the 2013-14 academic year.

True, there is a big demand for trained and experienced people in the non-profit world, and that sector is experiencing good growth, even in our slowly recovering economy. And voluntary giving and action and philanthropy in general are worthy of academic consideration. I wonder, however, if this new school is really the right approach for the times in which we live.

When Bob Payton became the first director of the Center on Philanthropy, he was careful to articulate the philosophy that his goal was in fact to get teachers and professors throughout the university to include philanthropy in the subject matter they were teaching, whether that was law, medicine, sociology, or another discipline. The subject matter could be almost anything, but included in them all—in the form or remarks or sections of study—would be ideas about the ways philanthropy could benefit and complement their field. For example, medical students could learn about writing grant proposals for the National institutes of Health, and students in the social sciences could learn about ways they could fund their research or get new programs off the ground.

In the academic world, all too often, we silo everything and limit the creative conversations we could be having. Instead of allowing inspiration to germinate where it will and benefit all disciplines, we take the approach, “We won’t talk about that because that topic is in their area. We focus on this topic.” If by creating this new school we serve in effect to “silo” the rich potential of the Center on Philanthropy, I think other disciplines will miss out on learning that could be instrumental in furthering students’ careers.  It may be possible for this new school to continue to plant the philanthropic spirit in other disciplines, but I think it’s less likely to happen if all the philanthropists have their own program.

Bob Payton was the first tenured professor in philanthropic studies in the world, and he had a vision for the Center on Philanthropy, one I share and feel is worth upholding. What Bob Payton wanted was to grow and spread the “philanthropic spirit,” or the “habit of the heart,” across disciplines. He wanted to elevate the professional excellence in philanthropy and develop an expertise without segregating the field. I hope as plans continue to move forward for the new school of philanthropic studies at IUPUI, program planners will consider the solid foundation the Center already has and protect, preserve, and grow Bob’s original vision. It’s one that will continue to benefit not only the school of philanthropy alone but all other disciplines it touches.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Knowing When to Quit

Discerning the right time to make a change in employment is an important but sometimes difficult call. Ultimately for the health and stability of the organization you lead, making the choice sooner rather than later and having a solid exit strategy in place will help the business move forward without stumbling.

There can be many thoughts tugging at the heart of a leader who is considering the right time to leave.  Some are positive, arising out of a concern for the ongoing health of the organization and wanting to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible. Some people think the organization can’t get along without them. I tend to think of this attitude as a kind of hubris—meaning exaggerated pride or self-confidence, according to Merriam-Webster’s definition—that can cloud our thinking and keep us from seeing situations realistically.

And some leaders may feel it’s time to leave but find it hard to step away before finishing that one more big project or launching that one last great idea (which of course leads to the next idea…and then the next…

One key to preparing a healthy exit strategy involves creating while you’re there an environment that will be able to continue to flourish without you. As part of your preparation for the company, you either line up a successor or have a process in place that you feel will bring into the organization a competent leader. You may not identify that person yourself, but contributing to the process can go a long way toward helping the organization transition smoothly. In some organizations I’ve been involved with, leaders are asked at their annual review, “Who in the organization can take your place?” This question helps the reviewer learn who else in the organization the leader thinks is good, and it also says something about the way in which that leader thinks about people.

Ultimately when we are thinking about when to leave an organization, we need to do some sorting to help clarify the choice. Determining which thoughts are the voice of the ego, and which ones are truly in the best interest of the organization will help bring some light to the decision. When I left my role as president of Lilly Endowment in 1973 to become president of PSI Energy (which became Cinergy and sold to Duke Energy in 2006), some confidants questioned my judgment—why would I want to leave this organization that seemed to be in the center of everything? But I knew there were a number of talented younger leaders who could contribute and lead the organization.

Most recently, I made the decision to step down as chairman of Lumina Foundation for Education. I was an advocate of limited terms for board members, and I pushed the board to put that policy in place. Although I loved my work there and really didn’t want to relinquish my role at that point, I realized that after advocating for term limits, I needed to walk the talk and step down myself. I have continued to serve on the board and will continue to do so until my current term is completed early next year.

Clarifying your choices when you’re feeling it might be time to move on and helping to put a solid exit strategy in place are two ways to ensure the transition unfolds as evenly as possible. The truth is, if it’s time for you to go and instead of facing it, you’re digging in your heels, life might help you by presenting an exit strategy you might not have chosen for yourself I’ve witnessed a number of people who missed the opportunity to quit in an honorable way and were subsequently embarrassed. A much better choice is to look clearly at the situation at hand and make the call you want to make--if possible, well in advance of the day you actually say goodbye.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Wining & Dining--All for the Cause

Fundraising for Dummies
I’m at that stage in my life now when it seems lots of folks are interested in taking me to lunch. We talk about business, we chat about politics, we often speculate about the business future of Indiana. And then my lunch companion shifts in his or her seat and begins the approach to the real heart of the conversation: the ask. With considerable experience both as a fundraiser and as a former CEO of the Lilly Endowment, I’ve been on both sides of the fundraising ask: I’ve asked others for contributions, and I’ve represented a major private foundation that distributed funds to other organizations when they asked. So I know what it means to ask--and to be asked--for money.
In fact, I enjoy those lunches when they are done well, when the fundraiser has done his or her homework, when the cause is something I care about, and when we share interests that make for an engaging lunch conversation. But invariably, when the time for the check arrives, the fundraiser reaches for it in a show of generosity. “Oh, no—“ he or she says, “This lunch is on me.”

This just happened a week ago. We get to the end of the lunch, and each of us starts to fumble for the check. My lunch companion said, ”Let me have this, I invited you to lunch.”

Then I say, “Gosh, I guess you haven’t read my book.”

She laughed and said, “No I haven’t. Maybe I ought to buy it.”

“If you’d read it, you’d know I suggest that when you're seeking money from somebody and the person you’re asking offers to get the check, I say let em.” She laughed and then handed me the check!

The reason I advocate this is that you want your prospective giver to know how frugal your organization is. Of course this means that over time, I get a lot of invitations to lunch.