Leader and philanthropist: Bill Clinton

This week at DonorDreams we are talking about what it looks like to be a fundraising “LEADER”. Today, we will continue our work by examining Bill Clinton’s teachable point of view around philanthropy, which he details in his 240 page book titled “Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World“. Tomorrow, we will cap the week off by looking at a variety of organizations that provide t”hought leadership” in the area of charitable giving.

Earlier this week I wrote blog posts titled “Are you and your non-profit agency a fundraising leader?” and “What is your teachable point of view around fundraising?“. If I had to capture these posts in a few words, it would be . . . leaders are teachers and they always have a teachable point of view (TPOV). After reading Bill Clinton’s book on “Giving,” regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, it would be impossible to argue that Clinton doesn’t has a TPOV on philanthropy and that he uses his book as a vehicle to teach us how to be more charitable.

Clinton shares a wealth of “Ideas” (remember this is one of the three elements of a TPOV) through his book including: much still needs to be done in our communities; everyone can giving; charitable giving doesn’t have to just be money but can also include time or things or skills; and we have an obligation to each other (which kind sounds like Hillary’s “it takes a village” mantra).

Identifying Clinton’s “Values” (remember this is the second of the three elements of a TPOV) and principles  throughout his book isn’t difficult. A few of those values were: duty, service over self, compassion, life, and self-sufficiency.

Finally, his “emotional energy and edge” (remember this is the final piece of the three TPOV elements) is loud and clear in every chapter of the book. I think this quote from Clinton captures it best:

“I wrote this book to encourage you to give whatever you can, because everyone can give something. And there’s so much to be done, down the street and around the world. It’s never too late or too early to start.”

This call to action echoes Dr. Martin Luther King’s inspirational words: “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”  Clinton’s book reads like a manual for the average person in America on how a private citizen doesn’t have to have an extraordinary Presidential life story in order to make a difference.

Bill Clinton as a philanthropic leader and teacher? ABSOLUTELY!!!! And he is someone we can all learn a lot from.

Perhaps, my favorite part of this book is where Clinton reminds us of why donors give of themselves.

“Why do some people give so much while others give the bare minimum or not at all? I’ve thought about this a lot, and it seems to me we all give for a combination of reasons, rooted in what we think about the world in which we live and what we think about ourselves. We give because we think it will help people today or give our children a better future; because we feel morally obligated to do so out of religious or ethical convictions; because someone we know and respect asked us; or because we find it more rewarding and more enjoyable than spending more money on material possessions or more time on recreation or work.

When people don’t give, I think the reasons are simply the reverse. They don’t believe what they could do would make a difference, either because their resources are limited or they’re convinced efforts to change other people’s lives and conditions are futile. They don’t feel morally obligated to give. No one has ever asked them to do so. And they believe they’ll enjoy life more if they keep their money and time for themselves and their families.”

Sorry for including such a long quote from Clinton, but I find these words to be truly inspiring. I also believe that EVERY non-profit organization can use this passage to evaluate their comprehensive resource development program by asking:

  • What are you doing to demonstrate to donors and the community at-large that your agency’s programs “make a difference”?
  • What are you doing to show both large and small donors that regardless of how small the contribution might be that it is important, valued, appreciated, and transformational?
  • How does your agency and your staff, board members, volunteers and donors model the morality-values-principles associated with philanthropy? And how do you do this in a way that inspires others to jump on the bandwagon?
  • How are you asking others to join you? Is it all about the impersonal email, newsletter, social media post, telephone call or snail-mail letter? Or are you and your volunteers getting out into the community and “pressing the flesh”?
  • Studies demonstrate that people who make philanthropic contributions (e.g. time, talent or treasure) are “happier” people. Do you and your volunteers look happy or are you making charitable giving and service look dreary and hard?

I encourage you to read Bill Clinton’s book because it reads like a love letter to the non-profit community and an instructional manual for donors as well as non-profit organizations!

Have you read the book? What were your impressions or lessons learned? If not a high-profile leader like Bill Clinton, who have you looked to as a philanthropic leader? What life lesson did you learn from that person?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC