Standing On Some Pretty Good Shoulders
Standing On Some Pretty Good Shoulders

It is easy to get swallowed up by the day-to-day challenges of funding, managing, evaluating, directing and refreshing a contemporary nonprofit organization. Those whose work is dedicated to helping others might take a moment to help themselves with reminders of the tradition they serve. 

Master Kong, or (as he came to be called) Confucius, offers this 2,500-year-old observation: “He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own.” Were he writing today he would obviously neutralize the gender but make the same point. Doing work to benefit the community, which is what nonprofits were created to do, ought to return good to the workers.

Nonprofit work is essentially and organically tied to the well-being of the greater world around us. Just because we’ve heard it a lot doesn’t mean it’s not true; we’re in this together. The Seneca have a saying, “A person who would do great things should not attempt them all alone.” Across the miles and years, a Hopi maxim echoes that idea: “One finger cannot lift a pebble.” Good to remember when we get caught in a “silo” of problems, objectives, outcomes and budgets.

A young 1800s American, George Peabody, moved to London, became a banker, partnered with a guy named Morgan and built what became JPMorgan. But what matters to us now is what Peabody did after the Civil War. He founded what most would call the first “grant-making foundation.” It was aimed at reconciliation and education and for all its shortcomings, the Peabody Education Fund was a template for the work we do today. It’s nice to know that we’re somehow aligned with centuries-old traditions.

Whatever we think of Brutus (usually we only think about him on March 15), we can thank Shakespeare for this affirmation of our work: “I can raise no money by vile means.” Are there vile means others might consider to raise funds for programs like yours? Sure there are. It’s good to be grounded in the “means” you’ve chosen and the “ends” you’ve identified.

Finally, as you sit at the computer feeling the full weight of resistance and chaos from the world outside, maybe type these lines to get you started: “If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void.” Barack Obama said it, now we live it. © Copyright 2021 The Grantsmanship Center