By Henry Berman, ASF
It is often hard to truly understand and empathize with organizations asking foundations for funding. I recall once visiting a pre-school program and being told the children left each day heading to homes with no books. The first time I heard this I honestly could not grasp that concept. Having grown up in a home surrounded by books and a mother who was a librarian, the idea of no books was, to me, totally foreign.
The story is told that Eleanor Roosevelt was giving a lecture when a hostile audience member asked if she thought her husband Franklin’s illness had affected his mind. “Yes” she answered. “Anyone who has gone through great suffering is bound to have greater sympathy and understanding of the problems of mankind.”
Given that we may not have experienced illiteracy, homelessness, or certain diseases in the first person, how do we try to better understand those we want to serve?
I asked Richard Woo, chief relationship officer at The Russell Family Foundation, about this:
“…try to see the world through the eyes of your partners that you’re trying to work with, which oftentimes means go to where the community is. Don’t expect the community to come to your office. Be willing to go there at the time when the community is most active in their life on these issues that they care about. And that may not fall between the hours of nine in the morning and five in the afternoon. It means engaging with the community in ways that reflect their practices [and] reflect who they are . . .”
How do you see the world? How do you view people and organizations requesting funds? Do you consider them people or organizations? Can you build a relationship with an organization — or just the people within it?
Listen to my conversation with Richard Woo in ASF’s lastest podcast, Nurturing the Roots of Philanthropy, and share your thoughts.
Henry Berman became ASF’s CEO in 2011, previously serving as acting CEO, board member, and committee member. Through his experience as a foundation co-trustee and ASF member since 2003, he brings a firsthand understanding of the needs of ASF members to his role. Berman’s early career included positions as an independent communications consultant and director, writer, and producer of film, video, and multimedia programs for education, motivation, and fundraising.