Get Out of the Way and Watch the World Change

By King McGlaughon, Foundation Source

Exponent Philanthropy is pleased to feature the first of a multipart series from our colleagues at Foundation Source, a leading provider of comprehensive support services for private foundations. Providing everything from foundation creation to ongoing foundation management, Foundation Source shares our commitment to helping donors maximize their dollars and time. 

For 25 years I’ve been connecting with a range of individuals, families, and institutions changing the world through philanthropy. I’ve been involved at various stages in the philanthropic process: fuzzy urges and philosophical wonderings, deep questioning, getting informed, planning, implementing, developing strategy, and evaluating outcomes.

I am often struck by the sense of liberation and empowerment that inevitably occurs at some point in that process for those engaging the notion of philanthropy and world changing. That’s powerful.

Disappointingly, all too often that liberation and empowerment gives way to a loss of energy, a sense of limitation, and frustration that is just as striking. That’s a shame.

People, individually and collectively, become inspired by an event, an idea, a problem, or a possibility. They discover a tool or technique they think will help them succeed—a donor-advised fund, private foundation, charitable remainder or lead trust, or an endowed fund at a community foundation. They dedicate financial resources and time. They reach out to their networks and others participate and support the effort with their own time, money, and energy. Hopes rise, plans are made, expectations set. Then…

Over the years, I’ve come to understand that many of those tools and techniques that were designed (often by me) to enable and facilitate “efficient” philanthropic action did the opposite. Rather, the tactics we followed in order to succeed became the very things that frustrated, limited, and inhibited us. They stole away excitement, energy, empowerment, and hope.

Why do institutionalized solutions become constraints to and limiters of philanthropic vision? How do techniques designed to facilitate and enhance become obstacles instead?

Because we forget that a strategy that may have been a stroke of genius for a particular project or outcome may not fit other goals or can, and often does, become stale. We get caught up in the mechanics and lose sight of the vision. We stop innovating.

At all levels of the philanthropic enterprise—policymaking, advising, planning, implementing, and evaluating—we need to continually focus on the inspiring passion that drives us to build a better world. We need to remind ourselves that tools we use exist to harness and empower the philanthropic impulse, not to constrain it. The strategies and tactics we choose to accomplish philanthropic goals must serve the vision and mission, not dictate them. Finally, we need to provide support, encouragement, nurture and assistance to those who step up on behalf of us all.

By continuing to provide broad, level freeways of philanthropy, we ensure that when a person gets the urge to make a difference, she has every tool she needs to move forward, harness her energy and resources, and find like-minded others who can add to her contributions. By helping her focus on why she does this instead of how, we help her use infrastructure, tools, and techniques that enhance her efforts and allow a more efficient and effective pursuit of the change she seeks to achieve. And then…

We need to step back, get out of the way, and watch that good work happen.

King McGlaughon is President and CEO of Foundation Source Philanthropic Services, Inc. Prior to assuming that role, King served in senior executive roles in both the for-profit (financial services) and non-profit (religion and education) sectors. He has been a leader in the philanthropic services and financial services industries for more than 25 years. King holds a BA degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a JD degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law, and a M.Div. degree from The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York, New York. 

King serves on various boards and advisory committees for public charities and private foundations across the United States. He is a frequent speaker at national, regional, and local conferences, and at continuing education programs across the country, in the areas of philanthropy, wealth and estate planning, planned giving, and nonprofit and foundation management and strategy. King is a priest of the Episcopal Church.

Follow King @KingMcGlaughon, Foundation Source @FoundationSrcand Exponent Philanthropy @exponentphil.

3 thoughts on “Get Out of the Way and Watch the World Change

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