Friday, February 22, 2008

How leaders develop

One of the aspects of our foundation that excites me most is the development of a mentoring program for developing non-profit leaders. In my previous work as a pastor there was little that I enjoyed more than connecting regularly with young people who aspired to fulfilling their spiritual calling with boldness and wisdom. Having the chance to continue that kind of work is amazing.
When I look on my own experiences with significant mentors it is not difficult to identify some aspects of the relationships that made it valuable. Sincere personal interest, a developing sense of mutuality, willingness to extend beyond the primary topic of reference, vulnerability, respect, discerning use of books or other resources; they all make it work. But most of those are "soft" qualities that are difficult to program or systematise. I've been able to replicate them to varying degrees with some people in the past and it has made for a rich time of shared learning. But it doesn't happen with everyone.
Now I need to develop an effective mentoring program to employ with some developing leaders for our foundation. I want it to be more than worthwhile for the participants; I want it to be transformative. How do I take what seems to be an organic strength in my experience and develop a structure that maximises the likelihood of that transformation?
Here are some of my thoughts along the way, I'd love to hear from others...
-An element of community is crucial. When a group work together it reduces the risk of me projecting my own expectations or struggles onto someone else.
-A small group aspect also helps maintain a humble authority and accountability.
-There needs to be enough structure to ensure that even if there isn't an easy natural mutual affinity, there is value for people to participate.
-there need to be times of active application of what we're discussing together, as well as times of personal reflection.
-the program must be flexible enough to adapt to individuals but rigid enough to have some predictable outcomes.
-There needs to be encouragement to find additional mentoring specific to areas where I or the group lack the expertise to advise.
-I need to be a facilitator and advisor rather than an instructor.
-There needs to be a buy in from the participant's supervisor or organisation to the value and expectations of the program.
-There needs to be an expectation that those who participate will likewise be involved in mentoring others.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Charity and Ego

Browsing The Gathering today I found my way to an interesting sarcastic article about "philanthrotainment". In essence it was criticising the glorification of public charitable activities by celebrities.
It makes a good point, if an obvious one. There are plenty of examples, public and private, of people who do charitable work for their own benefit rather than for the legitimate benefit of others. It's pretty easy to take shots at Geri Halliwell or Paris Hilton for their United Nations work. But if we were a little bit more honest we might find the log in our own eyes.
Helping people does feel good. Most philanthropists do want to see for themselves the results of their investments, or at least receive grateful updates from the field. The fact that the reward is primarily intrinsic rather than extrinsic and shown on seems a little bit convenient as a source of moral superiority to me.
I think its great that Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates are being widely praised for their generosity. Hopefully their example could inspire some others. Same goes for Brangelina and Bono. Is there something less than 100% selflessness at work? Sure. But that's ultimately true for me too.
The real transformation that could occur in this field would be when we learn to honour those who give time and energy instead of just money. When we can respect the degree of sacrifice involved, not just the financial figures.
I'm grateful for the people, including our founders at Catalyst Foundation, who are giving significant dollars to good causes. I sincerely respect what that involves and what it says in a culture that is so focussed on personal wealth. Still, the focus on the volume of financial giving keeps the emphasis on money as the measure of the gift.
If Madonna can trade on her fame, Bill Gates can offer his billions, and George Clooney can use his profile andd film making skills to raise awareness; maybe we can also learn to honour some people in our communities who are giving of themselves as well, even if the scale is less publically noticeable.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Ethics of Charity

Philanthropy is inherently a matter of ethics. We choose to give to and support people and organizations that reflect what we consider to be “good” or “right”. In doing so, we believe that we are also doing “good” and “right”. It’s not a huge stretch to see a certain arrogance in this. Who are we to judge what is ethical? If we reduce it to a matter of what we like or find agreeable we fundamentally abandon our responsibility to the larger community.
But if philanthropy is ethical, it becomes also theological. Ethics without theology is completely negotiable and uncertain. As I begin my immersion in this field I seem to be coming across a lot of “good” being done with no basis in any external framework or belief beyond “charity”. To me that’s not enough.
I believe in a reality that is more complete than what I can see. This doesn’t devalue everything around me, it gives it all a sacred context. I seek to do “good” in the world because I believe at my core that it reflects the passion of the Creator and brings me, our partners, and those they serve more into unity, not with some vague and poetic sense of spirituality or goodness, but with a very real and specific God who desires to be revealed and responded to.
It is this conviction that makes it possible for me to approach philanthropy with sincere hope and a sense of justice. We are seeking to participate in making right some of the myriad things that have gone wrong because all of us have selfishly believed that we could function as independent arbiters of what is “good” and “right”.
I also acknowledge that there is always a humility required for theology. I can only know God through my experience of His revelation and my own responses. This requires that I continue to pursue an active relationship wherein I am progressively transformed into the man he dreamed of me becoming when he made me.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Relationships or Projects

I've always liked being the new guy. It allows me to ask questions and make observations that may be missed by those who have been involved longer. Of course, that also makes me vulnerable to wildly inaccurate suppositions based on ignorance rather than insight.

The world of charitable foundations and grant-making is a new one for me; you can decide for yourself if I'm ignorant or insightful.

One person who I know is insightful is Mark Petersen from the Bridgeway Foundation. His blog "Open Hands" (link here) gives me a lot to think about. His most recent post is based on a recent New York Times article that explores the established tendency for foundations to gear their grants almost exclusively to short term, clearly defined, and measurable projects; rather than longer term investment in core funding. Innovative directors are realising that this contributes to an unintended and potentially unhealthy necessity for charities to play the "market" of funding and neglect their own long term vision and development.

To my uninitiated eyes this sounds a lot like a transition that Christians are making in our understanding of evangelism. A generation ago, under the influence of organisations like Campus Crusade for Christ and Evangelism Explosion, evangelism became focussed on simply trainable techniques and immediate responses. A large number of people were influenced to pray the "sinner's prayer", and there was much to celebrate in the Kingdom of God. Over time it became apparent that this contributed to a consumer mentality in the church and resulted in sometimes shallow conversions and a lack of deeper discipleship.

Recently thoughtful spiritual leaders are exploring evangelism with a more relational approach that is less efficient and involves a rediscovery of the importance of community. Some believers easily embrace this "postmodern" approach and have treated the "old way" with scorn. Others are skeptical of the soft nature of it and are concerned about "watering down" the Gospel.

Of course, this whole discussion is largely restricted to the Western world.

Really we need both for evangelism and philanthropy. We need those who will be more aggressive and push for measurable commitments and results. We also need those who are prepared to dig deeper into relationships and stick around for the outcomes that take longer to emerge.

Speaking for myself, I prefer the long term approach. I love the process of seeing people develop and discover their identities and interests as God shapes them. It requires more patience and means fewer partnerships and relationships can be cultivated. It's kinda fuzzy on the results and sometimes it seems like a pretty poor investment; but for me it draws me closer to the heart of God and calls me to a faith that challenges the biasses and assumptions of our culture.