Acting from a Place of Conscientious Compassion

Like many, I subscribe to numerous blogs and other daily feeds. Most don’t connect with me; some do; a few connect at the deepest level. This one did. In it, a Buddhist perspective from the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi addresses climate change, social justice, and saving the world. His perspective is interesting and important on many levels. What animates me this morning is wondering to what extent social sector organizational leaders are actually having these kinds of conversations inside and outside their organizations.

Bodhi says we “can be most effective by networking with others who regard human dignity and the integrity of the natural world as more precious than monetary wealth. By joining together, a collective voice might emerge that could well set in motion the forces needed to articulate and embody a new paradigm rooted in the intrinsic dignity of the person and the interdependence of all life on Earth. Such collaboration could serve to promote the alternative values that offer sane alternatives to our free-market imperatives of corporatism, exploitation, extraction, consumerism, and toxic economic growth.”

Bodhi discusses two primary moral principles involved in this effort to work toward a new level of collective action. “One is love, which arises from empathy, the ability to feel the happiness and suffering of others as one’s own. When love is directed toward those afflicted with suffering, it manifests as compassion, the sharing of their suffering, coupled with a determination to remove their suffering,” he says. “The other principle that goes along with love is justice….In my understanding, justice arises when we recognize that all people possess intrinsic value, that all are endowed with inherent dignity, and therefore should be helped to realize this dignity.”

How much of this line of thinking is working its way explicitly or implicitly into personal decision making and organizational life that is mission-oriented? Do we have blinders on, permitting us to see only (or primarily) our own objectives and priorities? When we approach donors to invite them to share our concerns and aspirations are we working to connect at the most basic definition of justice? David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney remind us that “human systems grow in the direction of their deepest and most frequent inquiries.”[1] So….what is at the heart of YOUR deepest and most frequent inquiry?

[1] David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney, Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change, 2005.


A Spectrum of Health System Foundation Postures in a Population Health Context

As we navigate the current environment of Population Health we have to reexamine the posture of philanthropy (and the professionals charged with its effectiveness). Here is a one pager that we’ve developed to frame internal discussions about some available options to consider. We’re working with hospital health systems on reimagining their possibilities. Hope this adds value to your current thinking and planning.

Awake in the World

I found the following in my morning stream and thought it applicable to how I’m readying my mind for Conversation. I find myself thinking at times that I am fully “awake” in the world. If truth be told, however, I’m more often “focused” rather than truly “awake.” I may salve my conscience by rationalizing that my work and my attitude of engagement is enough to be fully “awake.” Messages like this help me remember that the “awakening” doesn’t end with me. Messages like this make me ask myself whether I’m truly “awake” to what is trying to emerge and unfold in society around me….and if I’m truly “awake” to that realization, how will I be in this world? What will I do? What generosity is required of me?

Hope it resonates with you.

“The path of personal transformation and the path of social transformation are not really separate from each other. We must reclaim the concept of awakening from an exclusively individualistic therapeutic model and focus on how individual liberation also requires social transformation. Engagement in the world is how our personal awakening blossoms.” – David Loy, “Awakening in the Age of Climate Change”

The Leadership Model of Philanthropy

Earlier this month the Lumina Foundation’s CEO, Jamie Merisotis, posted an insightful blog entry to the SSIR blog, entitled The Leadership Model of Philanthropy. In it he lifts up the characteristics of focus, flexibility, and fortitude, which, he suggests, must be present for grant-making foundations to truly have systemic impact.


For the moment, let’s not get too lathered up about another “model.” Personally, I’m a bit reticent to toss around the “model” label. Solid contributions along a similar line as Jamie’s have referred to catalytic philanthropy, high impact philanthropy, etc. Despite my caution about falling prey to “model-itis,” his points are right on.

I think there are many parallels in grant-seeking organizations who endeavor to “act bigger and adapt better” (language from the Monitor Institute a few years back). For more organizational CEOs and philanthropy executives to embrace this type of thinking, they’ll need to hone their study of whole systems. I hear a growing desire to “take things to scale” but I don’t always see a corresponding understanding of the systems in which the organization exists. Trying to discern the path to scale without an understanding of systems thinking is hollow and the results will undoubtedly fall short.

A better understanding of whole systems thinking will likely result in a bone deep commitment to true collaboration and it will force one to look at the future with a long lens. Further, I believe it changes the conversation with donors–maybe not all donors but certainly those big thinkers who are not so interested anymore in simply supporting one organization because they’re trying to bring about some type of lasting change in people, in society. They’re looking for something bigger than any single organization. That’s systemic change and THAT’s where the power of philanthropy is at its most robust possibilities. Linked to systems thinking, philanthropy can really be catalytic.

That’s not a conversation every executive or philanthropy executive can have comfortably today–nor is it one every donor will welcome. But if you’re not preparing yourself and your colleagues to think this way, you’ll miss growing opportunities to have a truly big and lasting impact.

GHC Client, Providence Health & Service, Receives $25m Phil Knight Gift

Congratulations to the medical team leaders, foundation staff, and senior administrators of Providence Health & Services in Portland Oregon. They announced August 12th, the largest living individual gift ever received in the 5 state health system. This gift will support the heart program, primarily at Providence St. Vincent Hospital in Portland. I’m thrilled for the patients and staff of these fine hospitals and super proud of the great relationship work of the docs and foundation team over a span of many years. Kudos all. More details here.

This is the leadership opening

Making my space, finding my space, going into my space….an inner knowing—both individually and organizationally. This seemed to be a common theme among participants during reflection on our 2014 consideration of right being and wise action in community at GHC Conversation 2014. Following this discussion, Ken Hubbell offered an interpretation of the ingenuity gap[1], wherein we default to thinking that there must be some really smart people sitting in an office with “the answers to the problems we’re facing.” We act as if there’s a tacit assumption that some smart people keep within certain bounds along some logic all the systems we’ve built in our society. When certain things “go wrong” they know why this has happened. Unconsciously, this is our mental model!!

He continued to point out that large current, complex issues complicate this (e.g., the question of whether large scale health care reform will make us healthier). Tacitly, we seem to be waiting for somebody somewhere to do something about the things we see and help us understand what to do about it. Our mental model is “someone has it all figured out.”

This is the leadership opening. When we finally realize that nobody’s got it completely figured out and we are going to have to figure out these wicked problems together. It’s almost akin to a perfect storm for adaptive leadership. Rather than tacitly assuming that these problems will require all kinds of brainy people working in all kinds of different ways in order to break through default thinking and assumptions (i.e., “we’ll get to it later when we have more data;” or “We’ll elect a new President who will appoint a Secretary of Complexity who will solve it.”). In actuality, we all have to get in and work together in new ways to solve the wicked problems that we will always face until something emerges that feels right. Waiting around for an expert is not very wise. What complements this awareness is asking oneself: How do I fine tune myself to the moment? What must be my position, ideas, capacity, power, access, and view in order to get in and stay in this adaptive leadership moment?

This is where Conversation 2015 begins. If we are to move beyond our assumptions we must work toward individual clarity AND authentic concerted action. At present, 14 colleagues have registered for Conversation 2015Wise Action in Community: Generosity, Leadership, and Concerted Action. Six seats remain until we hit capacity. Will you join us March 26 – 28, 2015 on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Learn more and registerhere for Conversation 2015.


[1] Thomas Homer-Dixon, 2002, The Ingenuity Gap: Facing the Economic, Environmental, and Other Challenges of an Increasingly Complex and Unpredictable Future.

Is My Board Ready for Campaign?

In helping a healthcare foundation evaluate the degree of readiness their board of trustees currently exhibits for the coming campaign, I expressed some thoughts that may have application elsewhere.

Right outta the shoot I got asked who we are and what we believe. My response: we help organizations and leaders adapt and change. We believe that philanthropy is a lever for change and an expression of collective will and impact.

My turn to ask the group some questions before we dug in deeper. First, other than the millions of dollars sought, what do you want more of for the foundation? Second, what will that (answer to question 1) produce with and for the community? Third, what’s in the way of you fully achieving those ideals (their answer to #2)? That got our conversation about readiness started!

I believe that boards can be the growth engines of foundations during times of change and transformation. Campaigns are “moments in time” where organizations invite the community of stakeholders to share and shape a vision of great possibilities. The campaign is a sustained alignment of the organization’s intention and its attention. Fundraising is a disciplined process of invitation with resolve. The champions of that invitation process are board members. Each board prepare for campaigns rich with history and past achievement AND with potentially disabling blind spots and vulnerabilities.

The question becomes: do you have the courage to address these issues—not in a “fix it” manner, but born of an authentic desire to prepare a board for its highest and best purpose? If we want more major gifts focus, participation, and productivity from our boards, we have to see their work in full context—not just in “collection” mode. The Advisory Board Company’s research (2007) points to 14 best practices*, all of which are grounded in common sense but too often ignored during “the chase.” We reap what we sow with our boards. If we sense that “they’re” not ready for campaign it foolishly suggests a we/they environment that becomes insidious and it’s still up to professional staff to have the hard conversations and provide the support and direction in order to get high-value results.

*If you’re interested in having your board members do some self-assessment against the Advisory Board’s best practices, contact me and I can provide you a set of survey questions adapted from their research findings. Could be a good way to get a new conversation started with your board.