MY VALUES, MY WORK

When first conducting proposal and resource development workshops many years ago I quickly came to understand that all the savvy in the world was inconsequential if people didn't want to spend their time learning with me.

So, I take comfort in the resultant ability to be useful when working with grant seekers, so called grant writers and grant makers in the public and private sectors. Whether working with those looking for grants to support non-profit organizations or making decisions to provide funding for such organizations, my credibility is based on my core values.

Here are some of the words that have shaped and comprise my values, have guided my efforts and, I believe, have helped me keep people in the rooms when and where we work together.

First, an excerpt from a 1990 article published by the Industrial Areas Foundation, titled "Standing for the Whole",

"We believe in what we call the iron rule: never do for others what they can do for themselves. Never. This rule, difficult to practice consistently, sometimes violated, is central to our view of the nature of education, of leadership, of effective organizing. This cuts against the grain of some social workers and program peddlers who try to reduce people and families to clients, who probe for needs and lacks and weaknesses, not strength and drive, not vision and values, not democratic and entrepreneurial initiative. The iron rule implies that the most valuable and enduring form of development - intellectual, social, political - is the development people freely choose and fully own." 

This is no less the case when applied to resource and proposal development, an area now and then populated by would-be experts.

Then this, from Robert Matthews Johnson in his wondrous book, The First Charity, written many years ago,

"There has been much talk about community in the past (25) years. There has even been, supposedly, a neighborhood movement. But darn few neighborhood people have been involved. Too much of the tone has been professional, entrepreneurial people speaking for others. Too many so-called community organizations have become too far removed from the issues that affect everyday life in communities."

His words, in no small way, were what motivated me to now and then assert in my work that "you are your proposal."

Finally, I was once asked to speak at a gathering of nonprofit reps on the subject of strategic alliances. This allowed me to emphasize my own values about the matter of mission clarity that I believe is essential if nonprofits are to be as valuable as they must be– but at times are not. Here's an excerpt from my presentation then.

"It seems to me that we need to clean up our own side of the street before we decide to cross it. If we don't understand and value the precept that our organizations exist to help our folks help themselves - by what might be any number of means rather than putting the emphasis on the process/the means, we'd best be careful interacting into alliances. Why double up the misguided?

As you might figure, I'm inclined to believe that the mission of nonprofits is not simply to offer participants high quality services, but also - and more importantly - it is to help participants help themselves. And, in doing so, to see to it that they attain some measure of success in overcoming what gets in the way of improving the quality of their lives. Fully participating in democracy, Bob Johnson would say it.  

Doesn't seem to me to matter if it's an arts organization or an effort to organize a bunch of people on the margins. Our work is ultimately justified by the successes of our participants. If we can get this straight in one organization, imagine what we might accomplish when we work together in a bunch of organizations."