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Can Love be a Metric for Philanthropic Partnerships?

January 25, 2016 //

Can love be the right metric for a billion dollar philanthropy?  While this post by Suzanne Guillette seems to argue both for and against this premise – I propose that love can be a metric for authentic partnerships, particularly when power and money are involved.

While we and many others in the sector have chorused that multi-year, unrestricted support is a tangible demonstration of trust, TWI discovered something interesting when asking our peers and grantees to rank our 9 practices of trust based investment last year.  The principle of “partnering in a spirit of service” ranks quite highly, sometimes surpassing unrestricted support in individual responses.

Partnering in a spirit of service requires a set of practices that do not always characterize funders and investors.  These include the capacity to listen without too forcefully advising, compassion before judgment, humility, being willing to leverage privilege on behalf the other, a shared sensibility of the power differentials created by money, and kindness that is not patronizing but humanizing.

I think partnering in a spirit of service is under-rated as a form of that agape love, a love that seeks societal equity and wholeness for every being, not just the ones that are related or similar to us. How can this kind of love be a metric on philanthropic partnership?  What does it look like?

It looks like relationships that are honest, practically useful, direct, and mutually satisfying.  There’s an exchange between Pamela Shifman, Executive Director of NoVo Foundation, and Rajasvini Bhansali, Executive Director of International Development Exchange, described in Guillette’s post that for me demonstrates both love and partnership in a spirit of service.  Shifman called to ask (not require or direct) Bhansali if her organization could benefit from support for re-branding.  What I want to lift up here is that Shifman asked a question and offered a possibility.  It seems nit-picky but I trust that Shifman, in her spirit of service, was unattached to the answer.  The idea was that Shifman thought she saw a possible gap and offered a resource, but did not tie it to the previous multi-million dollar (and might I add multi-year unrestricted support grant) investment.  She did not require that the organization take her up on it.  She simply asked, “might this be needed and helpful?”

So that is what it could look like.  Funder and investor partners simply asking, “might this be needed and helpful?” with no attachment to a particular course or timing.

Lastly, in addition to partnering in a spirit of service, another way that the metric of love can be applied and assessed in philanthropic partnerships involves whether that partnership brings to bear greater good.  In my understanding of agape love, it encompasses human-to-human relationship within a larger fabric of interconnectedness.  Does the philanthropic partnership create practical, useful, and good outcomes beyond the parties directly involved?  I think philanthropic partnerships must do so, indeed they are intended to bring about tangible social good.  For TWI that tangible good is defined as increasing social, political, and economic equity.

It would be fantastic to see love as a metric in evaluations of philanthropic partnerships, at the very least in gauging whether or not we as funders partner in a spirit of service.  I often hear that most human motivation boils down to one of two things:  fear or love.  In any matter that I have any say in, individually or collectively, I vote for love.  Always.