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JCF Blog

The Vulnerability in Giving

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 6/29/2017

My pug, Picasso, spends a lot of time sleeping. And because I dote on him and spoil him relentlessly, I spend a lot of time watching him sleep. After he’s napped for a decent period, he inevitably rolls onto his back, paws up, stomach exposed for all to rub. His head falls back and his neck lays open. We’ve been known to snap a picture and wonder sarcastically to the social media universe, “Do you think this rescue dog has trust issues? ;)”

Recently when he assumed this pose, I found myself ruminating on philanthropy – specifically, the vulnerability and trust that takes place every time a gift gets made. And how, like my puppy, donors continually open themselves up with every gift they give.

Philanthropy is at its best when gifts come from a place of meaning, purpose, and connection between donor and cause.  This kind of philanthropy is transformative –no matter the dollar amount, no matter the cause. Gifts transform because of the impact they have in allowing a nonprofit to do the great work that it does, ultimately benefiting those served by its mission. And gifts transform because of the power of giving on the donor.

There’s all kinds of research to back this up. All kinds of research that demonstrates that the connections between donor and cause make all the difference.

What we don’t talk about often is the risk in giving. I don’t mean the risk that our dollars won’t do what we intended. I’m talking about the vulnerability of making a gift that really matters to you, that hits a nerve deep in your core.

When a donor gives a gift that’s really, truly meaningful,she gives a piece of herself with it. She reveals a soft spot, whether it stems from a painful experience from her life, or a cause that brings her great joy.  With every gift comes exposure of some sort. 

Making oneself vulnerable like that can be easier at times and harder at others – but it always takes some amount of courage. Sometimes those on the receiving end might not be able to see just how much courage a donor is putting forth with their gift.

I’m not sure how much we appreciate the power of that vulnerability – or the responsibility that falls to the professionals involved in the management and stewardship of a donor’s gift as a result. I have seen professionals who handle each beautiful gift with emotional care and reverence– whether just in the tone of their thank you, in the discretion of an anonymous request, or in the email correspondence that goes along with the paperwork. Those professionals recognize the magic in philanthropy.

For those who have experienced such magic – whether on the giving or the receiving end – it’s pretty remarkable, right?

If you think you have not yet seen this, maybe look a little deeper. Think about the first gift a donor gives you. Listen for cues of what motivated that first gift. You may find that the gift has more to it than meets the eye.

And for those of you who continually give from your heart, thank you. Thank you for the gift itself, and for the brave and powerful act of giving. I hope that we all strive to appreciate the magic of every gift, and that we all stay as open and trusting as my little pug, who’s still asleep as I type these words. 

Kathryn Gonnerman is the director of the Center for Innovative Philanthropy. Kathryn hails from Newton, Massachusetts and previously resided in Los Angeles, California where she worked for the California Community Foundation.She lives in Avon with her husband Darell and her perfect pug Picasso.

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Rev. Pamela Elise Dvis
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Excellent article! I have always had respect for your amazing gifts and am so proud of the work that you do. Thank you for sharing your heart!


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