A valuable lesson in the art of asking

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  • From left: Gordon Johnson, Samantha Nearon, training and education co-ordinator The Centre on Philanthropy, and Jim Hodge (Photograph supplied)

    From left: Gordon Johnson, Samantha Nearon, training and education co-ordinator The Centre on Philanthropy, and Jim Hodge (Photograph supplied)

  • Jim Hodge (Photograph supplied)

    Jim Hodge (Photograph supplied)

  • Jim Hodge addresses the 37 attendees at th workshop (Photograph supplied)

    Jim Hodge addresses the 37 attendees at th workshop (Photograph supplied)


Face-to-face communication is often defined as a mutual and significant exchange. Jim Hodge prefers to meet shoulder-to-shoulder.

The consultant and coach in the field of philanthropy was on island last week to lead a workshop for the island’s non-profit sector.

An industry stalwart for almost 40-years, he spoke about how a charity’s success can be won through a qualitative approach to fundraising — measuring “meaning above metrics” — and that all of the island’s non-profits would benefit.

“In the business, you used to measure face-to-face visits, which automatically set up a more competitive environment,” he said. “The real shift, I think, is we move to shoulder-to-shoulder. Because we’re forward-thinking and forward-leaning beings, we require spiritual points on the horizon upon which to fix our eyes.

“If you’re able to go shoulder- to-shoulder and look at a shared and co-created horizon, that’s where the energy is. Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than themselves and that lives on beyond their lifetime.”

This is his third time on the island. He was invited by Gordon Johnson, VP of education at the AFP — the pair share a philosophy for fundraising and philanthropy after meeting at a workshop in Arkansas ten years ago.

With 316 charities in Bermuda, the call for collaboration is not a new idea. “AFP was really assessing how to enhance and elevate our conversations to the vision of what is best for Bermuda,” Mr Johnson said of the partnership with The Centre on Philanthropy.

“What if we all asked, ‘Imagine if Bermuda ...’ and began there? I believe we have a deep yearning to be connected in a fragmented world. Jim’s work is about having that transformational conversation that goes above and beyond transactional.”

Still, the 37 attendees joined the workshop to learn how to increase their revenue.

“Every time one of us walks up to you, you’re waiting for the moment we’re going to talk about money,” Mr Hodge challenged.

“I come; I ask; you give; I go; I’m more; you’re less; rinse and repeat. There’s not a lot of philanthropic joy calories and it leads to burnout in professionals.”

He said that over the course of his career he had come very close to “burnout” himself.

“I have a bumper sticker that reads: ‘Shift Happens’,” he joked.

“When people are in a functional MRI in acts of giving, it lights up the pleasure centres of the brain,” he explained.

“We are, in fact, wired for caring and sharing above accumulating and defending. That comes out of evolutionary biography. If you read [Charles] Darwin he talked about that; Adam Smith, [Scottish economist, philosopher] too — the hunting and gathering groups that cared and shared have a longer lifespan and greater quality of life.

“So we’re hard-wired for it but we’re not plugging into the hardwire if we make it about everyone’s after money.”

He said his approach was “benefactor-centric, relationship-based, and inquiry-driven”.

“It’s all about conversations, authentic conversations,” he said. “When you look down at a small box of needs — we need $39,400 in two months — it narrows the aperture and it takes all of the energy out of a conversation.”

Metaphor and storytelling are frequent tools of the educator. For more than 35 years he has worked with philanthropists at Bowling Green State University, Mayo Clinic and the University of Colorado.

He has been labelled a “reflective practitioner”, who not only inspires philanthropy but also seeks to advance the best practices for the profession. The frequent keynote speaker wrote a lecture Philanthropy and Relationships for the Lake Institute for Faith and Philanthropy, which he also covered in his popular TEDx talk, Philanthropy: A Whole Lot of Shift Needs to Happen. “It was my attempt to bring out how some of these shifts happen,” he said.

“So many non-profits start with what they need, how much money, instead of the essential ‘Why?’ which deserves a powerful ‘How?’

Mr Johnson said that the island faced many “elephants” in the sector, particularly on the subject of race.

“Are we representational in philanthropy in Bermuda with the community that we all love and care about?” he asked.

“How do we make it accessible for everyone? It’s not just about knowing somebody in the boardroom. Sometimes we don’t realise that the very mechanism we adopt to give out money is a barrier to somebody else.”

Mr Hodge said that barriers appear in many forms — particularly lots of paperwork. “That hurts both ends,” he said.

“People making those decisions, they don’t get any of the juice of philanthropy either.

“Philanthropy’s all about ROI, but [instead of return on investment] its return on impact. People stop making major gifts because they feel removed from the impact of the gift. They can’t see it. They can’t feel it.”

“I don’t think I’ve written too many e-mails where the hair stands up on my arms,” he laughed.

He said over his time in the industry “the faces that are involved have changed”.

“When I started it was maybe 93 per cent white male and today it’s probably 85-90 per cent female. Still a lot of room for diversity in the work but it’s changed dramatically.

“When you work with women and girls it lifts the whole family.

“I get asked a lot, you’re talking about meaning and not money — how do you measure that?” he continued.

“A beautiful idea will never fail you.

“I accidentally said to a person, ‘Would you be open to a big idea that I think could really move the needle on cancer?’ And he laughed so hard on the phone and said, ‘Well who would sit here and say, I’m not open to a big idea that would move the needle on cancer.’”

“We didn’t talk about money. Eventually, they ask, ‘What would it take to get there?’

“So I ask every day, it’s just not for money.”

“Can you imagine ...? It’s a beautiful question,” Mr Hodge added. “It opens up possibility.”

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Published Nov 21, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 20, 2017 at 10:37 pm)

A valuable lesson in the art of asking

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