As we approach Christmas and the end of 2010, I am reminded of a quote from one of our benefactors, Sir John Templeton, which states: “an attitude of gratitude creates blessings.” Here at IEE we are so grateful for the many individuals who give of their time, talent, and treasure to support our mission to build the culture of excellence and ethics. I thought it might tell a little of the story of IEE and to share some thanks and praise to the people who have contributed so much to our shared work.
It’s a very difficult thing, saying thank you to loyal benefactors, since it always seems like self-serving pandering. Yet, how can we not have an attitude of gratitude to those who support our efforts to do good—even when their direct contributions inevitably end?
First, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have encountered Tom Lickona’s work as a graduate student in the Fall of 1993. My experiences and beliefs came together in Tom’s course on character education. We began a friendship and a professional collaboration that has challenged and engaged me for nearly 20 years. Tom will retire at the end of this academic year (although knowing Tom, he’ll still outwork most). IEE continues to partner with Tom Lickona and Marthe Seales at the Center; they are treasured colleagues. IEE owes much of its original inspiration to Tom, Marthe, and the Center. We intend always to respect and understand the foundations of our work, while hopefully advancing it to new levels of widespread enduring impact.
It’s difficult to really put into words all the ways that the John Templeton Foundation has contributed to our growth. Most obviously the Foundation has contributed essential financial support for our work. But I truly believe that it is the Foundations approach to philanthropy that has contributed to our growth. We founded IEE as a response to the Foundation’s challenge to grow our capacity to grow our work. At every step they have challenged us to “do good well” by maximizing the enduring impact of what we do. They taught us to think about cost-effectiveness and really cultivated an approach to social entrepreneurship and instilled in us a desire to build a self-sustaining non-profit. They are not just a benefactor, but a collaborator in our work. They have pushed us, challenged us—and at every step made us better.
We were recently notified that we would not be funded for a proposal that we had before the Foundation. Humbly, we feel that it was a strong proposal, but as an organization, how can we not trust the intuitions of a foundation that has been so good to us, and has at every step helped us to improve? On the contrary, even the difficult “no” we accept with a sense of respect and trust, believing that it is in our best interest and in the best interest of our work.
Good funders are like good parents, I think: they don’t ever give or do for you, what you can do for yourself. They provide essential guidance and support at critical phases so that you can learn, and grow—and ultimately become strong and independent. But they don’t prepare a legacy of dependents; they don’t pamper, coddle, or prop up. They should teach you to stand on your own. They should prepare a legacy of strong, self-sustaining, independent, values-driven organizations. I don’t believe in spoiling nonprofits any more than I believe in spoiling children. I believe in tough love that instills deeply the values of the funder, manifested through the unique vision and talents of the particular organization. The Templeton Foundation and our other funders have parented us well, I believe.
Along with the Templeton Foundation, no one has been a more loyal contributor to the growth of our work than Sandy McDonnell, and the McDonnell Foundation. Sandy is a passionate advocate, a dedicated learner, a true American Statesman. Aristotle once said, “What the statesman is most anxious to produce is a certain moral character in his fellow citizens, namely a disposition to virtue and the performance of virtuous actions.” That, I believe, is Sandy personified—a statesman.
We recently learned that Sandy is very sick, suffering with stage four pancreatic cancer—but doing so with grace and courage. Like the Templeton Foundation, I want to genuinely thank Sandy for all of his support, and to pledge our ongoing commitment to developing the culture of excellence and ethics in St. Louis and across the country. We are in continuing conversation with two underserved schools in St. Louis and it looks promising that they will be using our materials next year—not because Sandy will fund it (his contribution to our work is also complete), but because he helped fund our past R&D that makes it possible for us to help these schools. We pursued these schools because we want to SHOW, not just tell Sandy how grateful we are. We want Sandy to know, in the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, that he is a “prophet of a future not his own.” The seeds Sandy planted at IEE will continue to grow—and God-willing, multiply.
IEE is a young and vulnerable nonprofit making its way in a tough economic and education climate. We are, frankly, still poor in monetary assets. But we profoundly rich in the assets that matter most—vision, values, passion, and people. We have been shaped by a group of extraordinary individuals and organizations who have blessed us with their unique assets. We are, always have been, and always will be rich in sweat equity. (This, honestly, is a pretty good description of my own assets (I grew up the fourth of nine children; we were poor economically and I was “poor” in talent, but my parents grounded us in faith, family, and an unwavering belief in the value of hard work and pursuit of passion; I have been exceeding rich in social capital, making up in abundance what I lacked in economic capital).
At IEE we will work hard to do good well and we will not rest no matter the past accomplishments or future challenges. Tom Lickona and the Center for the 4th and 5th Rs, The Templeton Foundation, The Sanford McDonnell Foundation—and so many other individuals and organizations have shared wisdom and insight, support and challenge.
The staff and Board at IEE are extraordinary. Each member of the IEE team has a story of how they came to us; each story speaks of patience, commitment, and extraordinary faith in the mission. On behalf of our entire IEE team, I say thank you to the tremendous friends and benefactors who have supported us thus far. I truly believe IEE is poised to make a significant and lasting difference by providing high quality, accessible tools, services, and support for building the culture of excellence and ethics needed for success in school, work, and beyond.
In this season of faith and hope, I am struck by the famous quote from the movie, Miracle on 34th Street: “Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to.” We have faith in the power of character and culture; it is the foundational catalyst needed in our schools, homes, teams, organizations—and in our world. In a fast-moving, fast-changing, technological world, common sense might say look to elsewhere for solutions to today’s challenges. We embrace new knowledge, technology, and innovation; but our faith rests in people and organizations of moral and performance character. Peace, joy and purpose to all in 2011.