I’ve been applying for non-profit development jobs, among others, for over a year now. Some of them require experience in raising money for endowment funds. You see that a lot in the university and private school setting especially, but sometimes on the charitable side, too.
On the for-profit side, I think of endowment funds as similar to the market capitalization accounts for companies selling shares in the stock market, there for the purpose of providing capital for new ventures and as fuel to keep the operation solvent when the economy is tough and sales are down. The good thing about non-profit endowment funds is that most times, you don’t have to watch the value of the money decline because of individual whim—people don’t take their charitable donations back. It’s only when the endowment funds are invested in a risky place, as happened with Bernie Madoff recently, that the money disappears for no good reason.
But the analogy I’m interested in today is a personal one—we have endowment funds, too. Fueled by love, the currency of our emotional support, we are empowered to expand our own loving influence, and have the resource of past experience, past donations to our endowment fund, if you will, to depend on when we suffer the inevitable blows to self-esteem that the world is famous for providing.
Because of that, I’ve never much liked the chagrined slogan of some sales people—“You’re only as good as your last sale. What have you done for me lately?” It implies that there is no endowment fund at all. When faced with a layoff, what you’ve done that wasn’t perceived as valuable or what you’ve accomplished in the past isn’t considered, and that’s counterproductive to loyalty and passion.
I’m not proposing that we rest on our laurels—it is true that you have to keep producing in order to fill the till under normal conditions. When things are going reasonably well for a company, the endowment fund is replenished so that when the next challenge comes, you can weather the storm again. Just as sales people need to always search for new customers and customer types, the diversity of people and the variety of donations we seek in terms of the richness and quality of our experiences are crucial to increasing our emotional stability and sustainability in the long run. Just like companies with a diversified portfolio, we should view the donations we receive—whether in the form of a smile on another’s face or public accolade or a bonus check—as deposits in our endowment funds.
That way, when we sit back toward the end of our lives, we have more than enough to draw on—memories that actually refuel us. It’s the reason the winning shot that strips the net at the buzzer in high school can still make you feel great at 54. And the reason those of advancing age begin to recognize and accept donations made, even when those who make them aren’t aware they’ve even made one. That’s the “magic” of the smile on the face of one to whom you gave your time, the gift of your presence—a deposit is made in both endowment funds.
Let the reserve funds get too low, and, in our own despair, some of us assume that our donations are inconsequential, and so we don’t make them. Likewise, in a hurry or in tunnel-visioned focus, we sometimes fail to see and acknowledge the gifts given to us by others. We don’t go out of our ways to say “thank you” for those things others do for us out of their own love that warm our hearts—the email or letter or phone call that says “You’re important to me,” the hand on the shoulder that reminds us that someone “sees” us, the unexpected “showing up” when we are in the midst of grief.
And yet, it is those moments, and only those moments, that sustain us. Because it is in those moments that we see, with startling clarity, that our endowment accounts all have the same account number, the same never-ending Source of funds.
And that as children of God, we have all been given a checkbook and are expected to use it.