Reflections on criticizing a Brontë, opening heavy doors, and enjoying every minute.
In the last weeks of a 35-year career in healthcare and higher-ed advancement, on my way to a meeting, I step hurriedly on the well-worn marble stairs of 300 The Fenway, and I consider my seven-year contribution to the undulating treads. Generations who have reformed the stone are gone, but their impact is being experienced by the future. Near the stairs are the doors that open each day to that future.
“Advancement” is not just a euphemism for fundraising. It embodies an opening up of the heavy doors into the venerable institutions of learning that believe they are so open to new ideas yet are so resistant and creaky to the push. In my work, I have had the privilege of working with many people who have taken on the world and made great successes of themselves. They are eager to share their experience with the institutions they love (but with which they are not always happy), and I have enjoyed every minute with them, listening to their advice, receiving their gifts and criticisms (the well-meaning ones) and carrying their contributions through the doors and up the stairs to my colleagues beyond the Office of Advancement.
“Virginia Woolf … tells us all to strive to have the resources, the experience and the desire to be builders.” —Marianne Lord, Vice President of Advancement
Of course, I have had to curate that input, and those who have given the most in time, talent and/or treasure have received the most attention. If you want to know more about how that works, read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. In it, she writes about how institutions are made in the image and likeness of those who build them with their gifts, and she tells us all to strive to have the resources, the experience and the desire to be builders. She is not very complimentary of those who don’t. Imagine being critical of a Brontë sister. Well, Woolf is in her commentary on Jane Eyre.
To my colleagues in Advancement, I say please understand that you are a philanthropic partner in the way that an exhibit curator is a storyteller. You are more than just the numbers. You are helping to create a story for today and tomorrow that embodies, at its best, truth and values. Gather those perspectives that are coming from experience and are given with generosity, and share them with your institutional colleagues. Be sure not to exclude a perspective that adds to the truth you tell. And, be brave, and sometimes loud, in pushing open those heavy, creaking doors. Remember that the gifts in your arms add weight to your push. If you do, philanthropists will flock to the institutions they help to form—Millennials, who have grown up building résumés of service, will give as well as others who may have even more time or treasure.
To all who give, do so from the heart, mindfully, generously and without reservation. In doing so, you are building. Marianne Lord will retire at the end of December.