President's Perspective Blog

Mike’s Monday Message: Restoring Our Social Fabric

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(As an international association, I’m always sensitive about focusing on events occurring in a particular country. However, the violence that occurred at the U.S. Capitol building last week carries important lessons for countries, people and fundraising around the world.)

By their nature, fundraising and philanthropy bring people together to create impact that improves their community—however they define them—and the world. Fundraisers are the catalysts who make this impact possible, inspiring generosity and commitment in people to give, volunteer and engage.

To condemn the violence that occurred last week at the U.S. Capitol building is easy but misses the point. Violence in any form is reprehensible, even more so an assault on our democracy that has been instigated through misinformation, leads to death and destruction of property AND disrupts one of the hallmarks of the country’s institutions—our free elections and voting process.  

What is harder, but what must be done, is to look at the roots of this violence: the divisiveness of the rhetoric, which has led to the fraying of the social fabric in the U.S. and, by extension, the weakening of the foundation of philanthropy—the idea of coming together to help one another. We are seeing the failing of the social contract that we have agreed to as citizens of the United States (an idea which applies to citizens of all nations) based on principles and values such as fairness, justice, equity, truth and mutual respect. Collectively, these are the connections that bind us together.

We all have far more similarities and connections with each other than we do differences. And while we know there is much work to be done in the United States and around the world, we can look back at our collective journey that is about progress, optimism and community—that as we work together, united, things will get better for all.

So how do we begin to restore those connections and strengthen the social fabric of our society? These issues are so large, so all encompassing—how can we, as fundraisers, even begin to address them?

There’s no doubt we have an important role to play, and I think we are uniquely positioned as fundraisers to play that role. As I said at the beginning of these comments, fundraising is about community and focusing on the needs of the community. The “simple” act of inspiring people to engage philanthropically is an important aspect of uniting people and rebuilding confidence in our institutions and restoring our social fabric. That is no small feat.

But we also have to look beyond what we do professionally—raising funds—and be more intentional about the impact of our behavior, individually and collectively. We all have a responsibility to create a profession that is based on the principles of fairness, justice, equity, truth and mutual respect. We have a lot of work to do in creating that kind of profession—one that welcomes everyone and creates opportunities for every fundraiser, no matter their background, to find and achieve success. That’s why AFP is focusing on building a more diverse fundraising workforce, reexamining processes and structure to ensure equity in the profession, and convening diverse groups so we can learn and advance collectively.

We’re not going to solve these issues anytime soon. But we can—and must—begin to work on them now, because we can make a difference in the short-term—person by person. It is a long journey to help repair the social fabric of our country and reconnect people with each other, but we can do it.

The Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” As president and CEO of AFP, I’m committed to that journey. And I hope you’ll take those steps with me.

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Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA

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