An important part of being an everyday philanthropist is graciousness. Being gracious with your time, with your thoughts and with your judgments provides a space that allows opportunities for fresh insight and collaborations to grow. When I was reviewing grant proposals and visiting with nonprofits to evaluate whether we should award funding, I considered myself a guest peering into another world. And beyond making sure there was fiscal responsibility and alignment of their mission to our goals, my job was to be gracious and take on the role of a curious visitor. It becomes easy in positions of power to assume you know more or can do something better, but maintaining a gracious manner reminded me that I didn’t. With graciousness I learned more about my community, could make better connections, and viewed the complexity of the issues through the lens of a shared future.
Setting the stage for graciousness can be taught. In fact, I was at an award ceremony last week to support the Center for Ethical Leadership in Seattle, a nonprofit that builds collective leadership capacity for individuals advancing the common good. Part of their work involves using gracious space as a tool for change. This term resonates strongly with me because it is the way in which I go about my work as a philanthropist: suspending judgment, listening deeply, measuring what matters, and working across boundaries. It was a privilege to be in a room full of people who are creatively challenging the status quo and highlighting the crevices where social justice flourishes. The evening gave face to our common humanity and rekindled my passion for personal and community integrity. Being gracious is a gift that we give to the problems that surround us, and when we are gracious with adversaries it transforms them into stubborn allies. The potential in this is that we do not get the future either party envisioned but rather a creation that could only exist through shared experience. Living with intention and speaking your truth is political; doing so with grace creates the framework for sustainable change.