Thursday, March 4, 2010

Whole People. Whole Planet. With pictures!

This week, an update from Woolly Mammoth (of Round 1 fame). Aaron Heinsman spends some time with the Whole Planet Foundation, re-ignites a passion for development (truth!), and reminds us that transparency is not always as easy as it sounds.
Whole People. Whole Planet.

Annual Fund Director Aaron Heinsman here, reminiscing on Day 7 of last summer’s Texas Adventure.

I had just spent 5 days in San Antonio for the annual Tessitura Learning & Community Conference, cramming my brain full of new tips for effectively harnessing and exploiting the power of our integrated donor/ticketing software and meeting, networking, and befriending fellow arts professionals in multiple disciplines from seven countries on three continents.

Austin: Texas’ proud capital city and a blue bastion in a red state. I had hoped to be spending a week with the amazingly dedicated five-member team of the Whole Planet Foundation—the philanthropic arm of Whole Foods dedicated to raising communities, specifically those which source their products, out of poverty through microlending. It’s corporate philanthropy in perhaps its purest form: driven by the core values of its parent company with little emphasis on tax benefits, visibility from its beneficiaries, or the bottom line. Beyond that, both Whole Foods and Woolly Mammoth are celebrating their 30th year of operations and both are still led by the extraordinary vision and dedication of our respective founders, a synergetic coincidence.

Due to the small nature of the Foundation’s staff and the fact that they are more often than not in the field seeking out more communities and opportunities for support, I was only able to have an informational meeting with Joy Peterson, their Director of Partnership Development & Internal Programs.

That said, while my visit was too brief to yield specific innovative ideas, what it did serve to do—particularly coming on the heels of my time in San Antonio—was serve to reactivate my enthusiasm for the actual work of development. Yes, at its root, development is fundraising. But the funds cannot be raised without having created some form of relationship first. And it is this—the nurturing of deep, highly engaged and personal connections with our patron-funders—which I felt both eloquently reminded of during my conversation with Joy and also validated. We shared a few stories of where we’re headed as people-driven organizations and realized that we’re on the right track. We agreed that to succeed you need to be true to a genuine, yet dynamic mission and, more importantly, have an energized base. For Whole Planet and Woolly Mammoth to continue to thrive and succeed in the long run, we have to have real, actual stakeholders, whether they are vendors, team members, and customers or donors, artists, and patrons.

If I got this much out of a single morning, I can’t wait to discover what a whole week will yield…which has proven quite tricky! I’ve made three concentrated efforts at sabbatical placement since whetting my appetite in San Antonio. One was to a major national foundation highly supportive of theatre, and the other two were to large regional banks with operations in the Baltimore/Washington area. All three organizations are ones where I have professional connections. And yet, and yet…no one seems quite willing to let me inside to view their operations and, hopefully even, assist them practically speaking. Transparency is such a difficult thing for organizations to embrace. But I haven’t give up!

Stay tuned for more tales from Woolly folks….

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