Good Listeners Make Great Givers

by Zoe Lawhorn
Women's Fund of Smith County

My husband is an incredible gift-giver. As someone who typically runs to the nearest store (on the way to the party) that offers gift wrapping and THEN forgets the card, I find his skills intimidating; but over the years, I’ve learned by watching him joyfully and skillfully give.

One of the first gifts he gave me was a first edition copy of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” signed by the author, Dave Eggers. It’s astounding to me that he remembered the name of that book, but he did, years after a conversation we’d had when we first started dating. That particular book is a favorite among fans of the author, and it was difficult to find in any edition more than a decade ago Tab started his search.

But, over time, my husband tracked it down over the internet in a shop located in New York City. He worked with a rare books agent (more inclined to find the likes of Hemingway and Faulkner than a new author with a developing literary track record), who he then convinced to drag the book across the city to a book signing, where Dave Eggers himself signed my copy.

I tell you all of this, not to brag about my husband (although I do like to multitask), but to demonstrate the fundamentals of giving well. For some, the world of philanthropy seems far away and out of reach; a world filled with fabulously wealthy individuals like MacKenzie Scott, who recently made worldwide headlines by donating more than $4 billion dollars of her fortune to nonprofits.

But philanthropy is a value that exists in all of us. And we all have the capacity to give well.

Wealth is not the key to giving well; it is not needed to open the doors of philanthropy, nor to meet the great, overwhelming need located behind them.

So, what is the key?

How did my husband know that the book would be one of the most meaningful and dazzling gifts he’d give to me?

He listened, and he loved.

Great givers start by listening. I mentioned the book at some point in a conversation, and Tab not only took note, but did a little follow up. He started out by reading some of Eggers’ work. Later on, he noticed how excited I became when I realized the Tyler, Texas Barnes & Noble frequently had first edition copies of new books I loved, and he noted that first editions really mean something to me.

Finally, he loved me. He gave earnestly - in an effort to show his love for me through a gift - even if that meant searching high and low for this oddball thing that he knew I’d love. It didn’t matter to him what I did with it: if I read it and wrinkled the pages, if I put it in a glass display case for everyone to see, or if I wrapped it in archival paper, bubble wrap, and placed it in a lightproof box (which is what I did). He only cared that the gift was right, and he trusted me to enjoy it.

As a member of The Women’s Fund of Smith County, I spend a lot of time thinking about the methods we use to give well. Time and time again, I come back to a very simple equation:

Listen plus love equals philanthropy.

It’s weird, right? I don’t mention money in the equation, and that’s intentional; because no matter what the circumstances may be, whether it’s a gift to a loved one, or a grant to a community partner, you must listen and love FIRST, in order to give well.

We are learning now more than ever that our nonprofit partners need more from us than funding. They need true understanding from us and our trust in their ability to address the complex social issues that their programs are designed to improve.

As a giving circle, the Women’s Fund maximizes the impact of our giving by combining all of our individual membership pledges each year, creating a large amount of money to award in the form of impact grants; but we also give well by truly engaging with our community nonprofits, listening to them, and responding to the information they provide.

We position ourselves to be true supporters by deepening our relationships with the nonprofits we fund, and by offering support beyond the grant from a position of trust and an attitude of humility.

As a women’s collective giving circle, are committed to continued learning about our nonprofits, our community, and issues that may be hard to face, and difficult to understand. We trust our fellow members and our community partners to help us find the way to giving well.

And finally, when money does come into the equation, we give it with joy and excitement; we give it understanding the meaning it will have for our nonprofit partners; and because we listened and loved first, we can trust that the gift will make a memorable impact in the histories of the nonprofits we support – changing individuals’ lives and the very fabric of our community.

If you are a woman with a giving heart, I invite you to join our circle. You can learn more by visiting www.womensfundsc.org.

Zoe Lawhorn serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a collective giving circle of more than 300 women with a mission of transforming our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children. Any woman with a giving heart is welcome to join our organization. Please visit www.womensfundsc.org for information about membership and outreach.

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