“The more I come into contact with wealthy people, the more I believe that they are looking upon their money simply as an instrument which God has placed in their hand for doing good with. I never go to the office of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, who more than once has been generous to Tuskegee, without being reminded of this. The close, careful and minute investigation that he always makes in order to be sure that every dollar that he gives will do the most good-an investigation that is just as searching as if he were investing money in a business enterprise-convinces me that the growth in this direction is most encouraging.” -_Up From Slavery_(1901), Booker T. Washington
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
Although this historical fact is rarely heralded, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), Booker T. Washington, ranks at the very top of all higher education fundraisers in American history. Mr. Washington’s letters and writings are replete with examples of his dealings with men and women who gave both large and small donations to the work of Tuskegee Institute (University). And it appears that Mr. Washington quietly and quickly-and the results indicate that he did so with accompanying quality-came to understand two of the single most important characteristics of those who are deeply engaged in philanthropic activity: stewardship and investment. The first of which is stewardship. No matter how wealthy an individual, organization, corporation or foundation may be, they will not simply give money to another to be wasted. (The individual or organization has not wasted its own monies nor the monies of others to achieve its great success so why should the individual or organization begin doing so now?) The guiding principle of stewardship often leads to the accumulation of great sums of wealth, and the notion that simply because an individual, organization, corporation or foundation has achieved great amounts of wealth will now, in turn, give away such wealth to any and every cause is unfounded. Proper stewardship in accumulation of wealth necessarily required decision-making and care in recognizing the individual or organization’s priorities and interests; thus, the mere giving away of money on the singular basis that the individual or organization has wealth is absurd. Investing is the second characteristic of philanthropic activity. One never seeks to invest in what will inevitably become a failed cause or enterprise. The very idea of investing is to receive a return. Whether this return is in furthering the individual or organization’s own cause being advanced in the investment or merely to have the return satisfaction of seeing the recipient actualize its own success, investment always seeks a return. Moreover, philanthropic investment into an institution is a way to become associated with its brand, cause and/or undertaking. What individual or organization seeks to be associated with a failed brand or cause? Rather, an investment in an institution is generally associated with investing in the documented and demonstrated-or soon to be-success of an institution. (In the latter regard, the earliest investors in new undertakings always receive the greatest return for they saw, believed and invested early on in what would eventually become a successful enterprise. And they did so before others who preferred to “wait and see.”) In sum, stewardship and investment are not only the hallmarks of givers but recipients as well. For if recipients are to every rise to the ranks of givers-indeed it is more blessed to give than receive for it indicates that one has resources to give-then stewardship and investment are individual and organizational traits that they must learn quietly, quickly and with quality. And Mr. Washington established the blueprint for this at Tuskegee Institute (University).
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.