October 22, 2014 · 9:51 am
“My dear Mr. Rockefeller: I am sorry that the amount left over after the completion of Rockefeller Hall is not as large as I thought it would be, still I take great pleasure in returning to you in the enclosed check Two Hundred and Forty-nine ($249.00) Dollars. You do not know how very grateful we are to your father for this generous help. It has made a very large number of our boys much happier and placed them in a position to do better work than they have ever done before. I hope at some time your father can see the school that he has done so much to put upon its feet. The students and teachers would give him a great welcome if he could ever see his way clear to come. Yours very truly.”-“June 11, 1903,” Booker T. Washington
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
We find repeatedly in Booker T. Washington’s letters and writings to major donors and foundations three characteristics that are often looked at long before such donors and foundations make commitments to institutions and the men and women who lead them: Accountability, Stewardship and Sustainability. As to accountability, donors and foundations do not simply give to institutions and positions but to the persons in back of them. Firstly, accountability is akin to transparency. The founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University did not merely make requests for such donations, but he clearly expressed for what reason he was making such a request and for what purpose shall the donation be put to. Mr. Washington apologized in part that the request he had made was beyond what he anticipated: “I am sorry that the amount left over after the completion of Rockefeller Hall is not as large as I thought it would be…” (Here again, “integrity” is the single greatest 9-letter word and Mr. Washington was clearly panged that somehow his estimation was slightly above what he had communicated. A man of conscience, he did not think this a small matter to make such an apology. Rather he admitted this oversight on behalf of either himself or the institution.) Secondly, stewardship is the silentsister of accountability. As a “steward” indeed-anothergreat 7-letter word-he indicated thus: “…I take great pleasure in returning to you in the enclosed check Two Hundred and Forty-nine ($249.00) Dollars.” This man made no presumption that the additional $249.00 might have been spent for other purposes or placed within another institutional account to be used for other purposes. (He adhered to the twin sisters, accountability and stewardship, in all of his dealings so that there would be no questioning either his “integrity” or his “knowledge,” the second greatest 9-letter word.) Lastly, Sustainability is a nearly absent consideration for those engaged in the advancement and development of an organization. Donors and foundations seek to be associated with success and continued success. One gives to what can be sustained. (Has anyone ever given his or her dollars to an individual or an organization merely to waste without any sustaining power?) Givers desire to be continuous contributors to the on-going work and success of an individual and organization. As the individual and organization’s success is sustained, so is the reputation of both the giver and the gift. Hence, the founding principal and president’s parting request for Mr. Rockefeller to visit the campus directly: “I hope at some time your father can see the school that he has done so much to put upon its feet. The students and teachers would give him a great welcome if he could ever see his way clear to come.” Booker Washington knew that such men and organizations desired to “see” for themselves the effects of their giving; For what is sustainable can not only be seen,but also supplemented with future gifts for continuous, on-going success.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University