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Conversation on Philanthropy
Marianne Lord, Vice President of Advancement

Marianne Lord, Vice President of Advancement, Simmons CollegeMarianne Lord has spent the last three decades helping thousands of people take a thoughtful approach to fulfilling their philanthropic dreams. For her, it's a calling. She's been sharing her expertise and experience with Simmons alumnae/i, parents, and friends since she became vice president of advancement in 2011. In a recent conversation, she offered stimulating ideas about "giving back."

What's the first thing you ask people seeking advice about how and where to "give back"?

"What makes your heart sing?" It sounds a bit silly, but someone teaching me how to be more mindful once asked me that. If you give it serious consideration, over time, it's astonishing what you discover.

What should everyone who aspires to be philanthropic know?

Scientists tell us the single most motivating factor in our lives is the desire to pass on copies of our own DNA. That's why our children, our siblings' children, our other family members, and members of our respective communities are often nurtured and cared for by us more than we care for others.

Philanthropists want to pass on their "emotional DNA." That is why thinking about what gives their own lives meaning and joy is an important first step in supporting what is right for them. If fly fishing on the Ichen River makes one's heart sing, making that possible for future generations should trigger a sense of accomplishment, peace, and fulfillment. Perhaps it is scientific discovery that is thrilling to someone else. If that were so for you, can you imagine how much joy would be inherent in knowing that you were part of the cure for Alzheimer's or cancer?

Perhaps scholarship support is such a big winner among philanthropists because what it accomplishes is so tangible and relatable. Consider the young woman whose life and mind might never really have known Emily Dickinson, Henry Thoreau, Madame Cure, Robert Frost, or Tolstoy. But through scholarship assistance she has made those great thinkers part of her thought process. They are now her lifelong conversation partners. For the right philanthropist, looking into the eyes of that young scholarship recipient can be an extraordinarily joyful moment.

Do you have any specific advice for women?

Don't start by thinking about giving to institutions, even the ones you love. Instead, focus first on what makes you joyful. Then, find the institutions that are the best vehicles to deliver your financial support to what you love.

Men, more than women, believe there's an important relationship between risk and reward. We women should think more about that equation in making our choices. And men can learn from women that institutions don't hold their emotional DNA, people do. Institutions come and go. Those we thought would be around forever are gone – Lehman Brothers, Texaco, Morgan Stanley, TWA and so on. But every time we change someone's life, we change the future forever. As long as we consider the institutions the vehicles and not the end game, we should be alright.

What's a common misconception about being philanthropic?

People often think about their legacy only in terms of financial capital. They should also think about human capital. Just as biology shows us that legacy is in physical DNA, philanthropy shows us time and time again that our philosophical, emotional, and/or spiritual legacy is in the lives we impact. Consider the impact you wish to make and choose your vehicle accordingly.

If you believe the world would be better off if more organizational structures were shaped by or in partnership with women, then find an institution that prepares women to take on leadership positions, and support it. Think about the financial capital you have to work with now and in the future, and how you can best leverage it to accomplish what your heart has told you wish to accomplish.

Do these times present any special opportunities or risks when it comes to philanthropy?

A scholar recently published a book called, The Rising Power of the American Dead. In it, she discusses how much wealth my generation will be passing on and says there's great power to be harnessed. Such wealth will impact the lives of our children and grandchildren, for better or for worse. We should all give it some thought. Such wealth will also have a powerful effect on the institutions we support and their ability to carry on and develop their mission with strength and flexibility.

At the moment, not knowing what I might need in the future, my assets do not seem that significant, but if I eliminate my needs, which will be the case when I die, the resources I have seem pretty valuable. For example, at the moment I might be able to provide scholarship of $5,000 to help tip the scales for some student in need. I could make certain that support goes on forever with an endowment bequest of $100,000.

Any recommend reading for people who want to "give back"?

The Soul of Money because it makes us rethink how money can really be used to help us create a joyful life for ourselves, and A Wrinkle in Time because this very old children's story illustrates in a delightful way how the light of one generous person permanently conquers some darkness forever.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The best way to say it is to quote my husband who said, "I cannot believe they pay you for that job. All day, every day you are around people who are grateful, generous, successful, and happy to see you coming."


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