The Role of the Donor—Kathy Kwan

The donor journey can be many things all at once for the individual donor: rewarding, humbling, lonely, exhilarating, and exasperating. Having funded more than 60 organizations over the last 14 years, I have found each experience to be unique. Almost always, I am excited about how my grantees positively impact their beneficiaries and am awed by their personal dedication and commitment to make the world a better place. That said, I have found that my personal satisfaction rests in my ability to establish an effective donor-grantee relationship. Some rules of thumb that have worked for me:

  • I have a unique set of personal responsibilities.
  • I aspire to be transparent and honest about my motivations.
  • Successes and failures are ultimately in the hands of the grantee. 
  • I am part of an ensemble. I am not a soloist.
  • Money does not automatically buy influence.

No one is perfect, and every so often, things go haywire: I become too emotionally involved, a suggestion goes unheeded, I might feel slighted, or my contribution isn’t acknowledged in a meaningful manner. In these moments, I have had to learn to lick my wounds, take a chill pill, and objectively assess the situation. I ask, “How much of this is about me and my expectations?” “Could we have avoided this situation?” “What is the context and what are the competing externalities and priorities?”

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