Aspiration and Generosity: The Dynamic Duo that Leads to Your Best Giving

by | Apr 17, 2024

What are your aspirations for generosity? Do you dream of what might be? What you could be doing? How you might do something differently? Dreams always lead to me storytelling – the stories I tell myself.

As a kid, I dreamed and devised stories on walks to and from school. When my story hadn’t found an ending by the time I reached my destination, I saved it for bedtime. Sometimes, I spun a story over and over again with different endings.

Our dreams are aspirations, hopes, wishes, and yearnings fueled by our passion. The question is, with what endings?

Dream with Mickey

I recently stumbled onto a new Mickey Mouse Short on YouTube. In three-and-a-half minutes, Mickey goes from “The Perfect Dream” to wrestling with interruptions, repeatedly returning to his dream, singing, “A dream is a wish your heart makes.”

Creator Walt Disney, the original voice of Mickey Mouse, began his career as an animator but was an even better storyteller. His marketing genius was to create new ways to tell stories that spanned a 43-year Hollywood career.

When asked about dreams, he said, “I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.”

Endings as a Skill Set

My habit of spinning new endings to my dreams became the foundation of a skill set I used very early in my nonprofit career. Soon after learning grant writing to raise money for needed services, I discovered that my vision might not be fully funded.

I did not realize how important the skill of inventing different endings would become in adulthood. But with different endings close at hand, I could quickly pivot to goals and actions that still met the need.

Donor aspirations are often in broad-brush strokes like our desire to make the world a better place or safer, healthier, greener – the list goes on and on.

The Three A’s of Aspiration

Whatever the aspirations are, without planned activities, action, and the ambition to achieve, they are just words strung together into feel-good images. (From Marshall Goldsmith, The Earned Life)

It is here that the pivot skill becomes critical. Yesterday, we identified nonprofit organizations making a difference exactly in keeping with our aspirations – our dreams –that something better. Today, the same organization is transitioning to new leadership, programs, or locations, or its board has determined a different direction.

Pivot, Then Breathe

Whatever the dilemma, as donors and funders, we must pivot and look for new endings to our aspirations. Did you know the word aspiration comes from the Latin “aspirare,” meaning “to breathe?”

So, take a deep breath and rethink the actions and ambitions you plan for moving forward.

At the Fourth Partner Foundation, we looked for “islands of strength” – organizations with strong board and executive leadership and important work to accomplish. Finding all three together in one organization was often a challenge.

So, we invested in capacity-building activities to strengthen their ability to do the important work we all believed in. It was our pivot, putting our aspirations on hold, taking a deep breath, and giving time and space for a better future.

We followed Disney’s mantra, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” We must start with our endings in mind – our aspirations and dreams – and build intentional actions and activities on ambitious goals.

I like what Scott Fortino, a Chicago PD officer and a published photographer, says about dreams, “I saw a star; I reached for it. I missed, so I accepted the sky.”

Join Mickey, Walt, and Scott – dream, plan, and accept the sky. What are your aspirations for generosity?

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