Written by: Susan L. Axelrod, CCP
“What will your legacy be?” I have been asking people this question for 15 years. Mostly, the response is a head tilt and a curious look. Few people find their deep inner passion, and most people have not taken the time to contemplate the legacy they will leave behind.
Why is this important?
Most people have a deep desire to be remembered and/or a fear of being forgotten. I learned this over the latter part of my fundraising career, working as a philanthropy advisor helping donors figure out their philanthropic passion and desired strategic giving-impact.
It took many years for me to learn the beauty, opportunity, and responsibility of legacy after sitting with donors for countless hours, bearing witness to life stories. I loved listening to these generous and thoughtful people. Over time, I began to evolve a formula to help teach this powerful inspired message called The Giving Formula™. I would share it with anyone — organizational donors, colleagues, strangers on a bus, and financial-advising clients (when hired as a speaker). I even did some group conference calls on it before streaming was a thing. I published articles and blog posts on it and have covered it in social media — any opportunity to inspire giving and giving-impact.
Through this activity, I have helped scores of people create legacies with organizations they care about. And by extension of people sharing my message, I know there are a myriad more. I was on purpose and on point in my work!
Finding My Own Philanthropic Passion
But, one day, I was sitting in quiet personal reflection and asked myself if my work, which is so purposeful for me, is the same as my own philanthropic passion! This is the magic ingredient I teach that turns giving into legacy. Not just giving but exploring and reflecting deeply and finding your philanthropic passion, something that stirs your soul and can capture your interest for the rest of your life. I sat there that day and wondered, is my work that thing?
I realized that, though I had been teaching my formula for many years by that time, I had never applied it to myself! The formula was so organic to me. I had only to sit with it for a short time to realize that, while I loved my work, the answer was no. It was not the same as my philanthropic passion. Using my own questions and tools, I quickly identified my own philanthropic passion as my Judaism, and more specifically, as Jewish girls. I wanted to help Jewish girls love their Judaism! I had two Jewish daughters of my own and, while I had already done everything I could to help them turn into Jewish mothers [through their upbringing], I knew there were many other young Jewish girls I could inspire to love their Judaism and become Jewish mothers [thereby helping to perpetuate Judaism — my larger deeply personal interest]. But who am I? I am just one person, is it arrogant to think I could do anything about such a big issue?
And the response came to me immediately from within: Why not! Why not me? Why not now? It doesn’t even matter if I succeed! It only matters that I commit, that I join forces with others and try, that I take action now and that I keep at it.Legacy is built on finding your authentic voice and deeply personal desire, on small actions, consistency, and persistence.
I continued to use my own tools to break it down: What are my skills? What are my resources? Who do I know? What am I willing to do? Am I willing to get started now? I applied one of my seminal teachings: Do not try to do it on your own, always a heavier lift. Open your eyes, look around, who is already doing something in the area of interest? And another special gem: Do not start something new. I asked myself, who anywhere in the entire world is already doing something about this particular concern?
I knew that I could reach out to anyone, anywhere. And again the answer came to me immediately: “There is someone right down the road from me, right here in my own community!”
I continued to follow my own teaching [take action now!] and reached out to her via email, explaining that I cared deeply about the mission of her organization and offered my services freely to support the mission. “I am a fundraiser; do you have a need for my services?” … we laugh about that, still.
Nechama Dina Wasserman Laber and I combined our energy, and exponential synergy was created! This year, five years later, we celebrated the fifth anniversary of an online global movement to support our Jewish daughters [JewishGirlsUnite.com] co-created by bringing together our passion. What started as work — I thought I was just going to be sharing my professional skills on behalf of mission — quickly turned into a heart connection, then a soul connection on behalf of the mission. We worked together for untold hours talking, thinking, committing, planning, executing — and not always in agreement.
We are different people coming from different perspectives but, always, we kept the mission — our shared philanthropic passion — in mind. Of course, being merely human, occasional ego gets in the way, we stumble, even fail, but tenacity and dedication to mission impact prevails. Keep at it, move forward, try/fail, grow/leap; when you are in your philanthropic passion space, there is only resolve.
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