“Animation is like telling a joke and waiting three years to see if anyone laughs.” – Ed Catmull, Pixar Studios

    I heard Ed Catmull share this in an interview about the making of Toy Story. His point was that working on the film required a great vision, patience, and the confidence to know that what they were working on was right without the immediate feedback.

    Now imagine a project that has all of these same requirements: vision, patience and confidence, but add in that it may take 10 or 20 years to realize the vision.

    And you may not even be there to see to hear the audience laugh.

    That’s endowment work.

    No wonder it can fall to the bottom of a nonprofit leader’s priority list faster than a stone sinking to the bottom of a river.

    After all, successful nonprofit teams like to see results. Like many of their for-profit counterparts, they keep a close eye on quarterly financial targets and budgets. They adjust mid-stream to meet their goals and celebrate the impact they can have as careful stewards of the resources given to them.

    An endowment program requires an entirely different set of skills. It requires continual, consistent relationship-building without the satisfaction of a campaign victory celebration. It requires asking for a gift and being OK with only a vague answer. It requires patience that spans decades, and a vision that transcends generations.

    It’s not easy, but it is worthy. There are universities, faith-based organizations, and nonprofits that have been able to fulfill their mission for more than a century, thanks to the strong financial foundation of an endowment fund. Think of how your impact measurements could be multiplied if you considered the fact that an endowment gift today could be changing lives generations from now.

    If animation is telling a joke and waiting three years to see if the audience laughs, then endowment work is asking for support and waiting a generation to see the gift’s impact. It takes patience, but the results are no joke.

    Posted by Thom Peters on Aug. 2, 2016
    Thom Peters

    Written by Thom Peters

    Thom has held executive positions with YMCAs in Albuquerque, San Jose, Chicago and Milwaukee, allowing him to develop expertise in leadership, group work, strategic planning, volunteerism, and staff development. He has demonstrated a keen ability to listen to and understand an organization’s needs, helping them bridge the gaps between status quo and mission fulfillment.

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