Free

Outside of a church in Milan, Italy a young man came-up and introduced himself.  He said he was working to build peace in Africa.  He wanted to give each member of my family a friendship bracelet.  I tired to politely refrain from his assistance to grab my wrist and place the simple woven bracelet.  He kept saying, ‘peace in Africa and it is free.’  My wife became his target and finally relented while confirming that the bracelet was free.  He quickly secured one on each wrist of our party and then started guiding me away from the group.  I managed to spin back and continue with my family but then he started laughing and asking for ‘one million dollars.’  I looked at my wife and said, ‘you know that these were never going to be free, right?’  She shrugged.  The man then started the asking for ten Euros for each bracelet.  I suggested that he had offered them for free.  He persisted and finally I reached into my pocket and produced a couple Euro coins and said, ‘this is all but I do not feel so good about how you are building peace in Africa now.’

The incident reminded me of the Quid pro quo that takes place throughout the social sector.  Donors give and ask for no recognition but then call-in a favor at a key moment, perhaps asking for tickets to a sold out event.  Board members use their position to influence the organization towards a friend’s business.  Organization’s ask individuals to attend an event and promise not to fundraise only to follow-up with a solicitation right after the event.

I am reminded that honesty builds trust and long-term relationships.  Being asked to perform one duty and then to discover that there is another agenda can be an unpleasant experience.

What steps has your organization taken to be transparent about its motives?  Do you often surprise people with your requests?  Is your organization known for its honesty?

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