Excerpts from an address to the parents of the Davidson Young Scholars given by Jan Davidson, President of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, at the 2001 Reunion Gathering on July 12, 2001.
It has been four years since Bob and I departed from our software company and began focusing our energies and resources on our philanthropic endeavors: the Davidson Foundation, founded in the spring of 1997, and the Davidson Institute, founded in the fall of 1999. We've always been involved in service projects, but particularly over these past four years we've done a lot of research on philanthropy and a lot of thinking about philanthropy. We've supported a variety of philanthropic efforts, and we've learned a great deal about being philanthropists.
Bob and I view philanthropy as a mission-oriented endeavor. We believe that in order to be successful, philanthropic endeavors need to be directed toward the pursuit of a clear and understandable goal or mission. For the Davidson Institute, the mission is to recognize, nurture and support profoundly gifted young people and to provide opportunities for them to develop their talents in positive ways to create value for themselves and others.
However, while having a clear and understandable goal is important, we also believe it is just as important to be flexible with the strategies employed to pursue that goal. Because our world is changing at an accelerated pace, a strategy that may have been effective in the past, may not be effective now; and a strategy that is working now, may not work a year from now. As a result, it is critical to the achievement of the goal to continually evaluate, change, and, in some cases, completely revise ones strategies. This idea of "Fixed Goal, Flexible Strategies" plays a key role in the way we approach our work at the Davidson Institute.
You, along with our staff and several expert consultants in the field, play a significant role in influencing the ever-evolving strategies we employ to achieve our mission. Your active participation and continual feedback play a significant role in our own evaluation process and truly help us to brainstorm different approaches, new ideas, and in some cases, new directions.
As many of you know, the Davidson Young Scholars program was the first program we launched three years ago when we decided that our philanthropic focus would be on supporting profoundly gifted young people. Our reason for starting with the Young Scholars program was that it would provide us with hands on, day-to-day experiences in working with you and your children. Our thought was that these first-hand experiences supporting a small number of Young Scholars would help us better understand and address the needs of the pg population at large as the Institute grew and evolved.
This close working partnership with you has given us the confidence to take an ambitious stretch in our activities this year. We've added a lot of new strategies: our Services for Talent Development offering an array of services for any pg young person; the Davidson Fellows awards providing scholarships to recognize extraordinary achievement, Services for Professionals to help educators and others who support our children better understand their needs. And, of course, with your many contributions, we have been able to launch the Davidson Gifted Database, the only web-based, searchable database of information for and about profoundly gifted children.
Yes, we're pursuing lots of new strategies this year. Will there be bumps in the road? Yes. But with good communications and feedback from those we serve, we believe we'll navigate through the rough patches. Will all the strategies work? Probably not. If we see effective ways to tweak them, we will. If we can't, we'll abandon them and find other strategies that work better. We have no magic formula; we have no ideal solution; we have no perfect strategy. But, if something works, we'll do more of it. And, if something doesn't work, we'll either fix it or stop doing it. We will employ flexible strategies to pursue our mission.
Now, I would also like to turn to what we have discovered while pursuing our mission.
One of the most important lessons we've learned is that our efforts to help people will be successful only if the people we help are willing to help themselves. Particularly in our philanthropic work of the last four years, we have learned first hand the value of the old Chinese proverb "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." If people are unwilling to learn how to fish, unwilling to even cast the net or pick up a fishing pole, then our choice as philanthropists is to either continue giving them fish (with no expectations of effort on their part), or to spend our human and financial resources helping people who are willing and able to learn how to fish for themselves. It is a difficult choice, but we have chosen the latter. It has been our experience that helping people who want to help themselves is the more direct way to achieve our mission.
As philanthropists, we are investing in people. It is people who can make a positive difference; people who can make a positive change; people who can make the world a better place. It is people like you, who are willing to learn to fish, who can help us to successfully achieve our mission.
I commend you for working as partners with us to help you nurture and support your children and to provide them opportunities to develop their talents in positive ways to create value for themselves and others. I look forward to a long and productive relationship as we continue working together in a positive way to achieve this important mission.
In parting, I'd like to share one final thought -- one that I think is important. Anyone can be a philanthropist. It doesn't require money; it doesn't even require a lot of time. It only requires love for your fellow human beings. It only requires the willingness to provide the extra support, encouragement, and guidance to those who cross our paths each day. Sometimes it only requires that we set a positive example to inspire and bring out the best in those who cross our paths each day.
In other words, my parting message is, you can do more good by being a good person than by any other way.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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