A word of warning as I begin. If you were planning to read this blog aloud in polite company, I would recommend against it.
Don’t worry, this post won’t be R-rated or anything. It’s just that I fear you might ever so slightly mispronounce what I want to write about, and it could prove embarrassing (or hysterical, your choice).
Shelf-sitters. Let’s talk shelf-sitters. Are you seeing why I started with a disclaimer? If not, try saying shelf-sitters five times fast.
I have to credit my uncle and Foundation Trustee, Phil Langford, with the coinage. At a recent Board of Trustees meeting, he was talking about the importance of making sure the projects we fund don’t just get put up on a shelf and forgotten. We want our initiatives to have as long of a life and as much influence as possible.
In other words, shelf-sitters are bad. We should send them down the drain. We want to wipe away the very possibility of their existence and flush them entirely. Then we should wash our hands of them.
Side note, all puns are great puns, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong.
In all seriousness though, my uncle’s point was a good one. In the world of philanthropy, an immense amount of money goes towards projects that ultimately fail. And in the big picture, that isn’t an inherently bad thing. Philanthropy has the luxury of being able to take risks with capital that for-profit businesses cannot. That said, we still want our risk-taking to result in a lot more success than failure.
Failure can be tricky though. It’s not always easy to spot, and if you aren’t careful, initial successes can lapse into failures. That’s what happens when a dynamite strategic plan is ignored halfway through its cycle or an innovative curriculum disappears from classrooms a year or two after launch. Those are shelf-sitters.
Our work, and really everyone’s work, requires long-term vision, long-term commitment, and long-term relationships. Sure, our grants have an “end date.” But if we are doing our job well as philanthropists, our grants will carry on, having an impact long after the dollars are spent.
So what’s my point? I’m not sure that I really have one this week. I’ll simply leave you with this: I’m mindful of my uncle’s words. No shelf-sitters for us.