“The query is everything.” This might be my favorite thing in the world to say. I learned it in Library World many years ago. I can’t believe I remember it, actually, because I try desperately to remember wonderful phrases people say constantly and always fail. This one has stuck with me, and I’m often amazed at how relevant it is in general. In the library, it relates to search. It is a way to help the user drill down into their question in order to return results that are relevant and manageable. My own research in on the proliferation of information and its impact on the human psyche (particularly in regards to empathy), so I think about the value of this skill a lot.
As I’ve encountered research (particularly quantitative) and begun to learn how to frame questions and manipulate data, I realize that this phrase has much greater potential as a fundamental wisdom. As an example, studying the history of anthropological history this year, I’ve seen how the same ethnography can be interpreted in various ways depending on the theory that grounds the analysis. Economists regularly run experiments on the same data over and over again getting countless results depending on the question that is asked of it. This has me thinking about bias which is something that researchers are always aware of and trying to avoid.
To some people’s discomfort, I see philanthropy as an act of love. The Greek word means “love of man,” which I reduce to simply “love” in order to include all the focal points for modern philanthropy – women, children, the poor, animals, trees, whales, the earth, water, trees etc. There are two reasons why people have a discomfort with looking at it this way: first, they aren’t comfortable with talking about or expressing love and second, they have run into creepy fundraisers. I sympathize with both of those reasons. However, I feel strongly that people need to get comfortable with love and also that creepy fundraisers be reformed or move on to something else.
But this gets me to my main point about this phrase which is that “the query is everything” is an important thing to remember in philanthropy as well. In this realm the query is often phrased as, “how can I help?” Sometimes this question is asked to a fundraiser which is great, but often it’s a question lurking in a donor’s head which the fundraiser has to coax out, nurture and guide. In this way, like the librarian is the shepherd for the patron who first needs to figure out what he is looking for and THEN find it, the fundraiser is that for the donor. Seeing them so similarly, this is why I can never decide who I love more – the librarian or the fundraiser!
Ultimately both quests are about truth which expands my understanding of the phrase even more. I’ve observed both librarians and fundraisers take precious time with their charge to help them define their query. That time spent probing and considering is the difference between a ho-hum resource and a just ok act of philanthropy and an-aha moment in the stacks and a powerfully emotional giving experience.
As fundraisers we need to help our donors query who and what moves their heart so that we can give them the gift of meaningful philanthropy.