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Is it True? Is it Kind? Is it Necessary?



Based on Google results, we can attribute this wise questionnaire to radio host Bernard Meltzer, Socrates, or the Buddha himself. But that’s just another reminder to not believe everything you read on the internet. And regardless of their origins, these three questions are still a potent test for anything we are about to say or type.


Is it true?

Is it kind?

Is it necessary?


In this era of polarized discourse about — well, everything — there are plenty of applications for these questions in our everyday lives (yes, even that Facebook post). But the topic of the day is collaboration, a practice so ubiquitous in the modern working world that it’s easy to lose sight of its true purpose.


At its core, collaboration means simply: to work jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor (Merriam-Webster). In its finest form, such cooperative undertakings produce a product that is greater than what could have been achieved alone. And fundraising thrives on the collaborative process – sharing information helps customize and elevate the donor experience, and what would a report on philanthropic impact be without insight reflecting the experience of beneficiaries?


Sometimes though, as collaborators, we forget why we were invited to participate. Collaboration is not simply sharing every thought and every opinion we hold about the task at hand or the work of others. The most successful collaborations rely on the knowledge, expertise, and unique insight each player brings to the effort based on the role they play in the project. True, we are sometimes asked to be involved based on previous experience with a project or in a particular field. Mostly though, we are asked to contribute because of the responsibilities we currently hold – i.e., the gift officer who is managing a portfolio of major gift prospects, not the event planner she was in her first job out of college; or the investment manager who is providing activity statements for the endowment report, not the communications major he was in undergrad.


When we lose sight of why we’ve been recruited for a project, we risk derailing it altogether and, perhaps worse, damaging relationships by undermining the professionals in the room who are there to fulfill those roles – i.e., the events manager who is tasked with delivering an engaging experience for today’s audiences (that’s in-person, online, and hybrid); or the stewardship communications specialist who’s been researching data on what donors read, and what they don’t, before designing this year’s report.


One underlying issue that we often observe in collaborations gone wrong is a lack of shared understanding. So, the next time you’re convening a collaborative group, we recommend kicking things off with the following essentials:

  1. Project purpose, goals, budget, and measurements of success

  2. Roles and responsibilities for each member of the group

  3. Project timeline, with deliverables and a clearly identified window of opportunity for group ideation

  4. Who makes decisions (spoiler alert: this is the project lead, not your CEO – don’t bottleneck your organization’s progress with needless red tape)

And the next time you’re invited to contribute as a collaborative partner, ask yourself – and your project lead – what is my role? And then, before you speak or type, ask yourself:


Is it true?

Is it kind?

Is it necessary?