Tag Archives: Book Review

To Thine Own Self Be True

As part of my role running a fundraising department for a small charity, I recently had the distinct pleasure of hosting Canada’s 28th Governor General, David Johnston, for a tour of our palliative care residence and then moderating a discussion with our community as a fundraising event for our organization. A career high to be certain, and a learning experience like no other.

The basis of Mr. Johnston’s presentation was focused on his recent book Trust: Twenty Ways to Build a Better Country. In this wonderful book Mr. Johnston presents stories and anecdotes from his life experience, education and upbringing while clearly outlining his theories on what it takes to build trust on a personal level with others and within our organizations and government. The book is written in a very conversational way that resonates with the same warmth, wit and wisdom that Mr. Johnston exudes in person.

There are so many excellent examples of ways to foster trust within his book, but one in particular stood out for me. Mr. Johnston grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, ON, and went to Harvard University. In an early chapter entitled “To Thine Own Self Be True”, he tells the story of being admitted to one of the Final Clubs at Harvard, a type of fraternity, in 1960. As he points out, this was before the height of the American Civil Rights movement. Admittance of any new student to this club had to be approved by its selection committee, but was very much reliant on the unwritten approval of the Alumni, from whom the funding for the club came. While Mr. Johnston was a member, there was an opportunity to admit a student from Nigeria, an extremely skilled soccer player and young Black man.

Mr. Johnston points out that the number of Black students at Harvard at the time were very few, a situation that would only change many years later. But in this example, Mr. Johnston explains that when the club did not allow this Black student membership, it did not sit well with him. He writes “the selection committee said they made their decision to deny the Nigerian student because they believed club alumni, who supported the club financially, were not ready to have as a member a man whose skin is black in colour.” (Johnston, 2018) When he learned of their decision, Mr. Johnston resigned his own membership. In his unassuming manner, Mr. Johnston explains he did not do this in protest or for the purpose of making a statement. As he says “I was simply uncomfortable being a member of a club that had just denied membership to a man based solely on the colour of his skin. I believed in equality, humility, and empathy, so the club’s decision rubbed me the wrong way.” (Johnston, 2018)

Mr. Johnston goes on to say that as an eighteen year old student, he did not have the self-awareness to have been able to explain at the time that his reaction was representative of his own personal values, and that as a result he had to make a decision, no matter the outcome or result of that decision. He says he simply was made uncomfortable with the situation, and that made his decision easy. But since then, he has recognized that the experience illustrated the importance of “getting a fix on my values and then trusting these moral instincts to guide my behaviour”. (Johnston, 2018)

This resonated with me deeply. My personal approach has always been similar – perhaps a result of my own upbringing and hearing my parents’ voices explaining that to treat others as we would want to be treated is the best way to go through life. My sister and I were encouraged to look inside and “to thine on self be true” and embrace the Golden Rule that is so prevalent in so many cultures and religions around the world. If only we could all tap in to that inner voice and instinct to recognize our own core values and be strong enough to act upon them – to be an ally by standing up for what we believe in, and not presuming to speak for another individual, but instead stand behind them in support.

This is at the core of the reason I got involved with the AFP Fellowship program. I want to give voice to building trust through the lens of diversity and inclusion. I have learned so much; my own core values of honesty, empathy and equality have been strengthened through this opportunity, yet I recognize I still have much to learn about using my voice and being an ally. I am grateful to the AFP Foundation in Philanthropy Canada for the exceptional opportunity they provide through the Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy, to the Fellows of 2018-19 for setting the example of how to make a difference, and to the Right Honourable David Johnston for leading the way.

Janet Fairbridge is a Certified Fund Raising Executive and an Inclusion and Philanthropy Fellow with the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – Canada.

Photo Credit: Dave West Photography

Review of Raising Ryland

Raising Ryland details the story of Ryland Whittington and her parents’ discovery of the unique child within the seemingly healthy, happy baby girl they gave birth to.

Ryland’s parents share the path they traveled to learn that their child had been born profoundly deaf. While managing the decisions and lifestyle changes that arise from this discovery, they also learned that their child had more to share that would upset the balance of their lives. To accommodate Ryland’s communication needs her parents immediately learned sign language and pursued cochlear implants. As this new found communication opened up Ryland’s world, it provided the opportunity to begin to clearly share an internal discomfort that previously would not have been possible.

Ryland gained the ability to express that she was not a tom-boy, rather she felt she was a boy. Ryland had begun to exhibit discomfort with feminine clothing prior to her second birthday and steadily from there displayed disdain for all things associated with girls and an affinity for dressing as a boy, playing with “boy” toys and being addressed as a boy. What makes this story all the more unique is that Ryland’s parents’ acceptance of these facts allowed the transition from female to male prior to the completion of kindergarten, allowing Ryland to be his authentic self at an incredibly young age.

What I found most intriguing about Ryland’s story was the insight gained by identifying at such a young age that he was experiencing gender issues and its effect on his daily life, his parents’ struggle to have the world accept Ryland and frankly the turmoil that was created by Ryland and his parents’ decision to embrace this change.

Raising Ryland provides a very honest introduction to a person, such as myself, who may have little familiarity with transgender issues better understand the challenges of the transgender child and their families. Also, it is an education to learn of the difference that the parent’s embracing this change made to this child.

The Whittingtons explain in layman’s terms the history of the challenges that Ryland presented, their self-education on transgender individuals, their support of their child and their transition into expert motivational speakers on the matter of transgender youth.

There were two excellent videos produced and available online about Ryland shared here:



With the conversation of gender identification being made incredibly mainstream currently these videos and the book are amazing tools to enlighten the inexperienced and hopefully share with their families so that we are raising children to be accepting, understanding and informed about the challenges others are facing. Through this type of education we foster a heightened level of comfort thereby expanding your ability to interact and be inclusive of more communities and cultures – the payoff personally and professionally is incalculable.

Lessons from the Civil Rights Movement – Part I


  • practical benevolence, esp. charity on a large scale – Oxford English Dictionary
  • the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes – oxforddictionaries.com
  • goodwill to fellow members of the human race; especially: active effort to promote human welfare – merriam-webster.com
  • an act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes – merriam-webster.com

I’m reading Harry Belafonte’s “My Song” which is an absolute delight. For me, it’s one of those books that – although you’d like to devour it in one shot because it’s that captivating – you have to savour in small doses because it’s also very insightful and thought provoking. So as I have been reading my way through, there have been a few sections that I’ve had to re-read and absorb before moving on. What does this have to do with diversity, inclusion, philanthropy? Everything.

Based on the definitions of philanthropy above, numerous acts of goodwill and charity are happening all around us everyday – some well-known, others not so much and still many others, completely unnoticed. I’d like to use this opportunity to share with you excerpts of “My Song” which tell part of one of the many philanthropic stories throughout history that a Google search might not necessarily produce.

The phone rang late in the evening in My New York apartment. It was the night of August 4, 1964. A night of grief and anger for all of us in the civil rights movement, but especially those in Mississsippi. “We’ve got a crisis on our hands down here,” the young man on the line said. “We need help.”

At the start of that fateful summer, hundreds of volunteers, most of them students, many of them white, all of them knowing how dangerous the work would be, had come down from northern universities to register black voters and support rural blacks in pursuit of their civil rights.

I’d helped raise a lot of the money to launch Mississippi freedom summer. I’d called all the top entertainers I knew – Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Henry Fonda, Marlon Brando… Dick Gregory, and more – to ask that they give money directly or participate in benefit concerts. That money bought a lot of gas and cars, housing and food. But now more was needed. A lot more.

“What do you need?” I asked.

“At least fifty thousand dollars.”

I told him I’d get it, one way or the other.

I had to think hard about where that money might come from. I could tap my own savings for the whole $50,000. I’d written a check to SNCC for an amount not much smaller than that in its early days to help establish it, and others since then. For me it was “anything goes”, but I owed it to my family to keep us financially safe. Paul Robeson, the extraordinary actor, singer and activist whose path I’d try to follow my whole adult life, had given so much money to social causes that he’d left himself vulnerable to his enemies, chief among them the federal government.
My wife, Julie, started pulling together a New York fundraiser at our West End Avenue apartment. I flew to Chicago. Irv Kupcinet, as powerful a columnist in his city as Walter Winchell was in New York, gathered dozens of guests at his home on a day or two’s notice. White guests, bearing checkbooks. Why did I as a black performer, have such sway with Irv and his friends? Galvanized by the shocking news of volunteers’ murders, Irv’s guests thrust cash and checks at me – $35,000 worth – as if I was the personal emissary of the civil rights movement. After making a trip to Montreal, I had another $20,000.

When I got back to New York, Julie and I took in $15,000 more from our own apartment fundraiser. I’d hoped to raise $100,000, but $70,000 would have to do. I felt pretty good about that sum of money.

My Song- A Memoir of Art, Race and Defiance
Harry Belafonte with Michael Shnayerson

Pretty heavy stuff. And while the overriding moral of the story is about social justice, it also draws attention to key principles that guide our work in fundraising today – why people give, ways to give, prospecting, making the ask, etc. And – most of all – learning to celebrate our successes – big or small – instead of focusing on the fact that we didn’t make budget.

Give and Take – A Must Read!

As a fellow in the Diversity and Inclusion program we received a special invite to a networking talk with Paul Nazareth of Canada Helps during this year’s AFP Toronto’s Congress. As Paul was giving us great networking tips he also recommended some resourceful books and he provided us with a quick snapshot of each book. I remember frantically writing down the names of the books and authors. If Paul was recommending them, they must be good! After Congress I took a trip to a bookstore and picked up most of the recommended books. One of those books was Give and Take by Adam Grant.

I found this book to be a wonderful page turner and a wealth of insightful information. I was motivated to think outside of the box and look at my personal and professional life from many perspectives.

The main topics that Adam conveys in the book are about the three social interaction styles: Takers, Matchers & Givers.

Takers – Takers like to get more than they give. They feel that in order to succeed, they need to be better than others.
Matchers – Matchers strive to preserve the equal balance of giving and taking. They operate on the principle of fairness
Givers –Givers prefer to give more than they get. They pay more attention to what other people need from them than what people could do for them.

Upon reading the first handful of insightful stories and research studies my first thoughts were “Which style do I fall into?

I started to assess my style as young child and moving into my adulthood.
As a child I remember marbles during recess was the highlight of my day. We would play against each other and trade marbles. When trading marbles I made sure the trades were of the exact same size and without any blemishes on them. I realized that I was interacting as a Matcher. As a young child I wanted to be fair and make sure we received the same value in our trades.

As an adult I feel that I fall more into the Giver style by stepping up to the plate and being a team player. I have, however, wondered if my “style” would hurt me in the long run. Will people walk all over me? Are people viewing me as a “yes” person? Would being a giver mean that i wouldn’t be successful, always being at the bottom?

While reading this book, it opened my mind to think about those people that have entered or are currently in my life. I was flooded with thoughts of my family, friends, teachers, and managers. I found myself starting to assign a style to each of them. I was surprised to learn that I have a great mix of these styles in my life.
As I continued my reading, I appreciated that Adam’s book shared examples and theories to understand what makes people with these different types of interaction style “tick.” What is actually motivating them to be this way? What are they getting out of being this way?”

A featured story that resonated with me was about C.J. Skender, a very well respected accounting professor at Duke & North Carolina University. Skender always saw that potential in his students, he believed in them. Adam states “In Skender’s mind, every student who walks into his classroom is a diamond in the rough – able and willing to be mined, cut and polished.” My “Skender” was my former boss that hired me for my first fundraising role – her name is Colette Thomson. I had no experience in fundraising but she saw that I had the passion and a willingness and drive to learn. I looked up to her as my mentor and sought out advice personally and professionally. She was always positive and encouraging.

As part of the diversity and inclusion fellowship each fellow was partnered up with a mentor. We were fortunate to be paired with leaders in our field. These individuals have given their time to guide and encourage the fellows during this exciting journey. These Mentors would be considered Givers, and one might argue, it is their giving that has helped to make them leaders.

As I continued to read Adam’s book, I found it very valuable to hear about stories about prominent individuals from the past and present. Adam shared many stories of triumphs and failures. One of the stories being of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. To hear about how Lincoln struggled before becoming President and how he persevered was inspiring and endearing. In the world of politics being a giver, being viewed as a “pushover” or “powerless” can hurt your reputation Lincoln was a giver through and through. He gave to his country and put the needs of others before his needs and ego. In the long run that’s what he’s most remembered for.

This book opened my mind to explore more about myself and how I may learn to be a stronger “giver.” I now pay close attention to my surroundings and the many “styles” of people that I may encounter. I was pleased to learn that givers aren’t finishing last and are highly successful. As Adam Grant declares “By shifting ever so slightly in the giver direction, we might find our waking hours marked by greater success, richer meaning, and more lasting impact.” I am especially looking forward to Grant’s next book titled the “Originals.” This book is about the choice to battle conformity, buck outdated traditions, and champion ideas and values that go against the grain. The “Originals” will be available worldwide in February. It’s definitely on my reading list for 2016.