The Philanthropic Quest Strategic Retreat
When you become a force for grounded hope and inspired action, anything is possible.
Take a moment to imagine ...
What could happen if you broke through to a new level of success in advancing your cause? (Maybe even to do something that seems “impossible” right now.)
What if you could move people past the scarcity mindset that pervades the social sector — all those unspoken assumptions about limited resources and limited possibility?
What if you could inspire everyone around you to make their greatest contribution?
And what could be possible for all of us — professionals, donors, and volunteer leaders alike — if we moved forward together, shoulder-to-shoulder, to take bold action fueled by belief in each other and what we can accomplish?
If those questions spark something for you, I encourage you to take a close look at this unusual experience. Get started by hearing what others have had to say at the end of recent retreats.
~ Jim Lord
What does working "shoulder-to-shoulder" look like?
Hear Jeff Cook — civic leader, board member, philanthropist — speak to the value of slowing down, listening, and maybe even being a bit vulnerable. (Like many who end up getting the most from our retreats, Jeff arrived with a touch of humility. He even wondered out loud whether he would fit in. After just a few moments in the room with us, his doubts floated away.)
Can we keep dreams alive in the urgency of the day-to-day?
Listen as Megan Riebe speaks to the strategic importance of big dreams — and the joy to be found in facilitating meaningful philanthropy. (At her first retreat with us, Megan was accompanied by her university's president. Less than two years later, she is now leading her own Philanthropic Quest retreats as one of our certified facilitators.)
How do we move from transactional to transformational giving?
Early in his 29 years with Mayo Clinic, Jim Hodge found himself on the brink. Exposure to fresh ideas gave him a new mindset and sparked an exceptional career. Listen as he speaks to the spirit behind his work — key to his success in facilitating breakthrough philanthropy. (Today, Jim collaborates with entrepreneurs who make dramatic investments in medical research and innovation at the University of Colorado.)
An experience unlike any other
After every program, participants tell us “this is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.” (Sometimes they even say “I’m not sure how to put this into words.”)
And indeed, The Philanthropic Quest is a unique offering in the “nonprofit” world.
For most folks who’ve been around for a while, a conference is a conference. A board retreat is a board retreat. A workshop is a workshop. And it gets to be kind of cookie-cutter. You start to say “I’ve heard this before, I’ve been through these before.”
This is different.
We’re not going to lecture you with a bunch of PowerPoint slides.
We’re not going to parrot the conventional wisdom — you’ve had enough of that.
Instead of being a passive recipient of instruction, you'll roll up your sleeves and be an active player. You’ll be fully engaged and co-creating the outcome that you want from what you’re getting in the retreat room.
This is your chance to step back from the day-to-day and get a fresh perspective (plus essential strategies most people overlook).
We set the stage by creating a strength-based atmosphere of curiosity, inquiry, and reflection.
Doesn’t that sound like a refreshing place to start? (And you'll find out how to create that kind of space around you when you return home.)
In structured conversations, using questions you’ve never heard before, you'll learn by seeing your own experience through new eyes. This is something people rarely take time to do in any depth, but it yields learning that lasts — because it's grounded in your real life.
As we learn from each other, hope and promise grow, along with the conviction we can get the job done.
Along the way, we'll introduce some carefully curated insights — from social psychology, organization development, and other disciplines — you can apply to interpret and build on your experiences right there in the retreat room.
All so you can be even more influential, more effective in advancing what you want to see happen in the world.
So what will you have when you leave?
The honest answer is: “It depends.”
It depends on what you’re doing and where you’re at
... what you have going for you (more than you might think, as you’ll discover when we’re together)
… and what you want to accomplish in the future (more is possible than you might imagine right now).
The video clips on this page, just a minute or two each, will give you a sense of what others have gained from the experience. For more specifics, click on the heading below that best describes you.
Do you advance the greater good through philanthropic investments, board or civic leadership, or other voluntary action?
Your voice is more important right now than ever before.
Through your leadership and your investments, you have the capacity to encourage others to reach higher, to dream more boldly, and to achieve what may seem impossible. (Isn't that what the world is calling for?)
Yet it can feel daunting to step into that role, to put yourself out there as one who believes in positive possibilities for the greater good.
Today’s fashionable cynicism can get in the way. The conversations that surround us don’t make it easy to stand up for hope, optimism, and the possibility of a better future.
And then there’s the complexity that pervades every aspect of our lives, including the enterprise of philanthropy. Sophisticated campaigns routinely raise billions of dollars. Organizations have become professionalized and data-driven. Complex, global issues are being advanced.
At the same time, critics are raising questions about the role of philanthropy in society — concerns not to be taken lightly by anyone who genuinely cares about the greater good.
On top of all that, walls have grown up between professionals and “donors.” Too often these relationships are stilted and artificial. People talk at each other across the table — instead of working shoulder-to-shoulder in trusting relationships, true partners looking toward the horizon.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do, what the right path is for you … so you can make the difference you want to make.
Well, I could go on, but the point is: Too much potential is wasted, too much good left undone.
That’s where The Philanthropic Quest Strategic Retreat comes in. Here are just two of the ways you could use this experience to advance the causes you care about.
1. Create your most inspired contribution to the world around you (with a plan to bring it into reality).
Imagine taking a little time to step back from the day-to-day and ask yourself: What could be possible?
What contribution could you make in the coming year and beyond?
What if you could have complete clarity about your next contribution and what it will be like for you — to the point of feeling it in your bones?
And if you had the first steps to get there -- to get there more easily and a commitment and design to accelerate it?
All so you are truly making the greatest, most inspired (and inspiring), strategic and consequential difference in the world.
Imagine how that clarity as a leader would influence those around you.
What we do is show folks like you exactly how they can make their greatest contributions to the world. We do this by creating a safe space, asking the right questions, offering structure that can propel you forward, and laying a strategic foundation for new possibilities.
You might be longing to do something truly meaningful with the next chapter of your life, but are looking for more clarity and “oomph.”
Or you might want to take what you’re already doing and reinvent it, so it’s more significant, more fulfilling, more truly you.
You might even be looking to design your “legacy project” — the contribution to the world that will be your lasting gift.
Once you’ve got real clarity on what your “next” will be, your strategy becomes clear. So then we turn your dream into action.
You’ll have time, while we’re together at the retreat, to get a jump start on what you’ve cooked up — all the way to the detail of who you’re going to see, what you’re going to say to begin the conversation.
It was from Jim Lord more than 25 years ago that I first learned about sacrificial giving. I saw a way of giving that actually makes a difference in my life, both in terms of affecting my wealth in order to invest in a large way and, at the same time, in increasing my sense of meaning in the results I’ve seen from those investments. My wife and I were able to do something we never dreamed possible.
Philanthropist and former Chairman and CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and AmeriCorps
2. Energize a small team from the cause that matters most to you.
Another way to use this retreat is for you to host a small team from a cause or organization you want to advance. Mix it up with staff, board, donors — so you can break down the walls and meet as human beings who want a better world.
We encourage you to think about what a powerful investment it can be to include staff leaders in this experience, as equal partners. They need time and space to think big, and they will never find it in the day-to-day pressures at the office.
You can give that to them — and at the same time honor their contributions, expand their capabilities, and dramatically strengthen your shared capacity to create the kind of world you want.
This can also be a meaningful step toward making the spirit of contribution — the spirit of taking bold personal initiative for the common good — central to the overall culture of an organization.
After all, the people who work there have devoted their lives to making a contribution to the greater good. This is a natural fit if you want to nurture human growth and development, promote progressive values, and honor the humanity of all involved (donors, volunteers, and professionals alike).
As one person said to me, “One of the most highly leveraged investments I can make is to inspire the people doing the work on my behalf, every day of their lives.”
We always felt we were on a heroic journey and it was confirmed to us by an introduction to Jim Lord’s Philanthropic Quest. Jim’s talent lies in helping individuals and organizations discover their strengths and articulate their highest aspirations for themselves and for society at large. This process energizes and inspires the commitment of volunteers and donors. What a gift for us all.
Co-founder, Southridge School, British Columbia, Canada
Could more be possible for you and for the causes you support?
If you have a sense the answer might be “yes”
… if you are committed to stepping even more into your leadership potential
… if you want to make more possible for the world
… then I encourage you to respond to the brief application today.
Even if you’re thinking of hosting a small team, the first step is for you to raise your hand, so don’t put it off while you think about the people you might invite.
Besides, you may find the questions in the application will give you new clarity and energy, right away. (People often tell us they’re surprised by what they discover, simply in the process of answering.)
Maybe devote a few moments to yourself right now and take a look?
~ Jim Lord
Jim magnifies one’s power to dream and dream big. My first workshop with him gave me courage to take the plunge and start my own non-profit organization, Muskaan (which means “smile” in English) — and energy to translate it into reality. I am grateful to Jim for allowing me to be part of this work because it has strengthened my courage to create the kind of world I want.
Founder of Muskaan, Lucknow, India
Are you a CEO, CDO, or other social sector professional with leadership or development responsibilities?
Before anything else, I want to thank you for who you are and the work you do.
You’ve devoted your life to making the world a better place. You’re creating the kind of world I want to live in, the world I want to see my children inherit.
And I know it isn’t easy.
The pressures are intense. You’re juggling the demands of board members, donors, outside stakeholders, staff, and those you serve. You have budgets to meet, people to manage, goals to achieve, expectations to satisfy.
There’s a lot of complexity, a lot of noise around you. It can get to be a bit much.
But if your vision is expansive — and your desire to serve is compelling — you always want to accomplish more. Much more than may seem possible right now.
The question is: How?
In the face of all of your day-to-day pressures, how do you lead your organization so everyone around you can see exciting new possibilities — and have the confidence and courage to turn big ideas into reality?
And how do you lead your development program to attract the unprecedented philanthropic support that will expand what is possible?
These are the big questions, the questions that can keep you up at night, the questions you simply have to answer if you’re going to reach for more.
Often people think they need a consultant to come in and figure this out for them — to assess what’s wrong in the organization, then do some “team-building” or “training” to fix things up and straighten people out.
As you may have experienced, these kinds of change efforts — especially “culture change” — often backfire, triggering resistance and resentment instead of inspiring bold action. (If you’re curious about why that happens, send me a note.)
There’s a better way: A whole-system approach that draws from the most up-to-date knowledge of human growth and organization development, and can be implemented in ways that are more subtle, yet far more effective. A proven, strength-based methodology that brings out the best in people and inspires their greatest contributions.
For you, that’s what The Philanthropic Quest is about.
In university advancement, intense pressure to “meet the metrics” can lead to unhealthy outcomes. Too many fret over mechanics but ignore deeper meanings and natural human connections. Jim’s approach lets leaders shape organizational culture with greater wisdom and humanity, for sustainable performance.
Senior Vice President Emeritus for Development and Alumni Relations, Pennsylvania State University;
Consulting Vice President, Grenzebach Glier
Here are a few of the ways people like you have used this program.
Lay the groundwork for success in a campaign or major program.
You’re starting to think about a campaign or major program and have high hopes for it. But you’re wondering if will succeed — or if you’re aiming too low and losing out on potential. Could you be doing something differently to set the stage for more certain success?
Revitalize a campaign or major program you already have underway.
Sometimes an ambitious initiative stalls mid-way, or could simply benefit from a step back and a fresh look. You might be concerned you're missing some great opportunities (or maybe even coming up short).
Are you focused on your highest-payoff strategies — or getting lost in the weeds? With so much at stake, are you making smart decisions in the heat of the moment?
Strengthen the culture of your organization, so you can achieve much more.
Strengthening organizational culture is not taught in “fundraising training,” yet nothing is more essential to success in raising money.
You can move your organization out of the scarcity mindset and into a “big thinking and big results” mode.
You can even make the spirit of contribution — the spirit of taking bold personal initiative for the common good — central to the overall culture of your organization.
After all, the people you work with have devoted their lives to making a contribution to the greater good. The Philanthropic Quest is a natural fit if you want to nurture human growth and development, promote progressive values, and honor the humanity of all involved (donors, volunteers, and professionals alike).
Deepen the relationships that are crucial to your success.
Take this unusual opportunity to create a new kind of collaborative partnership with a few key people — to raise their sights, inspire them to see that more is possible, and move forward together as true partners.
You might also want them to understand development better, get excited about engaging fully in relationships with philanthropic supporters, or become even more inspiring advocates for the cause you share.
Step back from the day-to-day and make sure you’re focused on the right priorities.
How often do you get the space to ask yourself the big questions: What could be possible?
How can you inspire others to raise their sights?
What’s truly important — and what is just noise that you can brush away? (You know you have too much on your plate right now.)
And what are the first steps you’ll take to get to a new level of success, more easily and quickly?
The workshop I attended with Jim came at an inflection point in my life. I needed to decide whether I was going to become a "leader" or a "foundation administrator" for our community. It helped me become more comfortable with the idea that leaders don't have to have all the answers (which I didn't) but can be the people who ask the right questions (which I learned to do). In the intervening years, we've grown the foundation tremendously, both in size and in service to the community.
President, Berks County Community Foundation, Reading, Pennsylvania, USA; former Chair, Council on Foundations
More than a retreat, a time for action
You’ll get away from the daily work pressures and expectations, and be in a quiet, safe, calm place for a few days. A true retreat where you’ll have the luxury to stop and think.
But it’s much more than just a retreat.
I’m devoted to making sure you get results and turn your big ideas into inspired, sustained action.
So you’ll have a chance, while we’re together, to get a jump start on whatever it is you’ve cooked up — all the way to the detail of who you’re going to see, what you’re going to say to begin the conversation. And we’ll be in touch after the program to make sure you stay on track.
Could more be possible for you and your institution or cause?
If you have a sense the answer might be “yes,” then I encourage you to send in your brief application today.
Even if you’re thinking of bringing another person or a small team with you, the first step is for you to apply — so don’t put it off while you think about the people you might invite.
Besides, you may find the application itself gives you new clarity and energy, right away. (People often tell us they’re surprised by what they discover, simply in the process of answering the application questions.)
Maybe devote a few moments to yourself right now and take a look?
~ Jim Lord
My first Quest workshop with Jim Lord at Cambridge University was a turning point. After it, everything was changed. We grew our first private university in Germany, which set the example for more than 100 others. And rescued another university 14 days before it would have gone into bankruptcy. (It’s now flourishing.)
For over 20 years responsible for fundraising and strategic planning at the first private university in Germany
Are you an experienced major, principal, or planned gift officer who wants to step up to a new level (perhaps to enter a leadership role)?
Twenty-some years ago, two young people — fresh out of college — began their lives working in what most people call “fundraising.”
They had a lot in common.
Both had big dreams and a strong sense of purpose.
Both were smart, dedicated, passionate.
Both were determined to make a difference with their lives and make the world a better place.
And they saw the development profession as their way to make a contribution to the world.
Today, 20 years later, they still have a lot in common.
They’re both married, with children in college. They’re both still engaged in the social sector, continuing to invest their talent and energy in causes they believe in.
But there’s an important difference.
One has drifted from job to job, always finding himself blocked by the same kinds of organizational dysfunction, never staying long enough to get traction and enjoy the satisfaction of real accomplishment. He’s worn down, burned out, and counting the days until retirement.
The other has spent the last several years facilitating transformative philanthropic gifts that have fueled significant action, both local and global in scale — and with great significance for the donors.
Filled with even more hope, creativity, and vitality than when she started out all those years ago, she’s now moving into being a philanthropist and civic leader herself — spreading her positive influence far beyond the walls of her institution.
How could two people, so alike in so many ways, end up in such different places? Why are they looking back on such different life experiences?
It’s not just a matter of hard work, lucky breaks, or innate talent. It’s not that one wanted to do big things and the other didn’t.
These are both smart, wonderful people who have worked hard for decades — indeed have invested their whole lives — out of a deep desire to make the world a better place. I am grateful to both of them for who they are, and I honor the good works each has done.
Still, I have to wonder: Was there potential that got lost along the way?
More that might have been?
For years, I’d been in a state of complete and utter burnout, not sure if anything I was doing made a difference. I left the retreat saying, “I can do it. I’m having an impact, this is important and now I can keep doing it. I took a couple days for myself and now I’m ready to go again.” I soon moved on to a new job — a big step up that I never would have dared to take on without this experience.
Legacy Giving Director, Mal Warwick Donordigital
How will you look back at your career?
I want you to look back with deep joy, knowing you truly made your greatest possible contribution to the world through your work.
Everything I’ve seen — in the course of decades in this field, working with hundreds of people like you — tells me there's one essential step you can take to make sure that happens for you:
Make it a priority to develop your leadership presence.
That's the key. It makes it possible for you to …
- Influence others — by facilitating their highest contributions (including transformative philanthropic investments).
- Take advantage of opportunities that others don't even see (instead of being stopped by barriers and scarcity).
- Shape organizational culture and expand what is possible (regardless of your formal leadership role).
Those are not inborn talents. They’re not some mysterious “thing” that only a few special people can have.
They are capabilities that can be developed through intentional learning and practice, and shared with the people around you.
For you, that’s where The Philanthropic Quest could lead.
Here's what other people like you have told us about what happened for them …
Even though I was working in leadership giving, with good results, I had struggled for years with the power differential I felt with my donors. I felt it negatively impacted the relationships I could build with them. The Philanthropic Quest experience completely changed the dynamic in donor relationships, so we could meet on a different level — as human beings trying to make a difference in the world — and have different kinds of conversations.
I was in a new position, trying to learn the ropes and meet others’ expectations, but there was too much noise around me. The retreat gave me a chance to stop and think in a quieter space, a completely safe environment. A chance to think for myself, instead of having stuff piled on me. I left with real clarity about not just what I was going to do and how, but also why it matters. (More clarity and energy than I ever could have found in the noise back at the office.)
When I came into this field, I saw it as great, purposeful work. (Which it certainly can be.) But I’d reached a point in my career where I was just focused on meeting my metrics. People in this profession can get too caught up in that. The retreat let me reconnect with what had motivated me earlier in my career … the pleasure and meaning we can give donors through philanthropy by engaging them in genuine conversations, listening in a new way, and aligning their interests with our expertise.
I was at a professional crossroads, unsure what to do next. I’d always been scared to aim too high, so I’d take jobs where I was bored out of my mind. It was time for a change. I left the retreat with new confidence in my abilities and an expanded vision of what I was capable of doing. I was ready and able to say “yes!” to a real growth opportunity — stepping into a much larger leadership role — and a firm “no” to wrong turns and dead ends.
Could more be possible for you?
If you have a sense the answer might be “yes” … if you are committed to your own growth … if you want to make more possible for others … then I encourage you to send in your brief application today.
You may find the questions themselves give you new clarity and energy, right away. (People often tell us they’re surprised by what they discover, simply in the process of answering the application questions.)
Maybe devote a few moments to yourself right now and take a look?
~ Jim Lord
Jim Lord’s visionary thinking begins with the very first visit, making it possible for me to raise millions of dollars. This is a thoughtful, transformational experience. I'll always be grateful to the board chair who first recommended this program to me.
Director of Planned Giving,
Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health
More post-retreat insights and take-aways
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens after the retreat?
All too often, a retreat or workshop is just a flash in the pan, quickly forgotten as you return to your busy life.
This one is different. (Very different!)
First off, it’s not “just another workshop.” For most people who attend, it’s a genuine turning point. (Of course, you don’t have to take my word for that, just read what alums have to say above.)
Second — and more important — you’ll become a part of the global community of Quest alums, both the people in your retreat cohort and the larger community. It’s amazing company to be in.
We’ll also schedule regular and frequent follow up, including a series of personal calls ... and you’ll be hearing regularly from me, to keep your learning fresh, and your plans on track. This is really the beginning of a lifelong relationship.
Is this only for people directly involved in "philanthropy" or "raising money"?
Our programs are for anyone who seeks to advance a social cause or an organization of social good, and wants to understand more deeply how to release human energy — including significant philanthropy — toward that end. We take a broad view of “philanthropy,” drawing on its root meaning: love of humanity. (Board members tell us that they take back to their businesses new insight and inspiration to capitalize on the built-in desire of all to make a contribution – to make a true difference.) If that's you, we encourage you to apply.
What are the program dates and locations?
Dates and locations are announced privately to those who have applied. After you've applied, you may even be able to influence dates to fit your calendar. Once we know your level of desire, we pull out all the stops to make it easy for you to be with us. (You could even be at the upcoming one!) Learn more about how that works.
Why is an application required?
Because our programs have strictly limited enrollment, we go to great lengths to make sure there’s an ideal mix of people in the room. (We often hear afterwards “what an amazing group of people that was!”)
The application process is not intended to weed you out (you’re more than “good enough”). We use it to get to know you a little and understand what you'd like to gain from the program, so together we can make sure you're in a position to get maximum benefit. And then we'll be able to place you in a group that will be a great fit for you. Learn more about applying.
Can you tell me more about who's selected?
Thanks to decades of experience, we have a good handle on who will be successful with this approach. If you see yourself in the following criteria, you're likely to be a great fit. (Or at least some of them, some of the time — “perfection” is not required!)
- You're optimistic and forward-thinking. You want to offer people a positive vision and confidence in the future — instead of settling for “the way things are.”
- You bring out the best in others. You develop authentic human relationships that allow others to blossom, which calls for a measure of humility and empathy.
- You long to reach for more. You're eager to learn and to develop greater competency and leadership presence ... and have that learning lead to greater results.
- You take decisive action. You're not enrolling just to learn or dream — you do whatever it takes to seize the opportunities in front of you.
Can I bring someone with me?
Time and again, I’ve seen how it can enrich the experience to be joined by someone who you hold in high regard. Whether you work with this person day-in and day-out or you only have infrequent telephone contact, you’ll be able to join in holding possibility and hope — someone who will understand what you’re talking about, thanks to a shared experience.
And you never know what you might cook up together, either during the retreat or in the months or years after.
So I do my level best to accommodate anyone who wants to participate with a partner. (In some programs, everyone is present with a partner.)
By the way, although people have come in teams of as many as six, you can make the biggest difference in your experience and results by bringing in just one other person. (We now limit teams to four — unless it’s a program specifically designed for your team.)
Since places are limited, and are first-come, first-served, I would suggest you first secure your registration and then approach your potential partner.
How do I apply? Is there a deadline?
The application process is designed to make sure there’s a great fit between your expectations and what the retreat has to offer. It’s one of the ways I make sure there’s always a Great Group, with everyone fully engaged.
Deadline? Well, because my programs are for small groups, they’re first come, first served, according to the receipt of the full registration fee. This has seemed to be the fairest way to handle the limited space. So you can choose your own deadline ... but wait too long, and the retreat may well be full.
To start your application, see this page.
Who leads the retreat?
Our in-person programs are led personally by Jim Lord.
What if I register and cannot attend?
If you've registered for a retreat, but something unexpected happens and you are unable to attend, you can choose to:
- Arrange to send someone in your place (subject to our acceptance of their enrollment in accordance with our usual application process).
- Cancel your registration. If you cancel at least 20 days before the beginning of the program, you will receive a full refund of your tuition. If you cancel after that date, you will be able to apply your tuition to a future program with us.
I've attended one of your programs before, why would I do it again?
Returning alums are welcomed with open arms. Sometimes they even take more than half the seats! Most of the rest are usually accompanying an alum or were recommended by one.)
Why do they return? Well, we’ve heard many say they want to immerse themselves again in the inspiring atmosphere — and be with people who share their aspirations and values.
After all, this program is much more than “training.” It’s a true retreat where we can restore our batteries, wallow in the mindset with like-minded folks, and leave refreshed with greater understanding of our work and more energy for the future.
That’s a big reason people return again and again.
Another reason is that you are different from the last time you were with us. You may be in a new role, at a new crossroads, or working with a new team you’d like to inspire.
And of course, we’re constantly learning from alums’ success, refining the program content, and introducing new elements and insights. If your last program was more than a couple of years ago, you’ll be surprised by how different it is today.
To keep the option open, please complete the application — in your case it’s less of an “application” and more of an update about what’s going on for you. Then we can talk and see if the program would serve you again.
"Just as the rivers we see are much less numerous than the underground streams, so the idealism that is visible is minor compared to what men and women carry in their hearts, unreleased or scarcely released. Mankind is waiting and longing for those who can accomplish the task of untying what is knotted and bringing the underground waters to the surface."