One of my ongoing projects is to reconnect with some of the leading lights I’ve known, to capture the best of the profession and bring it forward. As much as I’m about new ideas and social innovation, I also know that some truths about human beings are both timeless and easily forgotten.
So I was glad to talk recently with Dave Dunlop, who’s now retired after an exemplary 38-year career with Cornell University. Dave is remembered for many professional accomplishments, including co-creating, with Buck Smith, the practice of “moves management” — an innovation that’s now a staple in the profession. (And easily misunderstood, as you’ll see in a moment.)
The last time I saw Dave was long ago when he came to one of my workshops at Case Western Reserve University. He sent me a big Cornell umbrella afterward.
I’ve always appreciated how Dave thinks about people and institutions. We’re kindred souls, sharing the desire to be truly human and not to objectify the philanthropically inclined. So it was great to have a chance to catch up.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation.
On “moves management”
Me: Buck said to me a long time ago that he wasn’t sure he liked the way people have taken what was meant by “moves management.” That if they hadn’t studied your and Buck’s intent, they cheapen it. They just think of it in a technical kind of way rather than getting the true spirit of it.
Dave: I share Buck’s concern. It can easily be misunderstood, so people start “making moves” and making a game of moves, rather than really recognizing the process that we’re a part of is inspiring people to do the things that we believe they would want to do anyway. Really helping them accomplish what is consistent with their values and interests. It’s a different perspective than fancy asking or skillful asking.
Me: “Fancy” asking?
Dave: [laughing] Where the focus is on asking.
On engagement vs. portfolio size
Me: I remember you had something like 30 families in your — I don’t want to call it your portfolio — your circle, you were one of the few who were able to keep it to a relatively small number.
Dave: What I realized was that if you want to inspire the giving of ultimate gifts, a cause or organization needs to be in the life of the person with quality, frequency, and continuity. And the frequency can’t be just once a year, you come by and ask for an annual gift. It can’t be just asking for gifts, you have to engage them in all the areas in which they have capacity to contribute — time, talent, association, all sorts of ways that are unique to them, to support the organization that you want them to care about.
Me: Yes. Unique to them. Not put in a category — treated as an individual.
On career choices
Me: If you had some people in front of you now, who represent the next generation in the field, what would you want to tell them?
Dave: Choose something you believe in. If you’re doing it just for the pay, and not because you believe in it, and this means that you probably won’t be taking the highest offer, if you factor in what you believe in. I ended up working for the lowest pay of all my offers, but it was lucky because I loved my work there. Does the job really match your values and your interest in the organization?
Me: What do you think about someone later in their career, maybe 20 years in, and they’re presented with the same notion?
Dave: I’m sure that happens to a lot of people. With that experience, they’re of great utility to someplace else they care about. Finding the right place that is consistent with your values is critical to career happiness.
Me: Part of my mission is to be “with the times,” but still bringing back these home truths, ways of being human … in a time when so many are focused on metrics.
Dave: I sometimes worry about people trying to establish metrics because they think it’s businesslike, you have to make so many moves or so many initiatives. That to me is a quantitative focus, rather than a qualitative focus. It has a risk. For the small group of people, that top 35 you want to give the best attention to, you’ve got to make qualitative decisions rather than quantitative.
Me: You can keep the qualitative, the narrative — the stories they have to tell — keep that central.
Dave: We believe alike. Good to know someone still cares about the same things I care about.
Indeed it is. Thank you, Dave.