Lynne Twist in a bangladeshi village.
Lynne Twist in a bangladeshi village.

Lynne Twist is not your typical fundraiser. With 40 years of experience under her belt, she seldom, if ever, talks about techniques and tips associated with major gifts, capital campaigns or planned giving.

Instead, Twist’s focus is on teaching people, including fellow fundraisers, how to develop a more authentic relationship with their own and others’ money—to use money for the greatest possible good. To that end, she offers varying courses to individuals and groups, some of which are grantees whose attendance is sponsored by private foundations. Twist’s “Fundraising From the Heart” workshops and other courses are available through her Soul of Money Institute, the consulting organization she founded in 2003.

One big key to using financial resources according to one’s highest values is giving up “three toxic myths” about money, Twist writes in her companion book, “The Soul of Money.”

“There’s not enough” is the first toxic myth, Twist explains. That idea leads to pursuing money based on a concept of scarcity rather than abundance. “More is better,” the second toxic money myth, is not necessarily true and drives greed. And the third toxic idea, “that’s just the way it is,” is a form of resignation that compounds problems rather than offering solutions.

Rather than living by toxic money ideas, Twist writes, a far better approach is to realize that there are enough resources to solve even complex social problems with new approaches. Such approaches are based on the abundance found in nature and harnessing people’s existing strengths and resources to solve problems and better protect the planet by living in harmony with the natural world.

“A Global Visionary with a Heart of Gold”

Twist’s ideas and decades of experience raising money and teaching fundraising around the world—often with luminaries like the Dalai Llama, Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey—have made her into an international activist and sought-after speaker.

In recognition of her achievements, Twist received a Lives of Commitment Award last week from Auburn Seminary, a 202-year-old nondenominational leadership-training and social-justice organization in New York. It is just one of many honors she has received in a long career. The awards event, according to Auburn’s president, the Rev. Dr. Katharine R. Henderson, is the seminary’s most important fundraiser of the year, drawing up to 650 attendees and contributions of more than $500,000, a sizeable chunk of the organization’s $7 million budget. This year’s virtual event drew an even bigger audience of more than 2,000, who gave about the same amount as last year’s donors, eager to support Auburn’s progressive faith agenda.

Introducing Twist at the virtual event, Monica Estrada Guzman, another 2020 Lives of Commitment honoree, described her as “a global visionary with a heart of gold.” Twist, she said, “has always combined her sense of adventure with her desire to help people and create change.”

Twist’s journey to activism began with her experience as a mother of three married to a successful businessman whose financial achievements eventually led the San Francisco couple to realize that having a lot of money wasn’t necessarily making them happier—and was actually contrary to spending quality time with their children and other family values.

Another seminal moment came in the 1970s, when Twist took Est, Werner Erhard’s controversial training program, now called the Landmark Forum, which stresses responsibility, accountability, possibility and transformation in people’s lives. (Full disclosure: I took Est back in the 1980s; it was a life-changing experience.)

Fundraising Lessons Learned

The Est training led Twist into a quest for transformation and her first fundraising job at the Hunger Project. That charity grew out of conversations between Est founder Erhard and Buckminster Fuller, the late visionary architect, about how to eliminate famine. Twist, who had a passionate interest in relieving hunger, spent the next 20 years working domestically and in countries like India, Bangladesh and Africa to end starvation and malnutrition.

In her book, Twist describes early fundraising lessons involving integrity, such as one jam-packed day when she had two meetings in different cities—the first in the Midwest with a top executive at a wealthy multinational food company that had committed a crime for which it wanted to atone; the second with the congregation of a Harlem church.

In the meeting with the food-services executive in his palatial office, Twist sat across from the man who pushed a check for $50,000 across his desk toward her with a palpable air of guilt and shame. At the next meeting in Harlem, church members collectively gave some $600 in small bills and change to feed needy people in Africa. Back in her hotel room, Twist laid the two gifts side by side and contemplated their origins.

After some thought, she decided to return the $50,000 check to the executive. Guilt and shame, Twist thought, are not the best roots of generosity. Several years later, she was surprised to hear from the food-services executive again after his retirement. In his note, he said he’d never forgotten the returned check and he enclosed a new one.  Written from his own personal assets, it was a donation of $250,000 to the Hunger Project.

Another thing Twist learned from her years raising money worldwide: There are multiple dark sides to philanthropy. For example, in India, she encountered the reality that begging for charitable donations is an entrenched industry, to the degree that parents sometimes mutilate their children to make them appear more needy.

And in Bangladesh, Twist saw firsthand how foreign aid to relieve starvation had made the people of that nation overly dependent on handouts from other nations, and deeply ashamed of it.

At a workshop for Bangladeshi citizens in a large city park, Twist watched as numerous attendees were moved to tears when they were asked to imagine themselves and their countrymen in a self-sufficient nation that did not need anyone’s charity. That was the beginning of a nationwide effort in sustainable farming and other projects that greatly reduced the country’s need for foreign aid.

Into the Amazon

Twist would have happily stayed at the Hunger Project for her entire career, but fate intervened in the mid-1990s when she contracted malaria and spent nine months recovering. During that time, she and her husband joined a small group of people invited to the Ecuadorian rainforest by the Achuar, an indigenous tribe who were alarmed by growing numbers of companies extracting oil, wood and other products from their rainforest. The Achuar asked the Americans to partner with them in preserving their culture and their land, which they call Pachamama, or Mother Earth.

Returning to the United States with that new mission, Bill and Lynne Twist co-founded the Pachamama Alliance, a charity still working with the couple’s active engagement nearly 25 years later to preserve Achuar culture and the rainforest. Another commitment has consumed Lynne Twist for the past several years: working with the Nobel Women’s Initiative to fight oppression and sexual violence against women around the world, helping them lead more healthy and productive lives.

As Twist explained in accepting her award from Auburn Seminary: “I committed to something way larger than my own lifetime… and it called me to be something I didn’t know I could be. It called me to find that place in myself where I surrendered to being used as an instrument, where it had me not worry about what people thought of me or whether people liked me. My doubts and fears, they just fell in the background,” Twist told the audience.

“These commitments have given me a path that has nourished me and given me the opportunity to be the best human being I can be,” she added. “And I am deeply grateful.”

Share with cohorts