Punk Philanthropy: Lessons From Lou Reed

We lost a walking revolution this past weekend. A fan or not, there is no denying that Lou Reed changed the face of music. He was punk before punk. He was a breath of fresh, albeit distorted air. His whole career “is a study in things going wrong and working out beautifully just the same.”

This morning, as I often do, I’m mashing up the music with my reality. I’m asking myself the question: what if Lou Reed was a fundraiser, a program officer, or the executive director of a fledgling nonprofit? What if we had a godfather of punk philanthropy?

“I always believed that I have something important to say and I said it.”

You’re in this job for a reason. Something drew you here. Now that you’re here, don’t shut up about it. Ask questions of your superiors, listen to your teammates, and share your wisdom. It is important.

“I don’t mind a repetitive chorus; I mind repetitive verse. I mean, it’s the same amount of space. Why would you have only three diamonds if you can have six?”

Apply this to your next appeal. Skillfully make your ask in chorus, fill your verses with diamonds the donor desires.

“I don’t think anybody is anybody else’s moral compass.”

You’re not going to change anyone’s mind. That’s not your job. Your job is to show how fiercely you agree with them, that you align with their needs, and that you are achieving what they already believe is important.

“Life is like Sanskrit read to a pony.” 

We’re dealers of raw emotion in a world that doesn’t make a lot of sense and isn’t overly fair. Have the patience of someone attempting to teach a farm animal to read a foreign language.

“These are really terribly rough times, and we really should try to be as nice to each other as possible.”


“I don’t like nostalgia unless it’s mine.”

Tell donors their own stories, not your own.

“I don’t believe in dressing up reality. I don’t believe in using makeup to make things look smoother.”

Be transparent, be honest, admit your failures.

“First thing you learn is that you’ve always got to wait.”

Don’t hurry to the next ask. Thank, thank, thank again, and then wait.

“I’ll be your mirror, reflect what you are in case you don’t know”

Be a mirror for your donor – let them see all the good things about themselves in the work you do, and a window from which to view the world as they want it to be.

“I’m not joking around when I’ve said occasionally, trying to learn how to play a D chord properly has been a very big thing for me.”

Admit when you don’t know things, and for the love of God don’t be afraid to learn them.

“There’s a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out.”

I’ll leave this one for you guys. Embrace your magic, accept your losses. And don’t be afraid to break some shit sometimes.