Having a Vision of Possibility
November 15, 2023

Having a Vision of Possibility

By Terese Stevenson, Vice President of Grants

[In celebration of National Philanthropy Day on November 15, we asked our Vice President of Grants to share her reflections on working in the philanthropy space. Terese Stevenson has been with The Rees-Jones Foundation since its inception and we appreciated the chance to gain her perspective on grantmaking over the past 17 years].

In the world of philanthropy, we talk a lot about how we consider our giving – our investments in terms of rewards, risks, and impact. And just as importantly, we talk even more about the love we have for the people we serve. I have seen “philanthropy” truly live up to its meaning—“love for humanity.”

Very early on in my career in philanthropy, at the very birthing of The Rees-Jones Foundation, we were blessed with a man who advised us, who became our comrade in a sense as we looked at what might be possible for this new foundation.

This advisor would sometimes accompany staff on our early site visits, primarily to introduce us to leaders and organizations. As we were ending our time together on the visit, he always had a last question for the leaders we were meeting with:   “If you could realize the biggest dream for your organization, what would it be?”

Now I have to say, this always made me a little nervous. My thoughts always included “Where was this going?  What expectation were we setting by asking that question? Were we implying The Rees-Jones Foundation could address everyone’s dreams? Would potential partners now believe we would fund their “ultimate” dreams because we asked?”  The answers we heard from leaders were eye-opening. Interestingly, some were not prepared to answer the question, most likely because no one had ever asked. Some expressed dreams that actually were fairly practical, some very compelling and innovative, and some said “we want to save the world.”

I learned something very important through this experience, which has informed my approach to considering an investment mindset, using this in building relationships, in reviewing grant requests, and being proactive in seeking opportunities for the Foundation. It has caused me to use a lens that looks for what might be possible, over and above what might be presented.  I started asking “bigger” questions”, whether I felt we could respond or not.  I have been inspired to look for leaders who are open to being used by God in surprising ways and willing to look for possibility over time, and hope to fulfill a dream. We know God is an abundant God, so we do not need to be afraid of asking big questions and dreaming of possibility. 

Which causes me to ponder: is our God a dreaming God? I think He is. We know God as a Creator, as infinitely creative…and I think dreaming is the root of creativity. Dreaming is imagining something that does not yet exist, then we work to bring it into being. God imagined the world, and then created it and had plans. What is He still imagining that does not yet exist in our reality (but does in His)?  Who are the people He is using to bring it into being? The people He is using are the people I want to discover. His dream calls for believers to be the messengers of Jesus Christ, people who will walk alongside, who will break down boundaries while defending those who are weaker, who will seek wholeness and thriving.

Revelation 21:1-5 describes the ultimate fulfillment of our dreams:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” 

We should embrace the restlessness of knowing more can be done and dream together, knowing that our creative God will bring something new into the world. That He makes it possible. In working in this philanthropy space, I have seen the impossible become possible over and over throughout communities we have had the honor to work in, and I am grateful.

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