• Michelle Walker

My First Sentence Was a Question

Updated: Jul 28, 2021

At least that’s what my parents tell me. It’d be a surprise to no one that knows me that I can keep on something until I’ve satisfied my curiosity.

Which, is materially different, I think, than needing to know everything. I’ll stop once I know enough to satisfy my inquisitive mind. But I get how it might look a bit obsessive from the outside.

A Case in Point

I went to graduate school as a working professional, and even though the program was set up in an executive format, I lived in Pittsburgh, worked in Ohio, and was going to school in Indiana. I spent as much time in my car as I did anywhere else. I used my curiosity to make the unending movement of my life at that time more manageable.

Early in my Masters program I found myself returning to the same organization as the basis for papers and understanding the sector. I wrote at least half a dozen papers on the myriad of management, governance, and donor intent issues surrounding The Barnes Foundation. (It’s genuinely fascinating in its own right, not just because I couldn’t stop asking questions about it. Start with the documentary: The Art of the Steal)

Because I came to the graduate program as a professional fundraiser, I got hooked on The Barnes Foundation's issues of donor intent and stayed for the buffet of legal, management, public interest, and scandal issues. I read court transcripts and followed the origins of donor intent and “dead hand” back to the 1880 tome Dead Hand: Addresses on the Subject of Endowments and Settlements of Property by Sir Arthur Hobhouse. That’s what I mean by appearing obsessive. Though, I just wanted to understand: where did my fundraiser’s professional ethical pledge to honor donor intent come from. I followed it as far as the good librarians at Indiana University could assist me and found my curiosity satisfied.

I tried the same approach with looking for more on intellectual property in the nonprofit sector to backup my professional experience. I was flustered by my lack of knowledge, but I knew with enough focus, I could come to understand even if I didn't yet know all of my questions.

I don’t think I knew it right away, but soon the intellectual property question became as engrossing as The Barnes Foundation. I started looking for data, case studies, and research on intellectual property in the nonprofit sector. I had worked for organizations that made very strategic use of theirs – surely that evolved from somewhere and someone who studies the sector must have noticed this before.