Philanthropy as Private Self on a Public Stage

"Philanthropy is private action in a public space." - H. Peter Karoff

"All philanthropy is personal." - Tierney and Fleishman

Gifts, libations, communion around a hearth or altar, sacrifice (sometimes animal, sometimes human), propitiation, commemoration, expiation - all that preceded the invention of money. These traditions continue in our subterranean lives, or in the space outside the market, around the central square, where we meet to enact and pass on an identity deeper than that of owner, manager, investor, consumer.

Willy-nilly, we are part of a pluralistic society or economy, whose fellow citizens on average (as you can tell from the comments you see on Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, or the trolls on blogs) are a mixed lot: some fanatics, some morally insane, many narcissistic, some ill-educated, many full of positive mental attitude as a defense against despair or self-awareness, many invincibly prejudiced, all opinioned, almost all with a hair trigger for whatever violates his or her sense of what is proper.

Teaching philanthropy (as a fool's errand and expiation for my own sins), I often, hear adult students all contorted because I am a) an Evangelical Christian (since one of the readings is by one), b) a social conservative (since several readings are by such), c) a pointy-headed, air- fairy, artsy-fartsy, liberal arts type (because I am one), c) a Marxist or Socialist (since I talk sometimes about community), d) a market-minded tax, finance and legal type (since I have studied it and teach some of it), e) a gay person (since one of the readings is by one), and so it goes. No one can tell whether they agree with a given position until they can label it, as taught on TV.

What we learn in our uncivil civil society is to keep our faith, or faithlessness, our personal philosophies, whatever we cherish as too precious to be besmirched, to ourselves for our private use, and for our families and for our little, nearly tribal communities of those like us. In the public square we learn to speak only in the received languages of the market, superficial politics (winners, losers, ideology), shallow news (mostly fires, weather, violence, scandals, sports, stock market updates, and reports on the overt side of right/left political issues, all well-bedecked with advertising).  

We may dream in poetry; we soon learn to speak publicly in prose. We may pray to God, read John Rawls, summon the world spirit, or use as many superstitious rituals as a major league batter, but we speak only of Mammon and metrics, lest we be shunned, scorned, or treated as having committed a boundary violation, bringing the private public.  

As a result, gift planning as more than money- in-motion is subtle. You cannot go by how the client or donor first "presents" himself or herself in your office.  What you see is the shell, the armored self, the man or woman in role, the face prepared to meet a face. And the language will be the bland public language. Yet until the language changes, and you hear the voice of a long-deceased mother, or the intonations of the donor's high school coach, or hear strains of a text (literary or scriptural or philosophical), or hear the private language - yes - of love and hate, the language of community understood as needing a scapegoat, enemy, or "other," until you hear the moral story of which the client is hoping to be the hero (even if that heroism is the paltry greatness of the market), you are not yet connected to the strongest motives for giving. It is from those motives that the moral hero or sinner or quest knight, or penitent, or whatever other "self" lurks within the armor, posits a gift in community, a social gesture, even if nothing more than that of a businesslike person, "getting results." 

To be clear: I am not saying that when the armor comes off you almost always find a human being, a citizen, a human soul. What you may find is no more than the idiosyncratic product of a civilization that has forgotten the narratives that keep love and community and body politic and commonweal, or grace and gift as offering, alive.  In that case, best to encourage the client to posit an end in view, however random, or arbitrary (the world is full of causes, pick one), and then quickly get invested in achieving measurable social impact thereby. When ends fail, the means and metrics can keep us from feeling as empty as we are.

Invoking Love and Money

Faith and money network, a ministry of The Church of the Saviour.

Within some such context, where the language of love and the language of money are woven, here are questions I would like to ask, in the presence of those with "more." Those with more wealth, and capable of more love.

“Are you at the table when the big dollars are planned?"

"Are you heard at the planning table when the big dollars are planned?”

“Are your highest aspirations brought to voice?”

“If you are heard, are you heeded?”

“Are you sure that we would find your highest aspirations in the documents you have signed?”

“Whose responsibility is it to make sure your highest aspirations are enacted in your plans?”

“If it is your non-delgatable responsibility, and advisors can only assist, what steps have you taken that you would recommend to peers?”

“If you visualize an ideal, stress-free, agenda-free, space in which you reach clarity and gain control, where are you sitting? With whom? Convened how?”

“Resort setting? Your vacation house? A monastery, retreat center, or church basement?”

“Would it help or make it harder to be in the presence of peers? (Confidentiality?”)

“Would it help or make it harder if a prayer were the opening, rather than an agenda?”

“Would you want content, or meditative silence?”

"An agenda or an open circle?"

“If such a space were convened as a gift, would you come?”

“Would you invite anyone else?”

“Do you have a reading you would suggest in this spirit?”

“Are you aware of others called to this conversation, whether professionals, or peers?”

“Do you think this is important? Where would you send me next to advance this?”

By way of reading, here is one, a study of the philanthropic conversation, done by TPI for US Trust, that shows (as many studies have) just how ill served is the language of love in the planning rooms across our fields. Even to frame it as "the language of love," would set off fire alarms in those high rise corporate offices. And the sin of selling holy things is simony. The languages of love and money with love reporting to money is not what this is about. The language of money, bending its knee to language of wealth is what this is about. A new weave, where the holy is not for sale, nor forgotten, nor marginal, nor dismissive of wealth, but its guide.

In what space would the spirit show up, if the topic were love and money, under the aspect of mortality?

To a Confused Reader of Gifthub

I received your email saying you have read every post on for ten years and have not understood a blessed one. That makes both of us. Things seem to be going as planned. But, just this once, because you asked and we are friends, now with assistance from Dr. Amrit Chadwallah, Chief Adjunct in Charge of Hidden Meaning, here in Wealth Bondage, proud Sponsor of Gifthb, I will do my best to explain the set up here.

Gifthub is intentionally obscure, the meanings are hidden so the wrong people cannot understand them and get saved as St Mark says they mustn't. (C.f. Robert Frost, "Directive.") Beyond the Parables of Jesus Christ on whom I have modeled my life of Wisdom and Virtue, the models for Gifthub are The Praise of Folly, Gargantua and Pantegruel, The Dunciad and The Dunciad Variorium, Tale of the Tub, The Beggars Opera, and The Importance of Being Earnest.  This is sometimes called The Carnivalesque tradition, or The World Turned Upside Down.  It involves the play of many voices, none reliable (unlike in real life).  A Vanity Fair. I, in the role of Phil, serve as the Omniscient Narrator, naturally. Since nothing escapes me.

As a courtesy to others and to protect myself against pushback, and payback, I try to set certain ground rules. Praise others by name, and satirize only types. Offer only one flesh and blood identity to be flayed or skewered, my own, the feckless Hack at Gifthub, who uses my name as if it were his own, but with my permission and forbearance, and with the gentle reader none the wiser.  

Praise Folly in the name of Dame Folly. Enter into every vice, knavery, and folly; embrace, praise and become one with moral deformity until it becomes visible to others as their own face in the mirror, distorted. How is this working? Not very well.  The only ones who read it write to say, as you did, that they don’t get it. One or two do get it and ask never to be mentioned on Gifthub, never to be quoted, never to be linked to from Gifthub, for me to never say they read it, much less say they are my friend. Never to be seen with them in public, unless at a Masquerade Ball.

The Dumpster at the Intersection of Wealth and Bondage, whose meaning you asked me to explain, is full of the classic texts discarded by the students coming home from school. The Classic Texts of Wisdom, Truth, Beauty and Virtue, are in the sacks of garbage on which Tutor and I repose. Tutor was drawn by Holbein the Younger in Erasmus's, The Praise of Folly, and is a role model for me as he is both a morals tutor and a fool, as you can tell if you look at his picture, teaching morals to a young heir, OTK. Tutor c'est moi, in my dreams. He is the man I wish I could be: Handsome, beloved, dashing, charismatic, a magnet to women, a hard drinker, a ferocious eater, a rogue, a successful charlatan, and Immortal. You could say he is my alter ego, or better self. You could say he is a figment of my imagination, or I of his.

The Dumpster, in any case, is the home of a Pariah, a Sacrificial Offering, a Conman, and wouldbe Wealth Advisor and Morals Consultant to Flourishing Families. He (the Dunce who goes by my name) has read all the right guides to working with wealth, gone to all the right conferences, and is morally insane. (Whether he was always mad, or driven mad by these conferences and deeper dives into the literature on wealth in families is an open question.)

He, the one who uses my name, "Phil,"  is a joke, a joke he himself will never get. He is a Worldclass Fool, who does not get that he is a Fool, or been made a fool of. How does that make him different, you might ask than many you and I might know? They would like to think he and they are very different. (Even I would like to think he and I are very different.) They are wise and virtuous and teach virtue and wisdom. Straight up. You can see it on their websites, or in their papers. He, that is to say, the "I" of Gifthub, is a pimp. So there are certainly differences. But at bottom we are all human, born of woman and will die, and the worms will eat us all, dynastic or not. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves. Fortune’s wheel is ever turning. 

I hope this helps. If you have other questions, please contact Customer Service. We appreciate your business.

What A Flourishing Dynastic Family is For beyond Supporting us as Loyal Retainers

The Happy Tutor, my friend and mentor, Dungeon Master to the Stars in Wealth Bondage, actually does serve as the moral mentor, and pander, to a dynastic family, who built their wealth disrupting among other things the trade in blood. While blood donations are still made charitably, the company founded by this family makes the market, and takes a percentage. They are helping promote the sharing economy. They are doing the most good. They have a spreadsheet to prove it.

I caught up with Tutor in the servant's quarters of the family's compound on an island off the coast of Canada. I asked him how he felt about devoting his life to promoting the well being of those who already have most. How did that square with his own lowly origins, and commitment to democracy, and the life of the street? His answer may be of interest to others who have gone down this route; I don't find it plausible, but it is consoling.

What Tutor said, with an inscrutable face, is that only great wealth in a few hands is conducive, through education, and leisure, and patronage, and careful breeding with other very smart and capable people, to the creation of High Culture, as in the days of the Medicis, or the Bourbon Kings. With Good Taste. And meals at High Table. And real Art, not just the crap you see in the mall. He said he would rather live as a Servant to Wealth, or as a Pimp, or Pander, or Butler, or Morals Tutor, Trusted Advisor, Concierge, Man of all Work, Dancing Master, Svengali, or Spiritual Guide to a Flourishing wealthy family, raising their level of culture, from whatever starting point, however low and crass and commercial to begin with, than to live in a world where everyone is like the riffraff (the actually existing 'demos,' as he called it) you see on Twitter, Facebook and Linked-In. "Phil," he said to me, "be honest; would you rather work with one crass, market demented family, the very epitome of Wealth Bondage, whose children or grandchildren might some day acquire culture and taste, or would you rather spend your life educating the empty, ordinary heads of those whose children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, will be left behind, a permanent middling class of morons, with a positive mental attitude? Do you really want to spend your best years sharing their selfies, links and motivational quotations? Earning their 'likes,' when you could be making bank tutoring the scions of wealth who own the platform on which the morons entertain each other? What is the highest hope of humanity if it is not the creation and preservation of a leisured cultivated ruling elite, in a paradise of their own? It is through such efforts that ours becomes a noble trade."

I think he is bullshitting me, but I am not sure. It is pretty much the same kind of bullshit I hear from the platform in many high end wealth planning conferences, but not so well expressed. It takes hundreds of years to create an Ancient, a man of Taste, like Tutor. We Moderns still have a long way to go.

In Gratitude for Women's Philanthropy

I love kids, and am happy in their world or with one on my knee. I can also write white papers, sales talks, and argumentative essays. What I can't do is to write the language of logic and of love at the same time. I can be surrounded by the murmur of loving voices, and that allows me to concentrate on logic, in other words to be totally absent. But to be present to the voices and the logic, at once, I just can't do. Women, certain women, many women, seem to have this gift of blending care and reason, and without it, what chance do our communities have?

In a recent meeting, the topic of women's philanthropy came up, and all present, men and women both, fell into a meditative silence. A wordy meeting with flipcharts and all, went silent, like the silence among friends, who communicate without words.

Women have learned how to do what I do better than I. I have not yet been able to do what women do weaving reason and love. When the frame shifts, and it is women who set the tone, a tone they may now reserve for women among women, there will be hope for something that will outlast our dead shells.

We came from the sea, pulled by the moon. The womb is a portable ocean. In that envelop the tiny creature swims, recapitulating evolution. No wonder when women's philanthropy came up we present had nothing to say, but a sigh.

The Heir to the Bamboozle Fortune is Down to One Mansion

The old toothless man in the breadline is silently weeping.  "The heir of the Bamboozle Fortune," he reads in the paper, "has suffered a financial reversal and must sell his vacation mansion in Bel Air."  "Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves," mutters the old man, "it breaks my heart that the rich must suffer so." If only the rich had as much compassion for the poor as the other way around. 

A Pious Fraud and Role Model

"Just because we are damned for all eternity does not make us bad people," Tutor explained to me, last night, over a can of half-eaten tuna we had found in a Dumpster. "God has his value system, we have ours. Who is to say what is right or wrong?" You can see why Tutor, my mentor, and Dungeon Master to the Stars in Wealth Bondage, has always done better than I as a Spiritual Director to Worldly Wealth. 

Author and Reader On Speaking Terms, at best

"We read," said William Nicholson, "to know we are not alone." But in a time of Facebook, Twitter, and surveillance, my mentor, The Happy Tutor, teaches, "We must write to remain alone." I am not sure what he means. But maybe that is what he means. I don't know.  Maybe my not knowing is the point. But that would be so sad. He is my only friend, though, apparently, imaginary.

The Rules of Power

Reading up on The 48 Rules of Power, a kind of modern Book of the Courtier, in the hopes of rising in Wealth Bondage, through loyal service to my Leader and Generous Patron, she who rules us all, I have not found much I can use, here at the ragged end of an undistinguished career, but I did find this bit, under Rule 24, promising: Rather than speaking uncomfortable truth to power, position yourself as a soothsayer who reads omens and portents. Rather than you being to blame, when the augury is unwelcome, you could blame the entrails of a bird, or the movements of the stars. So, I might cut open a dog and read in the guts the fall of a civilization. The same author has a field guide on The Art of Seduction. I will pass it along to my colleagues, The Lords and Ladies of the Road. But when it comes to peddling Wisdom and Virtue, even the poorest Beggar has more than he needs. Those who go in finery and robes of office, give Wisdom and Virtue away like cast off costumes after Carnival.  If I had any credibility left, I would use it to ask forgiveness for having, through my own repeated example, called our game into disrepute. This is no time or place for honesty. I knew that before I wrote this post. And I did it anyway. I have only myself to blame. But I am sorry.

Red or blue pill, Sire?

Generally, in pitching the world's wealthiest families on my (as yet unsuccessful) Moral Tutoring shtick, I don't get past the butler, the trusted advisors, and the most trusted advisor, let alone the man of all work, or even the chambermaid, the chauffeur, or the teller of fortunes; and when I chase the limousines, naked and barefoot, to make the pitch, they generally just speed off, before I can outline my Value Proposition. But in imagination, so I can be ready when given an opening, if ever I get one, I have honed the my Elevator Speech to one poignant question:

Sir (or Madame or Sir and Madame), would your prefer blue pill or red pill ethics? For you? Your children? The general populace?

As you probably know, blue pill ethics are the ethics of sheep touted by Shepherds who have a vested interest in fresh lamb and fleece. Red pill ethics, as you probably know, are rooted in the Dark Triad of Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy associated with thinkers as diverse as Castiglione, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Aynn Rand, or Leo Strauss. It is the philosophy of the Superman or Superwoman, the Master or Mistress of the Universe. Not the lamb, but the wolf.

My thought is that whichever pill the Dynastic Family prefers - and who am I to judge as Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families,  I am here to serve -- I conduct values exercises, and create a family mission statement that will work within their preferred modality. As high sounding, hypocritical, self serving, BS, in the red pill genre, while I work behind the scenes to tutor the young prince or princess in the wised up real values; or, in the unlikely event the family had swallowed the blue pill, and never wised up, I could just use the family values verbatim as cornpone for the consumption of heirs under the age of reason, until they were prepared for a more esoteric lesson.

I would have liked to think that my specializing in red pill Mentoring would set me apart from the claque of Trusted Advisors, and Most Trusted Advisors, doing Family Values work, since all I ever see out there for family values statements are pretty much cornpone, but I have come to see that this could be the work of red pill families properly coached. I, too, if I had a client, and sincerely wished to serve them well, would want a corny mission statement to face the world, while behind the scenes the children were taught the skills (Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy) correlated with success at the level of Statecraft, or the preservation of a family's net worth far exceeding that of the Padua, Venice, or Florence.  

I fear that at times Gifthub has often been hopelessly idealistic, citing the Gospels and other blue pill philosophies, and this might seem to disqualify me from teaching Ethics to The World's Finest Families, but I would like to state for the record that I am flexible when it comes to ethics as a practical matter. There is no better disguise for guile than a little scripture here and there, or a bit of philanthropy. My responsibility as Wise & Virtuous Fiduciary to UHNI's is to elicit Family Values, paper them up, paper them over, and get things done. For those who are put off by my show of ethics, please be assured that my only colleagues and friends, here in Wealth Bondage, are among the dregs of humanity, whose ethics are demonstrably worse than even than those of our best clients. How bad are my ethics? My friends say that even in our Bordello, in our most debauched moments, I am considered louche, or would be if I were allowed to play a role larger than handing out towels in return for tips, as I do now. If my ethics are not bad enough to be a morals coach, I can do worse. If only I had the money, Sir, or Madame, or Sir and Madame, as the case my be.

The Rainbow's Gold

You have heard, of course, of the rainbow with the pot of gold at its end. But, perhaps, in gift planning, the pot of gold, about one foot in diameter, and one foot deep, is at the beginning. And it gives off white light, glinting gold. This rainbow is not created by mist or rain, but by a prism, easily held in the hand of a gift planner. Through that prism, light streams, refracted into a rainbow arch across they sky, with an organization in the center, and thousands of people served at the end of that rainbow. The colors in that spectrum are "donor motivation." One color is money as money, in market terms. Another color is donor moral autobiography. Another is donor's vision, values, principles. Another is the donor's family and traditions. Another is metrics connecting money with results. Each of these colors spans the sky uniting the pot of gold with lives touched.

The pot of gold is a fairy tale, but (what is worse) the rainbow is also scriptural.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, mankind (not us, it was not our fault) failed in its stewardship of the earth, and defaced God's image, in themselves, as thumbs over time can obliterate or wear away, the emperor's face from a gold coin. The waters rose and would annihilate all life on earth, where it not for Noah, his ark, and his folly. Through him life was preserved, and without his folly none of us would be here today.

Do you know about that rainbow?

That rainbow was set above the waters as they began to recede, as a sign of hope.

Giving can be explicated as means to end, in market logic, a theory of change. And it is all that; one color is that. But giving is also a reenactment of a gracious sign or ritual, encompassing origins and ends (as Dr. Paul Schervish says, "Genesis and Telesis"), and unites us across time in an enduring community.

H. Peter Karoff speaks of the gift planner as answering a "long distance call." Without the gift planner, without the prism, no rainbow, the sign of hope.