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August 2004

Not by Shopping Alone

Via Council of Foundation Philanthropic Advisor Network List Serv:

Denver-based Hyatt International Ltd. is stumping for a new group that wants to raise money for nonprofit organizations. Hyatt is signing up businesses under a "seal of approval" program for companies called 3% Back to the Community. Groups signing up for the effort are required to donate at least 3 percent of net revenues to nonprofits. As much as 1 percent can be in the form of in-kind donations. Membership in 3% also entitles participating companies to use the group's logo that lets buyers know they're doing business with an organization that supports nonprofits. Hyatt reported that a 2002 study found that 80 percent of Americans would switch brands or retailers and buy from a company that supports a cause. Individual members direct to which nonprofit their 3 percent would go. The nonprofit doesn't have to be located in Denver. Hyatt specializes in helping businesses reach partnerships with nonprofits.

Interesting, isn't it? that 80% of Americans would switch brands or retailers to buy from a company that supports a cause? Seems that citizens do want to make positive choices, not only for themselves but for others. "Economic man" is a myth. We do care about more than ourselves, and are looking for avenues for positive impact. 9/11, I think, left a raging need to come together for good ends. That need cannot, in my opinion, be met by enlightened shopping alone - though I write this from Dallas, at risk of life and limb.

Live Strong

From the NY Times via Council on Foundation's Philanthropic Advisor Network List Serv:


Alliances between corporations and nonprofits for the benefit of this or that cause are hardly a rarity these days. In fact, U.S. companies now sink about $1 billion a year into partnerships with do-gooder organizations, about 10 times what they spent a decade ago, according to David Hessekiel of the Cause Marketing Forum. Some of these efforts are successful; some aren't. But rarely does one manage to do what the Live Strong yellow bracelet has done, which is spark a consumer craze. 

The bracelet -- a round hunk of synthetic silicon rubber stamped with the phrase ''Live Strong'' -- started selling in May at Niketown outlets, as well as at Foot Locker stores and various independent retailers. It cost $1, and proceeds were sent to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the nonprofit charitable organization associated with the champion cyclist, who is a famous cancer survivor. ''Live Strong'' is the foundation's motto; yellow, among other things, echoes the color of the lead rider's jersey in the Tour de France. Nike underwrote the production and distribution of the entire first run of five million, meaning that 100 percent of the proceeds, plus another $1 million Nike threw in, went straight to the foundation.

What do you think? Who is helping or exploiting whom, to what effect? Symbiosis or profanation? Charity as PR? Brand building with the cachet of Lance Armstrong, with charitable purpose as cheap access to his name and image? Fad marketing? The elision of social life with the brazen rituals of big bidnis? When charities think like (speaking as a marketer myself) professional brand builders, who wins and loses? For myself I find campaigns like this to cheapen charitable giving by mixing it with so many motives that redound to private rather public benefit. Worse, each time charity concedes public to private purpose, and subordinates caritas to marketing, we give up a little piece of our "souls."  Or, just say, that the mixture, or even predominance, of noncharitable benefits tends to dilute the charitable "brand" and call it into disrepute. You can only sell your virginity a few times; and even getting a good price does not make it high class. As you sell out, and get the rep you deserve, the price tends to fall anyway.  When so few do, I wish charities would stake the highest ground they can. 

Sue Braiden

Sue Braiden has a weblog on giving. From her bio:

Syndicated computer columnist with CBC Radio Canada, keynote speaker, freelance writer, soundtrack composer, passionate advocate for kids at risk, digital diva, imagineer, purveyor of random acts of uplift, bridge builder and connector, deeply curious explorer of community champions and capacity building. Philanthropist with a great passion for community capacity building. Favourite elevator:

Building an Open/Closed Network of Givers

I have been introduced via email to Dick Wagner (though I had known his work) through friends at the Open Space Giving Conference. He is a distinguished person in my area of interest, as can be seen from my brief write-up in an earlier post. As these conversational threads spin from friend to friends of friends, I hope others will make contacts that can help them advance their work in giving. People talk about markets for giving, and reputation systems, and trust (as it were a trademarked concept) but in the end, isn't it these personal introductions that are the most useful and (to use and old term) "civilized" way to build a network for giving?

Reflecting on my introduction to Dick and how characteristic that is of working in the elite markets with the best people, I am driven to ask how networks are kept open, or closed. So often these civilized "letters of introduction," or personal referrals within an elite (whether a profession, like planning, or whether among wealthy people, or among those with celebrity, or political power, or artistic renown, or recognized expertise) can serve to confirm and isolate an ingroup, or network, or hierarchy of networks. (I remember carrying to Oxford a letter of introduction to W.H. Auden from an American poet, William Meredith. How nice, but also how self-enclosed a bubble. I also remember how I could not attend Council on Foundations as a philanthropic advisor, until I was invited to speak. I am also reminded of the phrase, "safe places" so important to people of wealth, meaning places sequestered from the importunate.) Maybe excellence, and time control, maybe sanity itself, requires these closed loops, and doors with rites of passage, but giving, if it is to offset the market and provide us a respite from the ideology of winners and losers, has to unite us from top to bottom and side to side, as citizens, human beings, and children of God. "Many are called," I guess, "and few are chosen." There is no pleasure sweater on Heaven or on earth than shutting the door in an inferiors face. Yet, I still feel, that from friend to friend of friend the network of caritas has to grow (per no less an authority than Christ) until all are included, at least provisionally until they screw up, and damn themselves, somewhere in the net of reciprocity, else the gift confirms the very thing it denies. At the very least let's make these networks through which wealth, knowledge, power and influence flow more open and more transparent than they currently are. Let us err on the side of democracy.

Global Democracy in The Age of Global Markets - The Role of the UN, John Ashcroft and Other Governmental Actors

UN Press Release Via (ironically enough) NGOWatch:

Non-State actors are prime movers in today’s world, and the United Nations needs to be more pro-active in “bringing together all constituencies relevant to global issues, and galvanizing appropriate networks for effective results”, says the report of an independent panel chaired by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, released today.... Among its specific recommendations are that the General Assembly should include civil society organizations more regularly in its affairs, that civil society dialogs with the Security Council should be extended and deepened, and that a new Under-Secretary-General should be named to promote engagement with civil society.

But the major thrust of the report, entitled “We the Peoples: Civil Society, the United Nations and Global Governance”, is to argue for a paradigm shift in how the United Nations sees itself. Rather than an exclusively inter-governmental body that occasionally accepts input from outside the ranks of State actors, the Organization should foster multi-constituency processes that incorporate the viewpoints and capabilities of citizen groups, policy advocates, businesses, local governments and parliamentarians.

As corporations dissolve borders and escape the bounds of national sovereignty who will speak for the people? Cofi Annan should be praised for his wisdom in looking to the self-organizing communities of civil society for a rebirth of global democracy in the age of global markets. (No doubt NGOWatch will take another position on the "unelected few" who dare call global capital, their politicians and their policy think tanks to account.)

I can't help wondering if the financial scandals rocking the US nonprofit world, and the incipient round of new governmental regulations will be used to curtail civil society organizations that, like those listed on NGOWatch, do not always toe the neoliberal line. The battle for global democracy will be fought by NGOs against not only corporate interests, but the governments they carry in their pocket. Who then issues the NGOs their "permits"? (On a related note, it is hardly reassuring that the ideologically-engaged Justice Department is using its terrorist database and the Patriot Act to hassle and defund the ACLU.)

Playing politics with charity? I think we are seeing only the beginning. I don't know whether to smile or weep that the conservative think tanks are writing about the proper role of charity in a society dominated by business interests and their governmental allies.

The freedom to assemble peacefully and form a nonprofit to work toward shared visions of the public good is an essential Constitutional right. I am concerned when policy intellectuals and regulators begin to see these civic organizations as another pawn on their chessboard, divvying them up into "For" and "Against," or seeing them as a cheap way to provide services with somebody else's money. Let's keep "the third sector" as independent as possible, so, as Cofi Anan might agree, it can act as a check and a balance on both government and business.

Where are the think tank policy intellectuals with the courage to blog? Come on. NGOWatch, can we talk? Or would prefer that we, the unelected electors, just listen?

Jon Ramer and Greg Steltenpohl

Nonprofit On Line News:

I met Jon Ramer recently at the Planetwork Conference. I introduced myself because I was impressed with his paper on Weaving Our Strategies Together (PDF), which develops a systems perspective on the issue of how organizations partner with each other. I have enormous concerns about the costs of collaboration and how they serve to isolate organizations from valuable connections and coordination. Ramer and his co-author Greg Steltenpohl move that conversation forward by looking at the social protocols of partnership formation

Excellent paper. Note Jon's connection with Michael Herman and the Open Space Giving Conference group.

Venture Philanthropy - Sadder and Wiser

Nonprofit On line News:

The concept of venture philanthropy has matured in the last few years. A recent report entitled High-Engagement Philanthropy: A Bridge to a More Effective Social Sector (PDF) does much to demonstrate this maturity

Interestingly, the paper, by social venture pioneers, Mario Morino and Bill Shore, ends by suggesting that government funding is the only viable answer to the capital needs of social ventures. The "market only" or "donor only" approach are not, in the view of the authors sufficient. I wish what these two have learned could be ported over to the conservative policy intellectuals who, like Lenore Ealy, Bill Schambra and Jay Hein, consider philanthropy, markets, and government policy.

The dream of venturesome entrepreneurs taking up the slack as government withdraws from social programs is wearing thin - even among the early advocates. As one participant in the study noted, charity work is like a business in which a customer can't pay for your product. Hard to make that work on a business basis alone. Compassion can fill some of the gaps, but to raise "compassionate money" is never ending and often fruitless work. Taxes are more direct and efficient. Rather than a few paying dues for all, the tax system can be apportioned to ability to pay, and can effectively and efficiently extract cash even from uncompassionate, free-riding curmudgeons. Given the failure of Great Society delivery systems and the paltry successes of individual social ventures, perhaps the answer is tax money, raised equitably, and used to bankroll entrepreneurial social benefit ventures for the good of all, particularly the least advantaged.

News from Michael Herman on the After Shocks of the Open Space Giving Conference

Michael Herman has been talking about the Giving Market idea with Jon Ramer of the Interra Project and Penny Scott at BALLE-BC. He hopes to build a Giving Market into the Interra launches next April. Check out the new workspace. Michael also reports, "On the broader Giving front, it seems that next year's Business Alliance for Local Living Economy International Conference, hosted by BALLE-BC in Vancouver next June, wants to add a one-day Open Space Giving Conference to their program."