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November 2005

The Market for Virtue

Is Wal-Mart virtuous, through giving and green initiatives, or is it mostly hype? More interesting is the general question as to whether forprofit organizations can be expected to sacrifice profit for a sustainable world. Simon London, in the November 23 Financial Times, in a review of David Vogel's new book, The Market for Virtue, suggests that while Corporate Social Responsibility may sometimes pay, it does not always pay, and that in a market economy, the CEO must be guided by profit, not virtue.  Companies

are constrained by shareholders, customers, and employees alike. Market forces prevent chief executives from doing anything that might noticeably dent earnings, push up prices at the checkout or constrain their ability to pay market rates to attract qualified workers. Corporations can be virtuous in a market economy--but only within some firm constraints.

As Candidia Cruikshanks, CEO of Wealth Bondage,  says,  "I would like to be good, but I can't. It is the free market, Sweetie. My hands are tied.  Don't blame me. I'm just doing my job. The market made me do it. Tralaa, tralaa!"

Firmly constrained by shareholders, customers, and employees alike, the market economy may be a Doomsday machine from which the only escape is the Rapture, leaving the rest of us to fight it out in the ooze for whatever oxygen remains. Nor can government save us. To those in charge, there is no tomorrow, as Bill Moyers says.  And, it looks like they are right as market forces and governmental irresponsibility lead us to destruction.

What is the way out? To regulate markets lest they tie our hands, to raise taxes to protect the vulnernable,  and to elect those who plan to be around after the Rapture to fix the mess they made.  A good use of philanthropy is to help us get the word out, among ourselves, and to organize for social change. Otherwise, you just as well might walk around with a sign saying, "The End is Coming," or "Jesus Saves," and leave it at that.

David Harris-Gershon as Social Investment?

Lot #:1312300 Buy My Future Income As a Writer

David is a newly published writer, a father of two, and a high school teacher. To fund his MFA he is taking bids against 20% of his future earnings. The minimum bid is $100,000. So far he has had no takers, but that may mean you can get a bargain. What factors might a wise philanthropist, or businessperson, use in making such a social investment?

  • The literary value of David's potential output
  • The present value of David's potential income
  • The likelihood that David will live up to the contract
  • The legality of the whole arrangement (like indentured labor or wage slavery?)
  • The tax status of the investment
  • The possibility of life insurance to collateralize the debt
  • The possibility that David himself will end in penury, if he writes well enough
  • Other?

The way my mind works, I imagine some financier diversifying the investment in a pool with thousands of writers, painters, dancers, musicians, in their early years. The pool might then be marketed to social entrepreneurial types as a way to do well by doing good.  It would only take one Stephen King to pay for thousands who go broke trying to write something of intrinsic value. Sadly, I also visualize a muscular guy in an ill-fitting suit showing up on David's doorstep to suggest he get a job as a hack writer in a think tank, ad agency, PR firm, or some other well paying gig.  "We  are looking for 15% return on  investment, David. Of course we have you insured, should anything happen to you, God forbid."

Hope is For the Weak

Sermon delivered at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Austin, TX, November 13, 2005 by Robert Jensen. Yes, hope is for the weak, courage in the face of defeat is a better bet, and those without hope are the best fighters, when they have accepted defeat in advance, as the next in a long series.  Faith, hope, and caritas. Fidelity, courage, and love. Victory on the cross. That always was the message. It does not require a belief in the next world to be faithful in this. "Unto death," as the saying goes.

The Korb Report: A Realistic Defense for America

As Congress cuts the budget by $50 - $60 billion, reducing programs for those in need, it might be worth considering where else the cuts might come. Lawrence J. Korb was President Ronald Reagan's Assistant Secretary of Defense, he suggests, here, that we can get that kind of money out of the Defense Budget while increasing our military effectiveness. Why not keep programs for the poor, supported by tax dollars, and have private philanthropists fund the Defense budget, instead of the other way around?

Netweaving for Social Change: Towards a Field of Vital Practice

Netweaving is my theory of social change. I am not a grand poobah with a sense of how giving should develop in the next ten years to reinvigorate democracy. My role, with Tracy Gary, Jean Russell, and many others is to be a "weak tie," weaving together hubs that are densely connected to many spokes, but not to one another. Here, by Valdis Krebs, is an excellent paper on that topic: essential reading for anyone trying to foment giving (or democracy for that matter) as a vital field of practice.

Philanthropy as a Field of Practice - For Editing

I am going to continue working on the idea of philanthropy as a multi-disciplinary field of practice. My own vision only extends so far, and I invariably misrepresent the disciplines in which I am not an active participant. If you want to set me straight, or amplify the effort, please feel free to edit the attached word document and email back to me at phil at I will include an "Acknowledgements" section so that this is perceived as what it should be, a group effort, or founding document for an emergent field.

If you edit, please use the "redline edit" function so I can see what you have added or deleted.

Download philanthropy_as_a_field_of_practice.doc

I will change the title and date of this post, as edits continue, to reflect the current draft and the name of the person who has done the last edit. If I am the only-lonely taker, that is fine too. What is a movement of one? Pretty sad, but I will keep at it, alone or not, because we do need to start somewhere.

Philanthropy as a Field of Practice

The Ford Foundation in studying the emerging field of corporate social responsibility suggested it was a "field of practice," evolving out of isolated and amorphous efforts. I would like to say the same about the field we call "giving" or philanthropy, or philanthropic consulting. First, let me adapt Ford Foundation's definition of a field of practice, then glance at the current amorphous state of the giving trades, and then suggest how we might evolve towards a true and effective field of practice.

Field of Practice Defined

  1. Common Focus: Those engaged in the field focus on the same core issues, or a family of closely related issues.
  2. Community of Practice: Those engaged in the field use similar methods to address the core issues, though there is considerable variability as to emphasis. Those involved respect on another, see the world through one another's eyes, and share overarching norms, values, and vision. A common vocabulary is recognized and understood by all. A common bibliography or core curriculum is understood by all to be "what everyone should know." Best practices and professional standards are generally agreed upon and a standard setting body, with some enforcement powers, may govern the evolving code of conduct.
  3. Collegiality: Those engaged see other practitioner's as laborers in the same vineyard. They see value in sharing ideas, lore, and "what works." Communication mechanisms are in place that help those engaged in the field stay in touch with one another and with the "leading edge" work in their field.

Current Situation in Philanthropy

O.K., where are we now in philanthropy?

Continue reading "Philanthropy as a Field of Practice" »

Giving Today as A Field of Practice

The Parable of the Elevator

In Azerbaijan a man and a woman on the third floor wait for an elevator which is currently on the floor below them.  He wishes to go up to the fourth floor, so he punches UP!  She wishes to bring the elevator up from the second floor, so she can enter it and go down. So  she  also pushes UP!

Can we say they are in agreement?

Giving: Going Up!

Maybe this is a parable about working with donors, advisers, and nonprofits. It is maybe a parable about many things, really. But we can say that giving is a "Field of Practice" loosely formed from many disciplines (donor consulting, planned giving, nonprofit advocacy, tax planning, strategic planning, spiritual, therapeutic and political counseling, etc.). While we in the giving trades often seem in agreement, I suspect that we are on the same elevator for quite different reasons, and that we will need some overarching disciplinary structures and understandings if we are to work efficiently together.

Down, Please! I want to go Up!