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December 2005

A Two-Faced Prayer on New Years Eve

JanusJanus, god of gates, looking forward and back, god of the first hour of every day, the first day of every month, and the first month of every year, god of beginnings and settings out in war and in peace: May the new year bring us victory in war, confusion to our enemies, and an empire secure in wealth and power.

So, prayed the heathens in their ignorance and pride. May we, of another dispensation, pray to a more enlightened God for peace, harmony, and a new beginning in the spirit of generosity and love. Teach me, Lord to overcome my anger.  Let me not become an extreme moralist like The Happy Tutor, inflicting pain on the unjust. Let me be as mild as Dick Minim or Wolf Blitzer.  Let me turn the other cheek like Jesus. And, Dear Lord, whosoever gets crucified this year, or boiled alive, or beaten to death in some dark cell, let it not be me. If I know anything inconvenient to anyone with power over me, give me the good sense to keep it to myself. In thy holy name, I pray.


Donor Intent and the Public Interest

A philanthropic gift is an odd bargain between donor and the public. A curmudgeon who, say, hates everything except money, power and control learns that he must through estate tax give up 50% of what he owns for redistribution, not only to the Armies of Freedom, but to the undeserving poor whose starving children encumber the wheels of his Escalade.  Waxing wroth, and receiving good counsel, he makes a big gift to a private charitable foundation that he, as he sees it, can control from the grave. While his philanthropic goals may be rudimentary or nonexistent, while he may even be a sociopath, he may visualize a society, not unlike a banana republic in which the rich and their lackeys rule a plundered nation with unhindered hand.  Fate, or Fortune, however, intervenes; the foundation is taken over in time by those who actually have a social conscience, and funds are used, say, to promote campaign finance reform, and so frustrate the founder's plutocratic ambition. The Vanity of Human Wishes comes to mind. God or the fates make monkies of us all. And the bargain struck by a curmudgeon for crafty, self-interested reasons, actually ends up saving the body politic from mean-spirited rich people like him. God works in mysterious ways.

Yet, those who lackey wealth, and would have it prevail on every front, cry foul! Martin Wooster, Bill Schambra, and Mark Tapscott among others would protect the dead curmudgeon's intention without ever raising the larger question of the public interest, a question that may well not have interested the founder either. Yet the public is party to the gift, since it granted tax benefits to the donor.

My thoughts as a practitioner are:

Donors should think carefully how to work their will.

Donors should think even more carefully about elevating their own ideals.

The donor's intentions can be small-minded, crabbed, selfish, or blind. The proper role of a good advisor is not just to serve as shill or servant, but to be a kind of Morals Tutor, providing a corrective lash. Or at least every King needs a Clown among the Courtiers. And the Kingdom deserves no less.

As the miscreant, on an endorphin high, his face streaming with tears of joy, kisses the lash, so must the donor, but even more so must those who give nothing much at all.

What is sad is to see people as intelligent as Tapscott, Wooster and Schambra whose highest ideal seems to be making the case for the rich and honoring their intentions no matter how debased and degrading they might be. Their ideal of a good foundation is one in which money works for money forever, dribbling grants to scribblers to pen these wealth-serving screeds with tax favored dollars, at the expense of the general public who are screwed twice: Not only do they give up the tax dollars, but what they get in return is plutocratic propaganda.

I realize that I have just left myself open to a disquisition (via Freidman and Hayek) on how serving the rich is serving us all. I would be happy to post that essay, if Bill Schambra wants to write it, at Rooster Foundation: Crowing in the New American Century. Candidia would be honored and so would Smoky Joe. Unfortunately, it is not a paying gig. Some things we do for the good of all. In fact, if Bill is busy, I will write it myself, if he can fax me the talking points from Headquarters.


Blogging as Civic Dialogue

Lenore Ealy:

Phil Cubeta wistfully asks "where have all the bloggers gone?"   I confess that I have been rather remiss in posting here these past few months.  I have invited Bill Schambra to consider this his blog home if he would like, but so far he's not nibbled.

Today, getting ready for work I was actually thinking of how much fun it would be to blog with and against a professional troublemaker like Bill Schambra. I wanted to ask him what is the next promotion for a Senior Fellow at Hudson. Senior Goodfella? And how might blogging philanthropy help him make his bones? A true conversation, among civic friends, in the public square about giving, and the role of wealth in a just or unjust or just wonderful society might change the terms of the debate and put the talking points (about ownership society, or compassionate conservativism, or thousand points of light, or selfishness as the mainspring of the market) to shame.  Bill and Lenore! Please make an example of me, whenever you can fit it into your busy schedules.


Resource Generation

If you have wealth, progressive values, and children in their teens through early thirties, check out Resource Generation. Earlier this year, I was invited, as a guest, to a progressive funders conference. Resource Generation had their own events woven in and out of the events staged primarily for the older generation. The energy and brains and idealism of the Resource Generation crowd were stunning. In a time when so many young people with wealth are afflicted with second thoughts (and others should be), the young people in Resource Generation seemed focused on not themselves but on their own capacity to do good things with others, including those who have little.


Yes!

Yes! "Helping Outstanding Young Leaders Build a Better World." A growing and increasingly influential network of young leaders for social change, some but not all of whom are in a position to leverage significant financial or social resources. Yes! is located in CA, but is making a difference through leaders and events around the world.


The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

TreeofpracticesscreenSerious, highly educated people who are successfully introducing contemplative practices in some very unlikely places, like law schools and Fortune 100 companies, as well as in social justice and youth programs.  The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society is high on my list of organizations to learn more about, and network with in the hopes of creating a "a values-based" process for planning money, meaningful work, and giving. Such a process has to start with setting the mood, or the stage. Typically that is done with a brisk and very dull "financial fact-finder." You can do better than that with Socractic questions, and good listening skills, meandering with the client until you find, as with a dowsing rod, the underground springs. But a contemplative practice, something simple, just a moment in and out of time to reflect before committing oneself to a process that will change your money and your life just seems to me to make good sense. It does not have to be "new age," or weird. For some it might be better to have moment of prayer within their own religion, but that can be hard if the planner does not share it. A moment of tranquil contemplation, or a setting that induces contemplation and mindfulness - a retreat - seems like the right way for a person to begin considering the ultimate questions of what to do with what remains. I notice financial advisors are not on the Center's list of current partnerships. Through wealth planners they might enhance their impact on social justice, by rallying the needed resources in a spirit of mindfulness and well as prudence or passion.


Sell out? Me? Never!

The Happy Tutor is all bent out of shape because I took a big grant from Candidia's Rooster Foundation. He thinks I sold out. I didn't even know he read gifthub, now he is telling me how to run it. Look, Tutor, I have seen how hard it is even for the best progressive organizations, like Changemakers, to raise a few dollars. You may be happy living in a Dumpster, but I prefer a four-bedroom three bath in a decent zip code. It is not like I have sold out for $250,000 a year plus benefits, staff and expenses. I will continue to write whatever I please about philanthropy without regard to Candidia's feelings. I don't really care what she thinks.  - Pardon, I have to take this call, "Yes, Mistress Candidia, I am planning to attend the Philanthropy Roundtable as your new minion." OK. I am back. Butt out Tutor! Satirize someone who cares. I am no Tracy Gary.  I have a right to a decent living. Why should I make less than David Horowitz? His views have matured and so have mine. At least I don't work in Wealth Bondage, like you do!


Gifthub Receives Major Grant from Rooster Foundation

I am pleased to announce that gifthub has received a major grant from Rooster Foundation: Crowing in the New American Century. Thank you, Candidia! Smoky Joe, I look forward to getting not just outputs but outcomes that will justify many years of future grants. To our readers let me say that in no way will our funding affect our editorial policies. Joe assures me that I can write whatever I want subject to minimal review and possible termination.


Reciprocity Model of Giving

P14charityballWhat goes around in giving comes around, via Wealth Bondage. Money doesn't buy everything. For certain things, such as a Presidential pardon, you have to trade. What have the poor to trade? Gratitude? Their subservience itself? Their willingness to remain invisible, even when present, in their red jackets serving the philanthropists drinks?

I discussed the culture of giving, as a giving circle, with Tracy Gary the other day. She said something has to change. The wealthy have to give it all away without thought of a return. I said that would never happen, humans are not that perfect. She said, "Why not, I did?" And Diogenes lived naked in a barrel for all the good it did. She and The Happy Tutor would make a good pair. She could inspire the donors. He would  discipline the recalcitrant. Either way, I would bet on the reciprocity model. What goes around comes around. Good for good, or pain for pain. We are one society. Can the hand suffer and the head not feel it?