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February 2006

Who Moved My Cheese?

I try hard to get ahead in a world that is increasingly cold and mean-spirited. Someone is always moving my cheese. I found this lesson from Candidia Cruikshanks for cheese eating liberals helpful. It is always good to know what those in charge are thinking. I wonder if Candidia will let me help her give away some of her cheese? I could use some for myself too. I will do my best to earn her trust. I am a trusted advisor. I am a professional. Her donor intentions are ok with me.  Who am I too judge? I am starving. Wish I had some cheese.

Charity Poker Tournament

Should charities run casinos? After all they host golf tournaments. Why not poker tables? Or, craps? In Reno, why not run an a bordello? For some charities it might count as program related investment.  They could staff it with politicians, lobbyists and think tank thinkers. Anyway,  here,  via National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy,  is a NY Times article, citing Rick Cohen, executive director of NCRP. I will mention the vic rackets for charity to Bill Schambra as a Free Market Solution.  Maybe he can get Scooter Libby involved, or better yet, Bill Bennett

Donor Intentions After Eden

A defense attorney is hired by a rapist who confesses his crime to the JD under the seal of client attorney privilege.  However, the man is not guilty until proven guilty in a court of law. The JD gets him off scott free. That is a model of client/advisor relationship that carries over to some degree to philanthropic consulting, if we follow the "Donor Intent is sacrosanct" line of thought. The donor may be a fool, cad, or bounder. He may be malicious in his intent. Our role is not to reform, or judge, but to serve. This model makes some ethical sense and is good business.  We are loyal to those who pay us. We should not presume to put our judgment above that of a wealthy and powerful adult who can take his or her business elsewhere.

Another model: The client is named Lear. His intent is to divide his Kingdom in three parts. He asks his family and retainers what they think of that. Cordelia is appalled and say nothing, provoking her father's ire and banishment. Her cunning sisters tell their father what he wants to hear, conniving their Machiavellian friends and lovers to cause war and chaos. The loyal counselors go along with the King, "Yes, Sir." The fool chastises him constantly in song, pleas, and bitter wit.  The King goes mad, stung by the consequences of his foolish donative intentions.  Who served the King best?

I say we are all Fools in the game of wealth planning, and only a Fool or Knave would say we are not.  Donor intentions are a byproduct of all the ills and strengths to which flesh is heir. We owe every client a Fool's chance to rethink and reform.  That is good business? No, the Fool sleeps in the kennel with the dogs,  or works out of a Dumpster. But it is good citizenship and an expression of deep loyalty to those we allegedly serve.

Every person I know and love, myself too, have at least three selves, or congeries. We are our daylight self who gets through life more or less and holds a position and makes daily decisions reasonably well. We are also a night self, a half formed, often inchoate system of dysfunctions, stereoptypies, bad habits, prejudices and ineradicable stupidities and cruelties. Therapists, 12 Step Programs, and priests (or judges and juries or madhouse attendants) may deal with the dark shadow self. But then each of us has a better self, a better angel of our nature, a spark of the divine, a sacred self always aspiring, even in the depths of sin or the deadness of daily life not only to redemption but to love and efficacy for others. I see my role, my privilege, as dealing with the daylight self, skirting the darkness, leaving that for others, while creating a tiny crack, a little moment of opportunity for the higher self to emerge and make its intentions known.

It happens, in certain interviews. That dormant self awakens. When it does you can feel something like the holy spirit, or call it what you will, abroad in the room. You are then as the enabler of that, doing work that has enormous reach and leverage. From one such moment an intention my crystallize and become effective that will touch so many lives. History or a tiny but important piece of it may turn on a jeweled pivot.

To say we serve the donor's intentions is true, but it is equally true that the intentions formed with a true fool for a teacher may be wiser than those formed with the courtier.  Don't blame the donor if the donor is a jerk. Think if of it as your own shadow.  Cast the shadow of your own best self and see if the client does not respond in kind. Some do, some don't. Not all seed falls on fertile ground. Some trees bear sour fruit and are slated for the bonfire, as our Master Trickster Jesus taught to the Pharisees of his own era. Then again, Christ ended up dead, pending the Resurrection.

Better probably, to let the client be damned and his posterity ruined, than risk a rich man's ire or our fee.  Wager your fee for your better self and a better world, but do it you own risk. Your reward will be in heaven, as I sometimes say, tipping the bottle of Thunderbird out back of the Store of Convenience with The Happy Tutor in his Dumpster.  Eying the half empty bottle, the Tutor says, "Heaven, Phil, would be another $2.50 for a second pint. Who do you know you wants a real over the knee spanking who might be good for that kind of money? Ordered liberty starts at the top. "

IFF Advisors

Today I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Lee Hausner (family psychologist) and Doug Freeman, JD (a leading estate tax attorney with a specialization in philanthropy) talk for 3 hours on family governance and family meetings for multi-generational wealthy families. Their criterion of success is that a family remain intact, happy and productive, as a cohesive group, for 4-5 generations, or 100 years. "Legacy families" they call them. Philanthropy, and indeed compassion, they see as critical aspects of these successful families.  Lee and Doug's firm is IFF Advisors. Doug and Lee are about as good as it gets. Either is brilliant, but together they make a wonderful presentation team. Their audience today consisted of financial people, philanthropy people from the foundation world, and members of several wealthy families. The talk was sponsored by Thompson & Knight, a leading law firm here in Dallas. Given the audience response, I suspect that Lee and Doug will garner client families here, as they are around the country.

Comparing Doug and Lee with my friend Tracy Gary of Inspired Legacies, I would use one word, "community." What Tracy would stress is that happy and successful hegemonic families or dynasties are not necessarily the greatest good God created on his green earth. At worst they are happy plutocrats, or a governing elite, an emerging aristocracy, a self-actualizing, self-perpetuating upper crust - as well as lucrative clients. Tracy would put in a plea for the broken families, the busted people and those who have a claim on us as part of a larger "family," the family of humankind. I find her perspective less "realistic" than Doug and Lee, who recognize that clients pay their bills, and yet a necessary corrective to all of us in the professions who sometimes forget that we are citizens as well as professionals. How wealthy families balance their own goals and the needs of society may be the critical issue for democracy in an ownership society, and an era of rising wealth disparity.

What Tracy is reflecting, I think in her intransigent commitment to community is her own upbringing in her own multi-generational family. "As the twig is bent...." In a very real way she honors her parents through her own life of service. Her sense of community responsibility was a key aspect of her own family legacy. When she speaks of her own childhood, many of the strategies that Lee and Doug recommend for raising healthy kids are ones her parents employed at home.

In any case, Lee and Doug seem to be doing very well indeed and making their firm succeed as a "going concern." I learned a great deal.

"7 (Bad) Habits of (In)Effective Foundations," By William Schambra

Isn't it galling when people whose conclusions you often detest are so darn intelligent? Isn't it even more aggravating, when their writing is passionate, eloquent and well-informed? Bill Schambra's new piece at Chronicle of Philanthropy is a high-spirited, almost boisterous, critique of old line foundations.  Having pummeled his opponents, with what may well prove to be unanswered shots, he ends, somewhat gratuitously, I thought, with a plea for charter schools.

Anyone wanting to see how foundations can move the policy needle might do well to study American Enterprise, Hudson (where Bill works), Bradley (where used to work), Heritage, and other conservative think tanks whose policy experts do well by doing good. (Hunh? Yes, just ask them.) They do well by not only writing public policy papers for legislators, but by getting out and around on tv, and in the public press, as Bill does here, to build awareness of issues (like charter schools) and get the public informed, or persuaded, on behalf of specific policies within a larger horizon of political philosophies.  As far as I know, career opportunities for those on the left are few when it comes to being a philanthropy policy expert, or pundit.  I do not begrudge Bill his cushy job, nor do I covet it, but I wish he had a peer to the left, someone as well informed and articulate, as iconoclastic, who could, with Bill, maintain a high level of debate and stir up public interest around the intersection of foundations, public policy, and democratic action.

Bill's essay should make steam come out of the ears of many foundation folks. I do hope they come forward with a rebuttal and keep the discussion going. Maybe Rick Cohen of NCRP will weigh in.  Too bad that the Chronicle does not have a comment section under the article. I wish Bill would start a blog and post his essays, so others could jump in and comment, but he might find that answering his outraged opponents would be a full time job.  In the stuffy world of foundations, Bill deserves some kind of award (maybe a bronzed grenade mounted on walnut) for serving as an an agent provacateur.

Funding Online Learning for Democracy

Spartacus O'Neil,

I would expect that someday online distance-learning instructors in the free university archipelago will be understood and valued as such by philanthropies that presently limit their investments to brick-and-mortar institutions. Once they comprehend the necessity to support online learning houses such as weblogs--as an investment in ideas--the prodemocracy movement in the US could shift dramatically.

Until that synergy between research, education, organizing, and action happens, though, the right-wing will continue to roll their tanks through the streets of American public opinion with impunity.

Spartacus, imagine a funding proposal for such an effort. What would be the main points? What would be funded? What are the expected outcomes? Could the effort if funded go on to become self-funding? Let's say this was a matter of self-sacrifice, and the issue were how much we are willing to give up for democracy, does a few dollars either way make much difference? Isn't the answer to long term sustainability the very concept of a citizen who has a real job, yet comes forward on his or her own time to advance a larger cause? Do we need a left wing nomenclatura, or isn't that to already accept the hegemony of hacks?

A Setback in Reforming the Morals of the Rich

Apparently my efforts to reform the rich have not been entirely successful. Mistress Candidia, my top client, has some ways to go. But as long as she keeps my fees coming, I will never give up. Think I will drop her a nice note. We have a Client Appreciation Night coming up next month. Maybe she will attend and bring with her some of her successful friends from Rooster Foundation, Crowing in the New American Century. I would love to get Smoky Joe as a client. Smoking Hunks is not my personal favorite charity, but the man has a right to his own causes. It is a democracy, after all, or was.

Our Obligation to Reform the Rich

"I saw a woman flayed the other day. You have no idea how it altered her appearance for the worse." - Jonathan Swift, writing as the Hack Author in The Tale of the Tub.

Assume estate tax goes away. Can we then say that those who have significant amounts of money, or who work with those who have money, have both the opportunity and the obligation to be more generous, since they will have more, and since the government will not be able to do as much?

Deus Caritas Est, that line of thought leads to the conclusion that, yes, above and beyond what the market gives and takes away, we have an obligation to one another as citizens, as human beings, as "fellows in the body of Christ," or however one wants to put it. I am struck by the fact that some deeply feel this an obligation, are in effect haunted by that obligation, and feel broken if they don't give back. That emotion may be best expressed in Milton's sonnet "On His Blindness," about the "talent that is death to hide." (Harking back to the parable of the talents.) Others say and seem sincerely to feel that they have no obligation, that the hidden hand of providence as expressed in the market through selfishness, pride and vanity, will work for the best outcome, if only we are as self-regarding as humanly possible, free of all constraint, other than the laws of property, sexual propriety, and good middle class manners.

Deus Caritas Est is, to the say the least, a Catholic's perspective. The market driven view might be Calvinist, that is maybe one difference.

But I would like to say that we all have our alibis. Those who would deconstruct and destroy the meaning of a text are at pains to say that it is "always already deconstructed." Kids who make trouble say, "Everyone does it." And those who are selfish say, "Selfishness is good for others." So, I guess I would consider it my obligation as someone who works with wealth to help them grow as a moral being, no matter how they resist, no matter how often they cite selfihsness as their key value or tell me that "Charity begins at home," that the poor have brought in on themselves, that people get what they deserve, or that the Rapture is coming so it really isn't worth the effort. Imposing values on other people is what advertisers, political propagandists, marketers, and think thank thinkers do, as well as preachers. Why can't can't I maniupulate a person into being better than he or she might otherwise have been? It is a teacher's trade, or a physician's. To leave a person malformed when you can heal them would be a sin. (So satirists have said since first threatened with the pillory or crucifixion, ages ago. No one buys it. I don't either. But there is no greater pleasure, speaking as a matter of personal preference, than flaying a malefactor alive as part of a public spectacle applauded by good taste, justice, and morality.)

We have many  who are in favor of less taxes. How many are in favor of increased philanthropy? And how will we get there? What might any of us say to a person who has significant wealth to help him or her find "the better angel of their nature," or to act in the spirit of caritas, when they start out saying, "I am not philanthropically inclined"? How might we raise children to identify with others? And how might we help them to balance the inherent selfishness of our fallen selves with our obligation to something higher and better? How can we use peer pressure to instill an ethic of giving, even as the market philosophy instills sale and purchase as the ultimate model?

I think the Gospels are a pretty good place to start for Christians, but then I read them in the Catholic spirit. Failing that, read Dean Swift, a fine preacher if ever there was one.