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October 2008

Funders Contemplate A Darker Time

I am getting emails from fund raisers or giving consultants cheering on donors and foundations to do more in these times when wealth is contracting.  Suggestions include spending down corpus, supporting only existing grantees, mission aligning trust corpus, and encouraging weaker nonprofits to die off or merge.

I find myself murmuring: How about direct action, social organizing, small group meetings, educating one another in doing more with less? The bottom line is that the solutions proposed by funders and by politicians of both parties are pitiful in comparison to the cataclysmic issues. We have seen what economic breakdown will be like. We have borrowed our way out of it, but that only postpones and amplifies the ultimate collapse. Worse than economic breakdown is the irreversible loss of species. Climate disruption foretells a new era in which we do not even know what portions of the earth will bear what crops. Nor do we know the cost of transporting food in the future. The water supply is also increasingly endangered. Peak oil portends the death of suburbia.

Paper assets have dropped in value. They may continue to trend lower. Solutions may be found that are not yet readily imaginable. Ecovillages, shorter supply lines, local food, and human capital that makes life worth living even as - blessed event! - the happy talk on tv fades to black.

Foundations, philanthropy, wealthy people are not outside our world finding solutions within it. It is not like they have the option of sitting back while "other people," alas, suffer. They are themselves stakes in the game. This is not about a them helping an us. It is about investing now in solutions without which the future is bleak for all.

Private armies? What will protect the child on her way to school from the mansion on the hill? Bodyguards with assault rifles? How much food can you stock even if you are Bill Gates in that house of his half buried in mother earth?

Culling nonprofits may be a place to start. The cull may go much deeper, though. And who knows who will be spared? Maybe the generous few.

The Rich Fool and the Builder of Barns

Luke 12:13-31:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Meanwhile, in an hour, I have a conference call with a large bank to discuss a survey of wealthy people about their philanthropy. We will pore over their responses, not to cure their desires, but to serve them profitably, for we are the builders of barns.  

Holden Confesses to An Impulse Gift

Holden, whose rationality borders on insanity, expresses chagrin for making a small gift based on personal passion. Then, the next day, he makes clear that his impulsive giving in no way reflects on the values and vision, much less the methodology, of Givewell, his fellow employees, or their Board. I guess, Hard Times is not taught at Harvard, or maybe Holden was taking statistics in that hour or vivisecting a cat. Come on, Holden, live a little. Give to something wild and crazy, maybe in secret.  The longer you suppress your charitable passions, the more violent will be the ultimate explosion.

Silhouette City

Silhouette City, the Film: The Last Days, Christian Dominionism, Witchcraft, Pagans, Homosexuals, Council for National Policy, Sarah Palin, and The Holy Prophets.  Excerpts.  In my experience there are unbalanced, power mad, vengeful people who identify as Christians, as postmodernists, as secular, as MBAs, as anarchists, as attorneys, as even poets. The War of the Red and the Blue for the soul of America strikes as a distraction from following the money. Both Red and Blue at the top converge on Green. Who is my neighbor? Here in Dallas, Christians to the right of me, Christians to the left. God Bless them and may they let me pass, Yankee, liberal, and pointy-headed as I may be.  

Peripatetic Philanthropy Pedant Turned Loose

Impartially their talents scan, Just education forms the man. - John Gay,

National Expert and Advocate for Philanthropic Planning Named Chair of Philanthropy at The American College. And yet, we all know the real story: An educated fool by any other name. Still, revenge is sweet. In my new role I will be able to make people read things they would rather not read; and, I can test them for comprehension with objective tests administered by computer.  They will be at my mercy, memorizing whatever trivia I consider of the utmost importance. Ever read "The Use of Force," by W.C. Williams, himself a physician as well as a writer? No? Well, I am going to make you read it, if you take my course, read it until you gag - for your own good. (Such is the role of the Moral Tutor or Physician. We make people do what is good for them, even if they are adults and don't much like it. I only wish I had the same petty tyrannical power over politicians, religious leaders, media personalities, think tank thinkers, NSA wire-tappers, and philanthropists. Given a stick, like Diogenes's to beat them, I would fix them good. As it is I will have to take out my misanthropic rage on the paying customers, who must cower as I beat them, much as I, as a Philanthropic Advisor do,  in the presence of unchecked power. Good practice for who would be Trusted Advisors, smiling when thrashed.)

Moral philosophers as peripatetics: I guess no one can blame me if a course on philanthropy as a liberal art proves to be pedestrian.

Philanthropy as a Gesture of Compassion

Christine Egger: "At Social Actions, the working definition of philanthropy is 'a gesture of compassion towards humanity.'" Philia (the root of philanthropy) and caritas (the root of charity) mean exactly that - love, as in brotherly/sisterly love. Charity starts at home, but no commandment tells us it must stop there. The "gesture" part tells us that compassion must be more than an inner state, it must become a social action, or social gesture, even a trend, perhaps, or movement. Social Actions may foment exactly that, as Christine suggest: "An (explicitly compassionate) Philanthropic Web."