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December 2008

Self Reliance and Mutual Aid in America: Towards a New Year's Resolution

Times are brutally hard and we are all caught among conflicting demands on our resources, both financial and emotional. Charity comes from caritas as does "care." How much can we care, for whom? We say "charity starts at home." Robert Frost said, "Home is where when you go there, they have to take you in." Charity or care, or the obligation to care, starts at home with self reliance. We take care of ourself first, then those who depend on us, blood kin. We teach children to stop their crying and take care of their own self first, before asking for help. "The weak perish," we tell the sniveling kid, "and the strong survive." Then, probably we reach down to help.

Balanced in the American tradition with self reliance is mutual aid. If we take care of ourselves and our own, we may still be in trouble, when things turn bad. So, we take care of each other when one is down, and we say that turn about is fair play. We call that being neighborly. Barn raising, quilting bees, casseroles for the bereaved.

Robert Frost in "Mending Wall" gets the balance down to an image or a moment, annually repeated. Two farmers, probably with little more than a wary nod in greeting, meet each spring at their property line, between me and mine, thee and thine, and raise up the boulders that have fallen. One works from one side of the line, his neighbor from the other. So, they cooperate in mutual aid to rebuild the property line that divides them. The line is needed so that apple trees don't cross over from one side to the other.  

In this time, with our own money more scarce, we draw back to our side of the line and take care of our own first. But the pull of mutual aid is there too, and the need to keep the social contract intact, like that stone wall. Each of us can do, maybe, a little bit more in the spirit of mutual aid. Whether we can or not, and how much, requires a careful inventory of our own capacities, and an eye to how much is enough for ourselves and those who depend on us. Charity starts with self reliance at home. Then there is the part about mutual aid, since what goes around comes around, and our time of dire need may come too.

How much, how, when and whether to give and for what purposes are the work of the advisor in philanthropy trained in the financial sciences. Now might be a good time to consult with such an advisor.  I did not mean this to be an advertisement for the American College's Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy program, but I guess it turned into one. I am thinking about how that program can be redesigned to meet an immediate need and to answer to an ideal. Self-reliance and mutual aid seem close to bedrock, not in nature, maybe, since the boulders are strewn each spring as the earth heaves with frost, but natural in that we rebuild a just society each time it falls down. Ants do that with their anthill too, as Aristotle pointed out in discussing the just City.

What would America be like if we let mutual aid go, and went just with self-reliance? Not walls mended with boulders but with razor wire. So, let's meet at the property line between me and thee and rebuild what is falling apart.

Charitable Foundations of Madoff's Schemes

"Charities, The Foundation of Madoff's Scheme," Fortune.  He needed long term money; foundations needed a nice, reliable 12% to cover payout, administration, and inflation.  What personal liability foundation trustees may have for the losses remains to be settled, presumably by regulators and the courts. 

Madoff on Youtube explains how the market works. "It impossible for a violation to go undetected, at least for long." If anything, he suggests, the regulatory environment has become a bit onerous.

The Trusted Advisor in Philanthropy: Lessons from Madoff


In this week’s eSkeptic, we present an insider’s look at Ponzi schemes by an expert on human gullibility who not only just wrote a book on the subject, but with considerable irony just lost a good chunk of his retirement savings in the Madoff Ponzi scheme.

This truly is a classic comic opportunity. Where is Oscar Wilde? The Importance of Being Skeptical, by A. Gullible Mann. Sad, though, how many good people and how many philanthropies were defrauded.

Women Moving Millions

Michael Seltzer on the remarkable work of Women Moving Millions.

Recently, WMM, a campaign launched by the San Francisco-based Women's Funding Network and philanthropists Helen LaKelly Hunt and her sister, Swanee Hunt, passed the $110 million mark, well within striking distance of its ambitious $150 million goal.

I wonder how the planning process went in these large gifts. Were advisors involved? Who drove the process? What role did spouse or partner play as the woman moved the millions? How was the amount of the gift determined? What analysis went into that? Cases would differ, no doubt. I wonder what lessons in family and financial dynamics were learned that might be shared with a larger group., a Venture Altruist Partnership

“In Japanese culture, nemawashi is an informal process of quietly laying the foundation for some proposed change or project. It is considered an important element in any major change, before any formal steps are taken, and successful nemawashi enables changes to be carried out with the consent of all sides.” is a Venture Altruist Partnership and core member of the growing Living Mandala Family of permaculture designers, consultants and educators.

A Venture Altruist Partnerhsip? Yes, to that I will raise a cup of green tea. 

Philanthrocapitalists: Rescuing Legitimacy

Bishop_lg Mitch Nauffts interviews Matthew Bishop,  New York Bureau chief of The Economist and co-author, Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World.  The gist seems to be that smart people have gone into business, more so in this century than in any other, hence world leadership rightly comes from the successful businessperson, that the super-rich will prosper in this dark time by buying out the less fortunate at rock bottom prices,  and that plutocracy will get a bad name,  and lead to social backlash, unless the super-rich are perceived to be public spirited. Philanthropy, then saves the world, or makes as if to do that, as a means to the end of legitimizing our current economic arrangements.  Meanwhile, no pardon, apparently, from George Bush for noted philanthrocapitalist, and former Board Member at Hudson Institute, Lord Conrad Black. Bernie Madoff, philantrocapitalist extraordinaire, seems headed for prison too. Richard Fuld, a virtuous capitalist of the first order, has fallen into disgrace.  

Efficiency, effectiveness, systems theories. wealth as a measure of success  - unless the super-rich respond to moral and political traditions more inspiring than these,  efforts at self-legitimization through strategic philanthropy may come up short, even if Bill Clinton is front and center and even if Matthew Bishop, trotting before his master's carriage, blows the herald's trumpet until his cheeks burst. Legitimacy in a democracy is built from the botton up. We the people. So, maybe, social change philanthropy might garner a modest world-saving investment?

Legacy, the Forgotten

The Muses, and their mother, Memory, are all women, as are the Three Graces. For a man to be inspired is for him to hear voices, his alienated selves, from whom he takes dictation. Those works he composes humbly, just writing down what he is told, are said to be his most characteristic utterance.  Perhaps women find their muse is male, maybe Hermes? Philanthropy too is a daughter of memory, "strategic" and "inspired," a kind of Hermaphrodite, part hard, part soft, part expressive, part rigorous, the milk of human kindness joined with the overbearing desire to remake the world. Is Philanthropy, then, a Daughter of Memory? Well, what else is Legacy?

"How do you want to be remembered?" we ask clients. But we might better ask, "Whom does your work honor, what tradition or heritage does your gift keep alive?" As we forget, so will we be forgotten.

Albert Ruesga to Head Greater New Orleans Foundation

Greater New Orleans Foundation:

On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Search Committee for the Greater New Orleans Foundation, it gives us great pleasure to announce that Dr. Albert Ruesga will join the Foundation as President & Chief Executive Officer in January, 2009.

When Prince Hal became King Henry V, he had to cut his old hell-raising friends, including Falstaff. We shall see whether White Courtesy Telephone is a blog befitting a CEO and President of a Community Foundation. Maybe it is time, Albert, that we give normal a better name and present a more dignified mien. Philanthropy is a serious business. More bidnislike all the time. Who are we to make light of all things dignified? Except at Mardi Gras, of course.  I hope to see Albert on a float with Albert Johnson, Dixie Moline, and philanthropy fashion consultant, Countess Apraxina.  First Carnival, then Lent. Philanthropists gone Wilde? For another homage to Albert, see Mitch Nauffts.

The Partnership for Philanthropic Planning

It's official:

On January 1, 2009, the National Committee on Planned Giving will become the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning. The new name reflects a broader mission and constituency for an organization that has been serving the charitable planning community since 1988.

NCPG did a study last year that showed, in effect, that the forprofits have beaten the nonprofits at their own game. Donors are increasingly turning to financial, tax and legal advisors for advice on giving, even as they increasingly turn to commerical providers of foundations and donor advised funds. So, NCPG is looking to appeal to the larger audience of philanthropic advisors. Their announcment mentions their reaching out to other organizations, including educators. That would be good.