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July 2009

Youth Giving Tools from Inspired Legacies

Inspired Legacies announces new and comprehensive youth giving tools.  You can sign up to pilot test these tools with children in your community.  The program calls for a series of workshops in which children learn in company with peers how to establish their own personal giving priorities, how to collaborate with others, how to do site visits, how to raise money, and how generally to effect social change starting right now as young people.  If you believe that giving is a virtue and that collaboration is a  life skill, these materials will help you organize practical and fun youth giving circles in your community. 

In Defense of the Independent Sector

A passionate defense of the independence of the independent sector by Charles Hamilton in the face of the NCRP polemic suggesting that government should direct foundation grants, perhaps with quotas. I agree with Charles that the issue is not what should be done with grants (about which we in a pluralist society will endlessly disagree), but who decides? The party in power seems to be a particularly bad answer. I do not believe that NCRP would welcome quotas directing grants to Christian faith based charities (as might have happened under Bush).  By the same token we who support a progressive agenda should fight shy of imposing it by force of law on the voluntary sector.  The result would surely be less giving in toto, as givers wonder why in heck they would give up money volutarily in order to have some or all of it directed by the party in power. The name for that system, when fully deployed, is taxation. If we need more money for the poor, let us use the involuntary system to extract cash upon threat of jail time.  That would be fair to both givers and nongivers and would raise a lot more money than would shaking down a few foundations. 

Then again, maybe as a professional moralist, I am just jealous of the high moral tone of NCRP and my progressive philanthropy friends.  How generous we are with other people's money and how full of indignation at the failings of all but us.  For the causes we consider worthy, let us bend our best efforts and open our own wallets.  Let us persuade others by force of reason and example. If all we have is a big stick under Obama, let us remember that tomorrow that stick will be in the hands of those who want payback. What matters most is at the Constitutional level, or the rule of established precedent, where what is carved out are certain zones of freedom, one of which is the indepenent sector.  That people generally make poor use of it is true, as they tend to make poor use of pens and paper.  Yet we have freedom of speech.  May the independent sector remain free of coercion by ideologues of all stripes!

3 Ways to Make A Mid-Sized Fortune from Philanthropic Consulting

  1. Be born to a large fortune
  2. Make a large fortune
  3. Marry a large fortune

Seriously, the most common question I get from advisors is how to make money at this.  The answers are fees for service, life insurance to replace gifted asset and to complete estate and business transition plans, and assets under management.  If the client follow the advice of Jesus in the Gospels to "give all you have to poor and follow me," interpose yourself to defer that gift for as long as possible while you manage the money.  For every dollar sent to the poor, how many pennies can we as advisors extract for how many years for the carriage? The best in this field today are probably "the dual passport advisors," as they are sometimes called, as listed above (wealthy, philanthropic advisors, giving advice to their peers). They may lose money at it, or make very little, but they are already independently wealthy and are doing it for love of the work. Wish I could say otherwise, but they go from rich sometimes to broke in this labor of love. I could give you names, but won't.

How Double Bottom Lines become a Great Big Double Bind

Imagine a 4 cell matrix:

  1. Society Wins/ I Win

  2. Society Wins/ I Lose

  3. Society Loses/I Lose

  4. Society Loses/I Win

We all want to be in the first cell. Many of the brands we trust and those who lead them or invest in them are in cell 4. Economic theory insults human nature by suggesting that no one goes knowingly into cells 2 or 3. The second cell is the one that most fascinates me. What happens when we are faced with 2, as a personal choice, when it cannot be evaded, when no amount of whisky, prozac, positive mental attitude, therapy, or employee counseling, can cure us of seeing the choice for what it is? Or, an act happens, befalls us, that might be called a choice, but feels like a compulsion, or an inspiration, a fugue, or a temporary loss of sanity, and we find ourselves being said to have chosen 2.  "I report to the big guy upstairs and I win regardless" is one answer to how we did something so stupid. Another might be, "the devil made me do it." Givers, soldiers in battle, whistle-blowers, saints on crosses, poets writing immortal poems that no one will read until after the poet's death, aren't these all of a spirit? Some will say it is the holy spirit, others will recognize that it precedes Christianity and that many of its most memorable proponents were madmen, holy fools,  beggars, rogues, doxies impersonating fine gentleman and ladies, and scapegrace tricksters.

Hermes Hermes, sacred to pickpockets, merchants, prostitutes, and ambassadors, frequents the crossroads, a phallic god of inspiration, fertility, poison and medicine (he of the snake entwined cadeuces)  whose statue points towards the wrong road, where the winner, named Oedipus loses all and so finds himself. There by the statue burns the pharmakos that the city might be saved in time of plague. There Robert Johnson sold his soul for hellacious riffs on the blues guitar. Perhaps a prodigal philanthropist when inspired might be audacious like that. "Give all you have to the poor and follow me" - as if.  Jesus Effing Christ, what am I, crazy?

Change your Bank, Change the World

4 minute video by Kyle Thiermann.  Pull your money out of banks that fund coal plants and other destructive but profitable single bottom line businesses? David slew Goliath because he knew where and how to plant a small smooth stone where it would do the most good. Behind videos like this is a woman who knows Goliath from days old.  As insiders decide to protect the public interest by sharing their insights in Goliath with David, the balance of power may shift. How many of us who have "risen" or fallen into insider status, have said, how often, "Yeah, it certainly sucks, and it may be immoral as hell but it is my job." How many bankers, investment professionals, slap-suit happy litigaters, mortage brokers, or governent policy makers have said that to themselves stoked on cocaine, or half blind and whisky drunk, or blurted it out to spouse, prostitute, priest or therapist? What if our biggest contribution to the public good, short of suicide, or as a productive form of career suicide, might be shifting into work that allows us to say what we know to be true? Healing the body politic means first healing ourselves of the fear of saying in public what we would know to be true, were we not corrupt to the core.

Raising the Law from the Dead

Whom do we serve in philanthropy as advisors to wealth? The donor? The nonprofit? Those served by the nonprofit?

Say perhaps that we serve what the donor serves. And if you try to articulate that in words suited to the task you will find, to your embarassment, that bland, neutered, politically correct, passionless, well-hedged, diffident language fails. To articulate the higher we serve is the work of theology, ethics,  and the arts. Its proper language, per God Himself, sounds like this: "And the lukewarm he spits from his mouth."  To open a space where the language of that which we serve enters us and makes itself heard through our faltering conversation is the work of churches and schools. 

Why, then, O Lord! hast thou cast charity ("Faith, hope, charity and the greatest of these is charity") among the scribes and the pharisees in tax, legal, and financial services? Send, O Lord, thy divine breath of love (charity) among these near-dead embers that they might scatter in conflagration. If you can raise the dead, cure the blind, or reform a common prostitute, how might thou liftest up a top tax attorney?