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October 2009

Conversations with Bold Givers

Bolder Giving:

Gain inspiration and practical ideas by talking with passionate givers.  These free conference calls are on Thursdays from noon-1pm eastern time, facilitated by Anne Ellinger, co-founder of Bolder Giving.  The conversation is informal and personal, with frequent time for questions.

Anne Ellinger is well positioned to conduct these donor conversations. She and Christopher Ellinger are bold givers themselves and have spent their lives mentoring others to give.  They serve on the advisory board for the philanthropic advisory credential for which I am the Chair.  The element most often missing in the education of advisors and fundraisers is precisely the voice of the donor.  We are fortunate that donors are willing to "go on the record" as role models with Bolder Giving. 

Money Has Failed in its Role of Allocating Resources towards Human Survival?

Eric Harris-Braun

Without money and its context in currencies, most of what we call the economy would collapse. However, with money in its current form, the economy also seems to be collapsing! Money, as a medium of exchange, a unit of measure, and a store of value is the primary information system that coordinates the flows of goods and services through the economy. If it cannot also properly coordinate the participation of the social organism in the greater flows of nature in which it is embedded, then the organism will not survive. Currently humanity is failing to coordinate the basic flows of inputs (fresh water, food, etc) it needs and outputs it produces (CO2, waste, etc) in a way that will ensure its survival. But perhaps more importantly, seen from the perspective of coordinating flows, the social organism is failing miserably to allocate resources and human effort within itself in a way that yields a healthy harmonious entity. Money as an information carrying “life-blood” does not rise to the challenges posed by the social organism that humanity has become.

Yet, humanity if the fever from which the planet is dying, is there hope for Creation in our extinction? If human populations were graphed against, say, toxins per unit of water or air, along with a line representing GNP, when do the lines tip, and cross, with humanity slanting down, toxins still rising, GNP collapsing. "Co2 concentration was up today for the one thousandth straight quarter." What if that crawled beneath the evening news instead of stock tickers? 

How Two Bottom Lines are Reconciled through Supervisory Conversations

Kia, responding to a post on Ben Jonson at Gifthub, recalls her double bottom line (i.e. compromised) life in a corporate cubicle. In this passage she reflects on a supervisory interview with her boss, as Kia is coached, in a friendly way by a "mother hen" supervisor, to overcome her personal (i.e. ethical) issues, as a disenfranchised person of intellect:

And yet that one of them who said, "This is corporate, if you don't like it you can leave," sincerely thought of herself as my friend. And in the spirit of friendship I said in reply, "I can respect that people might have to submit to these conditions out of necessity but I hope I never live long enough to hear myself say that to anybody. I hope I never get to the point where I'm carrying such a thing around in my head." No one who asks me to make such a bad bargain can be a friend. This made her cry, but I doubt that I'd make many people cry if I spoke to them like that. She was one of those people that cries easily.

When the solution reports to the problem, when the lesser reports to the greater, when truth is subordinate to profitable falsity, we have a paradigm that rules the earth by main force. Efforts to redirect that system by invoking a second bottom line are delusional and self serving, the stuff of which interviews like the one above are made, as the  two bottom lines collide in moral compromise and passive-aggressive coercion. Those who are most likely to save our society, indeed our planetary ecosystems, are not in corporate jobs, do not speak corporate prose, but are marginal, hand to mouth, a saving remnant in the desert. Or, say they live in a Dumpster at the corner of Wealth and Bondage, reading Ben Jonson's Pindaric Ode with the greatest pleasure and in the hope of rising to such eloquence one day as recompense for poverty. Meanwhile, with Ben, let us ply Our Noble Trade.

Ben Jonson as Living Example of How to Come Out of a Dark Age

It is not growing like a tree
In bulke, doth make man better bee ;
Or, standing long an Oake, three hundred yeare,
To fall a logge, at last, dry, bald, and seare :
A Lillie of a Day
Is fairer farre, in May,
Although it fall, and die that night ;
It was the Plant, and flowre of light.
In small proportions, we just beauties see :
And in short measures, life may perfect bee.


Pindaric Ode, and Pindar’s project, to “praise what deserves praise and to sow blame for wrong-doers.” To disorder the moral sensibility, and to reap profit from ill-educated appetite, seems the major work of contemporary culture. To have a refined sensibility, is the “PhD thing.” What Jonson proves, methinks, is that we can be “Ancients” and “Moderns.” The Ancient is still Modern when framed in plain, in plainest, English. Doing that, without the panoply of footnotes and allusions that baffle modern readers is not an academic exercise. Academics retreat into their coterie world, where everyone – all 100 in the world – have read the same syllabus. Finding an audience for a refined sensibility among those less refined or learned. Isn’t that the challenge that Jonson met in his prose, poetry, and drama?

Can we say "more refined"? No, not in public, only among friends.

Charitable Planning around the Family Values of Mexican Drug Gang

BBC on "La Famiglia":

   They decapitate, torture, and extort. Then they pray, and donate to charity.

Ok, so if they decapitate, torture and extort without giving to charity would that be better? Be grateful for small blessings. What private banker or philanthropic consultant worthy of a good salary would show disrespect to so much money, assuming it had been processed into legitimate legal form? We are not here to judge our clients, nor to improve their morals, but to serve their higher aspirations. If globally  we do not recycle drug money into higher culture, where will it go? Into some big pit in the backyard of a Drug King Pin. A trusted advisor owes to his clients the greatest tact, discretion, and loyalty. Think of how hard it would to be the child of a drug lord. Preparing such heirs for a better life in a better world, via education, culture and philanthropy may be the highest and best use yet remaining for the liberal arts, assuming it pays well, and that the legal niceties are handled in good order.

MTurk As Freedom Wealth Bondage Style

Trebor Scholz on the way we offer ourselves happily on line to commercial exploitation. In general Wealth Bondage is a contractual or voluntary association in which we exchange our humanity for pleasure, status, or gain, or merely to kill time. Wealth Bondage is the virtual brand of all brands. Its slogan varies from moment to moment, but generally includes the word, Freedom. At times Wealth Bondage approaches the condition of art:

A former graduate student a UCLA’s Design/Media Arts program created a project that playfully engaged with the exploitative nature of MTurk. He invited “turkers” to draw a sheep facing to the left" at a rate of 2 cents per sheep. After 40 days 7,599 workers had contributed 12,000 sheep. The artist Aaron Koblin, then sold sets of 20 sheep for $20 at Sheep Market (, which upset some of the workers: "Does anyone remember signing over the rights to the drawings?" In fact they did. In the terms of service, Koblin had indeed specified that workers lose all ownership rights.

On Micro Finance from The Gospel of Thomas

[Jesus said], "If you have money, don't lend it at interest. Rather, give [it] to someone from whom you won't get it back." I am sorry to quote Jesus, on charity, but you have to admit that while he may have made demands upon his audience, at least he spoke in tweets. I would go for Wordsworth, instead, The Old Cumberland Beggar, say, but that would require a sensibility, and attention span, long since dead in our culture. Instead we pore over the stock tables, or follow the crawl on CNN.