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November 2009

The World's Top 25 Most Effective Philanthropists, per Barrons

The World's Top 25 Philanthropists:

Global Philanthropy Group and Barron's considered scores of philanthropists, rating them on such criteria as innovation, quality of alliances with other groups, the ripple effects of their giving and the extent to which their successful projects can be replicated. We gravitated to philanthropists whose causes address severe problems, like children's health in high-poverty regions of the world, but a broad range of causes, even in the arts, are reflected in the final cut.

Helen and Sewanee Hunt, daughters of TX oil magnate H.L. Hunt, come in at number nine for Women Moving Millions. Must make for interesting conversation about the Hunt Heritage at their Thanksgiving Dinners.

My Name is Social Investor, I Carry a Heavy Payload

If even a pickup truck can have an identity, highly admirable in fact, if it can have character, be a protagonist is a moral story, why should we not market gifts as having a personality? My Name is Philanthropy, My Heart is Full. Clearly, a gift should say something about a person, serve as a lifestyle choice, an identity marker, a differentiator from other less generous souls. Even our language of giving should reflect our preferred cultural identity. My Name is Social Investor. My metrics  are Businesslike. I rule through Reason. To me art thou accountable.

Social Investing says a lot about a Company

Smart Money,

The Goldman spokesman confirmed that the firm expected tax benefits from the charitable contributions and that it expected the funds being disbursed as loans would be repaid. “The program has a triple bottom line: We’re providing capital to underserved businesses, capacity building for CDFIs and a modest economic return to ourselves,” says the Goldman spokesman.

Statements to the effect that Goldman is a blood funnel jammed into the face of humanity have to be weighed against its philanthropic culture. From those who taken much, much is expected, as St. Luke said

Social Investing Says a Lot about a Person

Existential choice. Examples:

  • Purchasing a Gucci handbag
  • Driving a Prius
  • Investing in a high impact nonprofit
These choices, and the style the choice reflects, say a lot about a person. Had it been a Prada handbag, an Escalade, or tithing, the message would have been different. In our philanthropic decisions we define a social self, a moral identity, or a persona. That so many strive for the philanthropic personhood of the businesslike is one of the saddest things I know. MBA to the core. Stanford, Harvard, Wharton. Results, results, results, effective and efficient, managed, everything has to be managed. These social investors so well socialized to business that even in their dreams they visualize paradise as a well run firm, though a green one, with sod on the roof of the HQ, and maybe a Calder mobile in the atrium. I would not mind working here. Somewhere in there is a cubicle and a career ladder for me.

Dam Busting to Get a Flood of Giving Now

Issues to be resolved to "bust the dam" holding back a wave of current gifts and grants.

  • Organizations like Philanthropedia  connecting ordinary donors with advice from experts on which nonprofits are doing great work in various categories.
  • Organizations like Tactical Philanthropy who can get advisors paid for giving good advice about giving for impact in the context of family wealth.
  • Organizations like my employer educating advisors and fundraisers to work more productively with donors and "proto-philanthropistis."
  • Organizations like The Grantmaking School to train not only traditional paid staff of foundations, but also families with a foundation, and families who are thinking about starting one.
  • Celebrity or "Maven" branded area of interest gift funds (The Nelson Mandela Social Justice Fund, The Tracy Gary Women's Fund, The Oprah Winfrey Givers Club, The Bill Sommerville Grassroots Fund, The Paul Brest Smart Money Fund, The Sarah Palin Family Values Fund, The Rick Warren Power of Purpose Fund, The T.D. Jakes Seed Fund, etc.)

Anyone who can connect these points will a) do well b) do really good. Community Foundations and commercial gifts funds will have to ask, "Is such a dam busting project a potentially dominant competitor, or it is a potentially wonderful collaborator?" By the dam, I mean the current model of holding money in a reservoir (donor advised funds) to collect basis points to support the sponsoring organization, rather than moving money in a great river to cultivate the hearts, minds, bodies and souls of our dessicated time. The business model to support such a river is what is missing, but when found will bust the dam, releasing a flood in good gifts and grants. Yet is that good or bad news to those good hearted and smart people whose business model is to hold the money to collect the basis points? I am not speaking against good business models, only looking for one that is well aligned with current gifts supported by experts in finance, family, philanthropy and social impact in a specific issue area.


Quite an interesting and well-considered approach to helping donors fund nonprofits doing excellent work in a given issue area. Philanthropedia, a nonprofit, canvasses experts in that issue area among foundation grantmakers. They provide area of interest funds to donors large and small.They also offer a gift card. The people associated with Philanthropediaseem to be mostly drawn from Stanford. I recently interviewed Dawn Kwan, Philanthropedia's Manager of Nonprofit Profiles & Social Cause Expansion.

What is your sustainability model? Where do your revenues come from?
Currently, we are grantees of the Hewlett Foundation. One part of our sustainability model is to eventually rely on donors to donate to us through the website to support further research. Currently, ~60% of our donors also donate something to Philanthropedia during the time of their transaction. We are also considering other revenue streams such as partnering with community foundations or other groups to sponsor future social cause research. 

How many donors have used you? How much money has been given?
Since our official launch on November 2, 2009, we have 145 donors and raised almost $3,000 in donations. 

Are you in the black? What does the future look like given current trends in attracting donors?
We are in the black and are optimistic that after only 2 weeks of having a live website, we'll be able to reach many more donors and raise thousands of dollars on behalf of the top nonprofits we highlight on our website. We're ramping up our outreach during the holiday season and launched a gift card this week for holiday shoppers interested in giving a charitable gift. We think that during this economic downturn, it's more important than ever that donors think carefully about how to have a bigger impact with their giving.  

Do you see community foundations as collaborators or as competitors?
We see community foundations as collaborators, because we promote the same values and see our efforts as complementary--we both want to focus on strategic giving to maximize the impact of a donation by using expert knowledge about nonprofits. Also, if community foundations are interested in having us explore a certain social cause in their community, they could sponsor our research to find the top expert recommended nonprofits in that area. We want to work with foundations to make good information about nonprofits available to more donors--high net worth donors who are served by community foundation, as well as the many many others not currently plugged into that system.  

Do you have or foresee connections or alliances with gift funds provided through such places as Schwab, Fidelity, Calvert?
We are interested in sharing our product with as many donors as possible. Matching donations and collaborating with financial institutions such as Schwab, Fidelity, and Calvert, are great opportunities that we plan on exploring in the future. 

I have really liked what I have seen of this effort. One counter thought from a marketer's perspective. Many in the field seem to think that the key issue is pairing philanthropic dollars with a specific nonprofit, or program, in a rational way, as would be done by a stock analyst making or recommending an investment in a group of stocks he or she follows. Or, the investing of charitable dollars might be likened, on this vision, to an engineer buying electronic equipment after an extensive due diligence process involving reading Consumer Reports and many other articles, before making an informed purchase on totally rational grounds. But, really, is this how a consumer might purchase a suit, dress, handbag or automobile? How much of our day to day consumer choices are driven by painstaking logic and evidence and how much is driven by whimsy, social identity construction, keeping up the the Jones's, or emotive logic? Does Prada sell handbags on logic alone? I suspect gifts through Philanthropedia would soar if it had a Oprah Winfrey Gift Fund or a Michelle Obama Fund, or a Palin's Picks Fund, or Rick Warren Power of Purposeful Giving Fund, in which the celebrity were the ostensible picker of the underlying charities, though that work might be handled by nameless backroom experts. In other words, the Gift Funds might be branded and sold like any other prestige brand, or green brand, or brand of spirituality. I don't mean this is how it should be, but how in America it is. Given a choice of sweet reason or celebrity endorsement, go with the celeb. Might I suggest, at the risk of seeming to be self serving, a Happy Tutor Fund for the Moral & Intellectual Uplift of the 500 Wealthiest Americans? Bland experts like me could develop the theory of social change, pick the underlying charities, put metrics in place, and evaluate results, but it would be Tutor's unholy charisma and name recognition that would bring in the donors who are passionate about the cause. Tutor's theory of change is brutally simple. "I seek to uplift the moral and intellectual capacities of the 500 wealthiest Americans because it is their stupidity and corruption that has gotten us into this mess. By chastening them, and getting them to give wisely and well, we just might turn this thing around. But step one is beating some sense into them." Not everyone will agree with that assessment but it is a clear brand promise backed by a celebrity presence known to millions. It is worth a shot.

I Who Am Blameless

If you appreciate the writing and hijinks of Diogenes, Rabelais, Erasmus, Dryden, Swift, John Gay, or more recently Oscar Wilde, you become hyper-sensitive to the reality that all discourse has not only an intended audience, not only a payload of "content" to deliver via "style," vehicle or setup, but that all discourse limns, consciously or unconsciously, a speaker. It is a mercy that we have adopted as a polite convention that as an audience we will not become overly conscious of the speaker's foibles, much less his or her vice or folly. We hope that a like courtesy or free pass be accorded to us. In the tradition above speakers fall into the following categories. The categories are not mutually inclusive, but are exhaustive.

  1. Knave (Most advertisers, marketers, pollsters, trusted advisors, pundits, publicists, spokesperson's press secretaries, legal professionals on professional duty fall into the Knave category.)
  2. Rogue (Much like a Knave but playing for another kind of win. Robinhood, Macheath, Mack the Knife, Loki, Hermes, Trickster heroes of all kinds. The Rogue is the white Knight to the Knave's black.)
  3. Dupe (The reading public, voters of both parties, the intended audience of Knaves and Rogues alike. The Knave be-knaves the Dupe to extract personal advantage. The Rogue be-rouges the Dupe in part as an object lesson.)
  4. Courtier (The faithful servant, the employee of the month, the kisser up and the kicker down in any hierarchy, the one who pleads that the dot com bubble and the mortgage crises and the antics of Blackwater in Iraq may have happened on this or her watch, but are not his or her fault, since that is how things were in those days, it was how things were done. Courtiers are generally Knaves, but are worth breaking out as a separate category as their ranks have grown with corporate hierarchies. We used to have few Kingdoms. Now we have many companies. So the opportunities to rise as a courtier are vastly increased.)
  5. Clown (Originally meant a country clown or local yokel, as opposed to the sophisticated Courtier; can also be the funny person who harmlessly amuses people by mugging funny lines with a straight face. Generally a well meaning Dupe.)
  6. Fool (The complement or counter-party to the Dupe. A Dupe who is not all Dupe who plays the Fool to illuminate what the Dupe does not know, when beknaved by the Knave. A counter-party to the Clown, as a clown for a higher purpose. The Fool is surrounded by Courtiers, but while they speak foolish things with a wise face, and vicious things with a face of piety, the Fool speaks bitter truth with a jest, and reminds us of spiritual matters with a ribald prank. The Fool is a special case of the Rogue, a Rogue who is loyal to what matters most, even when it imperils the Fool's own self-interest.)

Now, given that this matrix is, within the satiric genre, inclusive, comprehensive and airtight, where would you place a bit of discourse that is plain-spoken, earnest, and impeccably truthful-sounding? Well, it could fall into any of the categories. Earnest prose from a Dupe - we see that all the time. The best example might be a blue collar worker arguing against the Death Tax. Earnest prose from a Knave, just go through the news channels. Earnest prose from a Courtier? That would be the panel of experts; the work of Frank Luntz; the public service announcement from Wealth Bondage: Brands and Beatings For Better Life in a Better World.  The Clown? Good for a laugh, as with Sitcoms, standup comedians, or late night talk show hosts doing their introductory patter. Has an editor or producer who vets the material with an eye to limits of accetable taste and the needs of the advertisers. The Fool? Vastly under-represented in our public discourse. I say this, of course, like a good Knave, in my own defense. Your Honor, I wish to plead innocent plus extenuating circumstances. I am not nor have I ever been a critic of Wealth Bondage, and if I was I was just drunk, crazy or joking. The Happy Tutor? I do not know the man. I have never partied naked in a Dumpster with my fellow peons to celebrate Philanthropy. My tongue may be black, but I do not drink Thunderbird; I was born with a black tongue. I am what I appear to be, a Happy Dupe, a Faithful Servant, a man more sinned against than sinning, your Honor, though none of us, if it please your Honor, are entirely blameless for the shape this country is in, present company, your Honor, excluded, of course.