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February 2011

Michael Moody's New Role

Michael Moody is now the Frey Chair in Family Philanthropy at the Johnson Center at GVSU in Michigan. For anyone interested in the intersection of the moral, civic, and strategic dimensions of family philanthropy Michael's is a body of work to follow. He now has a blog, with deeply considered posts.

Michael (Dr. Moody) works in the spirit of Robert Payton, with whom he edited a book on philanthropy. I got to know Michael when he worked at the Philanthropic Initiative. "The moral dimension of philanthropy" was our shared interest, following the lead of H. Peter Karoff. This is lonely work in a secular, market driven society. Peter handles it with eloquence veering into poetry. Michael with understated erudtion in the liberal arts. I imitate madmen convincingly for a paycheck, unsuccessfully as a satirist, to delight and instruct my fellow citizens until my limbs are laid in earth. And my recompense is that the Dynastic Families and those serve them call me a bum. Same to you, Buddy!  If I had a dime that would save your life, I'd buy a stick of gum instead. Your whole family could drop dead and it would be of no concern to me. Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations - You think my heart bleeds for you and your family? Try rags from generation to generation since time immemorial. You think you are better'n me? You think rags like mine would dishonor your name? You went to Harvard? You think that proves anything? Get your hands off me. Tell your goons to back off. I will go quietly and beg on some other corner. Sorry, did I spit up blood on your blue blazer? Forgive me. Here let me rub snow on it.

The immoral dimension of philanthropy is a pretty good topic too. (See Michael's, Types of Philanthropic Harm.)

The Author Function, the divine inspiration for this blog, would like to thank Diderot as the primary source for the persona in the latter half of this post, beginning with the phrase, "And my recompense is," up to "The moral dimension of...." The persona before and after that inset mad scene is entirely authentic and sincere:  The real me. A polite dupe, a well meaning stooge. Much like the authentic you, Gentle Reader, in real life, perhaps. The world depends on our staying in role. Knaves, lords, dupes, rogues, fine ladies, doxies, or fools, if we all were to laugh together even once, the whole sorry spectacle would disintegrate. We are all but common clay. Ashes to ashes. Reading Michael is a relief.

"This is What Religion Looks Like" - Clerics chant in the Streets of Wisconsin

From Kim Bobo, head of Interfaith Worker Justice.

Dear friend of justice,

Yesterday I joined religious leaders, organized by the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin, in marching into the Wisconsin Capitol chanting “Tell me what religion looks like..... Thisis what religion looks like!” I have goosebumps remembering the chanting and excitement of the protestors at seeing clergy standing with them.

Religious leaders from across faith traditions are stepping forth and condemning Governor Walker’s outrageous proposals to deny workers the right of collective bargaining. The struggle underway in Madison is spreading to Indianapolis, Columbus and dozens more Capitols. Here’s what you can do:

I am on the Board of IWJ. We are in the process of "branding" this feisty organization. The question is whether such confrontational, religiously informed, pro-labor strategies are an anachronism, or whether they are the leading edge of a new national consciousness about concentrated, and increasingly brutal,  wealth and power. Will we have a new movement towards economic justice, one that is inclusive of low income labor, the educated professionals who were once middle class, religious leaders, and wealthy people of conscience? The odds seem better than they did a few weeks ago.

Life Insurance Plus Guaranteed Life Income Annuity for Charitable Endowment?

Here is an idea that I see taking off. I am interested in hearing from nonprofit people, legal minds, and others, who may have an opinion on whether this idea works, and is "acceptable."

  1. Start with, say, $100,000 in a particular endowment or in the process of being given for endowment
  2. Charity buys life insurance on donor in the amount of $100,000.
  3. Charity also buys a guaranteed life income contract on the donor with the remaining balance of the orginal $100,000.
  4. Charity recieves income for the donor's life. Income depends on donor age. Assume the income in this case is $80,000, which is then used for programs.
  5. At donor's death, income stops, but death benefit kicks in.
  6. End result: We start and end with $100,000 and have had 8% to spend each year.

What sells is that the charity has high current income to spend and the whole thing is guaranteed by the insurance company. In an uncertain time, the charity has the certainty of a regular cash flow for current programs, cash flow that might be higher than the investment policy and spending policy on the money would currently provide.

Thoughts pro and con? Sticking points?

  • In this example, the original $100,000 comes from a donor whose life is insured. The money is brought in with the donor in tow, and the donor is happy.
  • What is the charity wants to do this with a existing pot of money, and a third party merely "lends his life" to be insured for the life insurance and to measure the term of the annuity?
  • In either case, is the arrangement consistent with the organization's investment policy, spending policy, fiduciary responsibilities, and any applicable state law? What the charity is certainly giving up is the potential for growth in the endowed fund.
  • Note that cash flow from a life income annuity consists largely of "return of principal." That principal is eventually replenished, in the sales idea here, by the death benefit. But can the endowment "spend principal"? Under the gift agreement? Under the Iinvestment policy of the endowment? Under state law (UMIFA, UPMIFA)? Can "principal" be redefined to take into account the life insurance death benefit making the fund whole?

For the sake of the field - does anyone have insights into the advisability of this concept? If the issues mentioned above are "flagged" and the charity and the donor like the idea, are we "good to go"?

Linear metrics for nonlinear Predicaments

How to Save the World. He is not writing about Paul Brest, or metrics, but the points apply:

Most of the so-called intractable problems we are now facing (e.g. war, violence, poverty, epidemic disease, and the growing economic, energy and ecological crises) are not ‘problems’ at all, but complex predicaments. The challenges of complex systems are predicaments, not problems, because, since they are not mechanical, they cannot be ‘fixed’ or ’solved’. Alternative, non-mechanistic approaches must be used to deal with them, which is what this article is mainly about.

Why have funders not taken such thoughts to heart?

Social Justice and Non-Violent Regime Change in the US and Abroad, Funded by Ford Foundation in your Dreams

I am involved a little bit (who knows why, except my friend Albert included me) with this group of high level funders:

Welcome to the website for the Global Community of Practice on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace. Our goal is to increase the effectiveness of grantmaking for social justice and peace. We do this by:

  1. Developing new knowledge and tools for doing and measuring the impact of philanthropy for social justice and peace
  2. Influencing the narrative in philanthropy toward support of philanthropy for social justice and peace
  3. Creating and linking a global community of practitioners (people working in philanthropy) who share ideas, support one another’s work and both deepen and expand the practice of philanthropy for social justice & peace

I notice that we are talking about two good things, social justice and peace. We are not talking about revolution, as we see now in the Middle East and toppling of unjust regimes by peaceful means. We are not talking about backing trade uions. We here in the US are still talking, as funders the language of highly educated, meek, rule-following, risk averse, careerist bureaucrats managing small budgets through MBOR (Management by Objective and Results). That we as funders may be swept aside by a torrent of grassroots activism in the streets, or by a resurgent labor movement, has not occurred to us and we would find that prospect threatening to our own privileged position as "funders" and upsetting to our bosses, their board, and their board's friends in Washington. Still, give us the money! We will bend and bow. Give us the money. Just send us the grant guidelines and the metrics. We will stay indoors, at our desk, laboring in Microsoft office, out of trouble, filling in your forms. That should be good for peace, if not justice. At least we will learn how to dummy up the forms to the satisfaction of those set above us - a job skill that will serve us well in business. Trump seeks an apprentice!

How Broke is Wisconsin? Financially, Politically, Morally?

The news is that state and federal government is broke, and so prudence requires eviscerating social safety nets ("entitlements"), while also breaking public unions. When and how did this being broke happen? And did we get broke by chance or choice? In my role in philanthropy I get to work with and talk with the movers and shakers who are richer than ever as the Reagan/Thatcher/Milton Friedman/Chicago School style of disaster capitalism moves forward. Ideas matter and for a generation the ideas that dominate public discourse have been those of unregulated ("Free Wealth Bondage") capitalism The pain that rolls down to the least among us was intended, planned and executed and often enjoyed by those who are not moved to compassion. The strong prevail, the weak perish. Those towards the bottom are taught to kiss up and kick down. We call that the Tea Party. America is only another labor pool, like India. And until labor is broken to work for prevailing global wages, in sweat shop conditions, with minimal environmental protection, management and capital will say we are broke and must cut, shift jobs off shore, eliminate safety nets and take other emergency measures to insure optimal return on invested capital. To preserve appearances, we (corporate ideologues, aka Bus School Professors) will talk of Shared Value Creation and Social Ventures and Balanced Scorecards, all meaning that corporations can be released on their own recognizance to do what government might once have done before it became subordinated to business. Shared Value creation means: Trust Wall Street - you don't need justice, or unions, or philanthropy. Trust global business for global business is altogether benign and includes all good things within it, and will rule you and serve you, and employ you, and entertain you, and inspire you, and brand you, and give you fries with it too! The main thing when the country is broke is to extend tax cuts for high income earners, reduce estate taxes to preserve and grow dynastic wealth.

Where will we find the moral and intellectual capital to reframe the Reagan/Thatcher/Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama worldview in which rights are diminished, wars exhaust our treasury, and Wall Street rules benevolently: both the reciever of tribute (bailouts) and the distributor of largesse (shared value).

Faith traditions, the liberal arts, and the recalcitrant voices of the well and truely educated who are now marginalized - that is where I turn, without hope, for Camus said, in a book devoted to the question, why not suicide, "Live without hope for hope would be hope for the wrong thing." I have no hope that we will rescue ourselves, or our states or country, from our moral and intellectual, much less financial and political bankruptcy. But hope is not needed. Self respect is enough to stiffen the back.

(This post is a response to Wisconsin's crisis of cash, governance, and conscience. A federal and state crisis built to purpose and well funded for decades now by those who profit from it. The role of philanthropy is now this: The broke succor the broke while the rich walk off with all else including the intellectual, media, and political resources needed to frame the debate. Thanks, Bill, message received. Sign me up for the course on tough love. What the poor need most is a good lecture on their moral responsibility.) 

Our Noble Trade Secrets Revealed

I have to say that something about that article on the recent efflorescence of political satire seemed a little off to me. It suggested that satire, which is a form of humor, was very important, yet the article was entirely in earnest. We know the importance of being earnest is a well-established principle in the highest satiric circles, but only if the earnest one is actually Earnest, not someone who is really, say, Bunburry. So I went to our resident expert in satire, Dr. Amrit Chadwallah, and asked for his exegesis, which was as follows:

Consistency of word self and world, Phl, is what satire is all about. That was the ancient meaning of “truth” both the correspondence of word and self and of word and world.  We achieve consistency ("Live in Truth") as satirists in impersonating (c.f., "mimesis" as mimicry or mummery) a knave lying to a dupe, or a dupe repeating the knave’s soundbites, or as a fool celebrating folly, or a rogue beating a knave at the knave's own game. All of  this is funny, in the Carnevelesque sort of way discussed in Bakhtin's definitive study of the writer and physician, Rabelais, though the lies and duplicity were in deadly earnest, now as in the time of Stalin, in all societies going back to Rome or Greece.  To describe the plague does not cure it, even diagnosing it does not cure it. The best prescription for lies and hypocrisy is laughter in which we include ourselves, for we are at best the wounded healer, the carrier of the contagion we seek to cure. If humor does not cure a pandemic of hypocrisy, burning a scapegoat will. Just be careful, Phil, you don't put your own foot wrong. Nothing funny about Wikileaks, for example, or Assange being in jail for outing hypocrisy in high places. Best keep a straight face and have your wits about you at all times. Mum's the word.

Thanks, I said. So earnestness born of duplicity, complicity, and intimidation is the disease for which we seek the cure? And you good Dr. are deadly earnest about that? He got huffy and walked off muttering, "I cannnot teach you a thing!" I meant it as a joke, but I guess he didn't find it funny. Well, back to work. I have a white paper to write for Mistress Candidia on Shared Value Creation. She is proposing that Wealth Bondage Security Forces be put in charge of invading Canada, to prevent Socialism from creeping in across our borders. And that is no joke. Without infiltrators from Canada we would never have socialized medicine.

Religious Leaders Condemn Attacks on Public Workers

Interfaith Worker Justice:

Teachers, police officers, fire fighters, public health workers, and other public employees providing vital services to our communities are under attack, falsely blamed for state budget problems. The primary cause of state budget problems is the downturn in the economy, caused by Wall Street abuses and risky practices, not the salaries of public sector workers. The economic downtown has meant that states receive less in tax revenues from workers and businesses. Attacking public sector workers, who did not create these problems, threatens to raise unemployment.

The catrasophe has some wealthy funders raising their glasses in salute of the think tank thinkers who made this attack on public workers thinkable. I hope that in some small way Gifthub has done its bit for the ruling class. Without enormous and growing wealth disparities, the market for philanthropic services would be imperiled. The value of clerics' opinions, I have found, is equal to what they are paid for them. In ideas you get what you pay for. If I wanted to hear a sermon, I would go to church. Hey, if you are poor, try prayer. There may be justice in heaven. For now, starve in the street.