Previous month:
February 2012
Next month:
April 2012

March 2012

Legacy Planning as Life Stage

I am reading Erik Erikson and Thomas Merton, too, all of which leads to a deeper reflection on "spiritual autobiography," or the gospels of wealth. I am struck by these thoughts:

  • The younger will have a hard time understanding the developmental and financial needs of clients at an age and stage beyond that of the planner, unless the planner has moral imagination (the chances of which are slim given the state of the liberals arts).
  • A planner age 35-55, say, may be himself (or herself) planning for needs and wants in a condition of felt scarcity. The range of effective sympathy are self and family, with a nod towards God and Country. The criterion of success is more.
  • A client or donor age 55-70 may have that stage of life (generativity, having kids, building a career, getting more) successfully and conclusively wrapped up. He or she may have moved on to the stage at which we look back on life to make sense of what has been accomplished so that we may look forward in hope, for ourselves, family and mankind. Erickson calls this final life work, "Integrity vs Despair" and sees its finest fruit as Wisdom, or what a Catholic might call "the discernment of spirits." Reminiscence and story telling, or today building a Facebook page, or putting together a video of oneself, or hiring a ghostwriter, are ways to create this sense of closure, of what Frank Kermode, the great literary critic, called, "The Sense of an Ending."
  • For the self-seeking planner, who considers himself or herself a fiduciary of the client's self (defined by the planner as the economic self-seeking self) a plan can only be successful if it has benefits for the client that outweigh the costs. That is what the planner would want for himself. And the planner has no intution that anything lies beyond self-seeking in his or her own development. That recognition will come later, in its own crisis of identify. So philanthropy, at this stage, when the planner is still building his or her own success, is seen as an indirect and generally unsuccessful attempt to come out ahead. The planner is stuck and bewildered because he cannot figure out a) how he comes out ahead and b) how the client does. Beyond that he sees only confusion and sentiment. Giving will result in less!
  • For the older and more spiritually mature client or donor who is seeking an Hegelian synthesis of Despair and Integrity, who wants his or her life to turn out whole, to have a happy ending, to have been lived as if on purpose, who wants to return to the world of love and spirit what was drawn from love and spirit, as the flesh must return to dust, drawn from the dust; for such a client self seeking outcomes proposed by the planner cause only Despair. These false solutions, no matter how technically brilliant, retard the growth of the client and pull (dare I say this?) the client or donor down to the planner's own level, an earlier - one might say more rudimentary - age and stage of the life cycle. Less is more, but the planner does not see it.
  • Philanthropy in the final phase is service: letting go the isolate ego, welcoming the loss of control, as control passes to those the giver has mentored, to whom he or she she has passed on the virtues of wealth, as genes are passed on, as literary and spiritual traditions are passed on, as communities live in us and through us. Identify like lanaguage is social. Identity is negotiated and must pass current or it is counterfeit. We live on by dying to our isolate selves. Unless we die to ourselves during our lives our ultimate death is final and is rightly approached in fear, despair, and denial. The fruit falls and rots. The seeds may live on. Though they too can shrivel, dying long before the fruit falls. He who would find himself must lose himself.

So there is the soul. So where is the sale? I can tell you - actually in great detail. But until you find the soul of it, the sale of it will never follow. The first sale is always to yourself. You cannot sell what you have not bought, and if your soul has not been formed, you can't make the soul/soul, the ultimate gift or sale, to another. In giving, it is always, "You go first." And, "Physician heal thyself," or "Salesman sell thyself." Erikson calls this integrity or congruence, or one might call it authenticity or alignment.

On another note, I am impressed that Erikson quotes George Bernard Shaw to the effect that "the clown is often the best part of the circus." Laughter, Fred, is the best medicine, which is why a good Christian always laughs uncontrollably in church. I am serious. I do it all the time. Or did until they barred the door.


How to Think about Income Inequality without Getting Upset or Upsetting your Superiors

Good article from a conservative viewpoint in National Affairs. The tone can be conveyed by this, Clearly, then, America is neither an oligarch's paradise nor a seething cauldron of class resentment. It is just better for oligarchs than it was and getting better all the time; and the cauldron of resentment between the 99% and the 1% is at least simmering hot enough to draw conservative reframings and rebuttals. Looking at the authors' graph of income inequality over time,you have to ask if the Great Society programs did work after all and whether the rise in income inequality thereafter is a result of the Reagan/Thatcher viewpoint so prevalent even now. The cause of income inequality is unregulated global capitalism?

God Revealed to the Man a Dark Suit

Reflections on God Revealed, Fred Sievert's site (by one who once reported to someone who reported to someone who reported to someone who reported to someone who reported to Fred, before Fred was promoted).

Dr. Paul Shervish from Boston College is a former Jesuit, whose first book was entitled, Gospels of Wealth: How the Rich Portray their Lives. He suggests that we all need to connect "moral compass" and "financial capacity" in how we portray our lives. As we tell our life story, he says, we are seeking to make sense of what we have lived, to see how it orients to a value, a moral quest, a "due north." It is not just that we were successful, the wealthy say, we deserved to be so, it was God's will, God's grace, his guiding hand.

I was raised Catholic. In a child's reading of the Gospels Jesus was not a success. He was born poor and went down from there, to the most abject and shameful death. He said if we wanted to find him we would find him among the poor. If faith does not shake us awake and make us ashamed of what we have been, at how we lived our lives, then how can we repent, reform, and be forgiven? That, I am told by my Protestant theologian friends, is so Catholic as to pitiful. I should be reading Bunyon's Pilgrims Progress, not the Purgatorio.

But I am wondering, if God Revealed is a Gospel of Wealth, and if all good stories have a moral, and some even have a turning point, and a moment of recognition, what is the moral? What is the central recognition? And what was the turning point?

Fred Sievert at New York Life had gravitas. A tall deep voiced man, "good with numbers," and a head as bald a Kojack, he could strike fear into a room full of executives with one word, "results?" As in where are they? Yet while he took the role and his responsibilities seriously, he did not take himself seriously. When it comes to faith, I wonder, if God Revealed will be funny at all? (Serio ludere, serious play?) If Fred could chop carrots in a chef's toque at New York Life, and run along the beach at a life insurance convention in a black suit, in what get up could be proclaim his next revelation? OK, a black suit, but with what kind of hat?

Voluntary Association as Seedbed of Self-Governance

The increasingly dominant, or domineering, school of philanthropy says that it is all about getting results, or outcomes, with the most efficient application of resources. Essentially, this is this the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham, as interpreted through business and governmental logic. Charities must compete in a social capital market as vendors might in delivering a measurable service. Whether the money comes through government grants and contracts, or through vouchers, or through gifts (social investments), it is all about measurable results. That view leads to the professionalisation of nonprofits, as they attempt to "grow to scale" and be high performing and high impact in a world of paperwork, business plans, metrics.

Another view, though, is that voluntary association is how, beyond family, we learn to manage ourselves, to care about others, and do our bit for something larger. That we are often confused, ineffectual and fumbling is not suprising - we are learning the arts of citizenship, as we take on new roles, whether volunteer, treasurer, vice president, or president of some small organization driven by an ideal. Do such orgs get results? They make us better people, does that count?

In the most sophisticated philosophies descending from Bentham, the results are measured within "states of affairs." The state of affairs consists of agent, action, and result.  All of that is encompassed and measured. What kind of person? What kind of process? What result? If the goal is a better world, and if we dehumanize ourselves in the process, have we succeeded? (See Amartya Sen.) John Stuart Mill, whose father drove him in the Benthamite way to get results, results, results,  eventually had a nervous breakdown. He credits reading Wordsworth with his personal resurrection. 

It is difficult, and insulting, to say to these MBAs so driven to get results that they drive their fellow citizens into hierarchies of cubicles, into the Weberian "iron cages" of bureaucracy, that they are in themselves, in their own persons, in their ethos and language, in their utilitarian view of humankind, the proof case for how wrong, how life denying, their practical philosophy is. What matter "results" if we become so stunted?

MBA s are the new colonialists. They would reduce the organic life world to an enterprise that they must manage. On the poetry of the native peoples, and their freely formed association, the MBA would impose the antiseptic language of the empire. We are supposed not to notice who prospers in this extractive regime bent on results. Who lives highest on which hog? Who does the work? Who bosses whom? Who makes the money? The result that MBAs crave is preferment, power, and wealth. The rest is the means of obtaining it. When they say, "We want results," you can be sure that what they will next expect is control. Whether that leads to results for society in the end is secondary, for the real result sought is power. Democracy? It has become a market to be gamed and managed.

Anyway, Bill Schambra is sayiing similar things, only (can you believe it?) with greater moderation. Great piece here.


Philanthropic Fundraising for Those in Private Jets

There are in this world those who are managed and those who manage. Among the managed populations are, the poor, employees, prisoners, clients, and donors. All are handled as they are moved effectively and efficiently through a repeable and optimized process. The process has inputs, outputs, and outcomes. The process is run by MBAs and is of course dehumanizing. The cost of dehumanization is covered under Medicare and Medicaid and most employer provided health plans, under drugs for depression. Also, dehumanization costs are built into prison funding. So, in that sense the costs are also benefits to GNP which is the best measure of societal success. The bigger GNP the better!

Let us consider philanthropic fundraising on analogy with air travel. You line up and you and your baggage are processed effectively and efficiently for the convenience and profitabilty of the airlines. Whether you get peanuts, and how many is ultimately decided by the higher ups, and is factored into the spreadsheet and yield management systems.

Your better customers and clients, the high net worth and high income clients, can go first class. They too are handled and processed for the benefit of the owners of the airline, profitably, and that means effectively and efficiently within a routine, reliable, and repeatable process, just a better one. They get wine as an amenity; you pay for wine. They get a hot meal. You get a Deluxe Turkey Carver Sandwich, or a MegaBite Chocolate Chip Cookie for the lowest possible price at which a profit can be made by the airline, based on its hurdle rate and cost of capital.

Yet, bypassing this system of being managed for the benefit of the owner are - surprise surprise! - the owners themselves. Those who own and operate Wealth Bondage Worldwide fly not first class but in a private jet. They fly when they want, where they want, in splendid hassle free solitude. This is the reward for hard work and success managing industry, the nonprofit sector, and our government. We in philanthropic planning call these make it or break clients and donors Hyperagents, or Sir or Mistress. We call them whatever they want us to call them, if we are lucky enough to be in their presence, for they are surrounded by gatekeepers.

Ask yourself, if you are a fundraiser whether your gift planning process, your gift pipeline, is managed for the benefit of the managers (your boss and institution) or whether it is managed for the benefit of the client or donor. Ideally, your process will be like air travel. For the coach passengers you will have direct mail and other routinized, annoying, and dehumanizing, but efficient and effective processes that maximize the outputs and outcomes and minimize the inputs. That will drive down overhead and make you a high performing high impact organization and earn you the attention of Strategic Venture Funders, perhaps via a Giving Intermediary that measures charities objectively and has ranked you at the top of the list, based on business like criteria, so we can do analysis, like a stock fund manager or a hedge fund investor.  

But remember, Dummy! The owner class themselves, are not subject to their own rules and do not respond well to being treated as they treat others, or as the systems of which they are the head, or into which they invest their funds, treat others. They are not cattle, servants, employees, stooges, muppets, pidgeons, marks, human resources, or chumps, like us. They are owners, and in the upper levels, Hyperagents. They create the reality within which we dwell. They create their own reality too in which they dwell. And their reality does not feel or taste or look the same as anything within our direct experience. There is Reality I for the managed. That is your daily bread. Then there is Reality II for the upper income managers and the owners of no big deal businesses. Then there is Reality III for the owners and the owners of the owners, the market makers, the market shakers, the market takers, the too big and too connected to fail. Reality II is the upgrade on your airline. Reality III is the purchaser of your airline. Reality I is succeeding by doing as told by a manager until you are rendered redundant. Reality II is succeeding in a market. Reality III is creating, mastering, and if need be rigging a market.

Your highest level fundraising should equate not to first class, but to the private jet.

In routine travel, the airlines decide what destinations to serve, by what route. In philanthropic fundraising, the Hyperagent client or donor decides what he or she will accomplish via your institution. They leverage you, not the other way around. Unless you get that and serve that they will find others who will.

What do the Hyperagents want? They want precisely what we all want. The difference is that they are in a position to demand it, and to get it. What they want is the following process.

  1. Listen to my life story.
  2. Find meaning in my life story and inspiration.
  3. Reflect back to me my own greatness (as a manager, investor, human).
  4. Connect your institution in a meaningful way to the amazing story of me.
  5. Provide me with a way of amplifying my life story by creating amazing results - the world I want! My world! My Way!
  6. Be accountable. To whom? To me!
  7. Be my steward. Be my servant. Serve whom? Serve me! And in so doing serve God and Humanity, for I am Me, to whom God has vouchsafed his Mission on Earth.
  8. Report back frequently on your success in creating The World We Want. "We" in the Royal Plural.
  9. Show me that my investment in creating The World We Want is paying dividends, that my social investment is high performing, that my program or project has high Social Return on Investment.
  10. Reflect back to me my self image. If I am Christian let me feel the Christiananness of the process! Live the values! If I am a business person, talk to me in business language. If I am a Buddhist Billionaire, talk business with a Buddhist tilt.
  11. Offer to write my Gospel of Wealth with me. "As told to." Make it so that my children and spouse love me. Make it so my life had meaning. Make it so God loves me as his emissary on earth. Make it so I am special, now forever and always. Make it so the conscience is quiet. Make it so the scales stay tight upon my eyes. Make it so the world changes, not me.

We have been using the airline analogy. But you are not some clerk, are you? You are not the baggage handler? You are not the uniformed gate agent, who speaks in the passive? "We are experiencing travel related delays. We are experiencing a gate change. We are experiencing a lost baggage situation...." No! You are more like a serving professional, as am I; and in upper level fundraising you might liken it to a country club. The servers do not wear name tags, unlike in places serving the middle class and the merely affluent. In a country club the servers know the guests by first name. The guests know the servers by first name. The guests ask about the server's children, how they are doing, etc. We have a relationship. We are Trusted Servers. We are like family, in a way, or like the Trusted Servants and long term Retainers in Shakespeare, reflecting a just Feudal Order, reporting up to a Virgin Queen (My Mistress!). We provide a good experience reflecting back to guests their good taste, humanity and decency. Our easy deference confirms the social order, the great chain of being, where all creatures large and small fill their alloted space. We do provide a menu, but we, through the chef are happy to cook something to order.

Now, if you get this, does your boss at the institution for which you raise funds? If you are a fundraiser and are capable of rising to the level of private jet services, or a meal cooked to order in the country club, or to laws passed via a Congressman purchased through a Superpac, or a law passed by Supreme Court Justices whose spouses on the are payroll of the funder, does your organization allow you to provide such special service for such special donors? If the answer is no, then you are not in the game. You don't even know there is a game, much less where the game is played, or the rules of the game. You cannot manage these hyperagents to fit your process. They will manage you, because they own you, and they own the game within which you and your organization are chips, representing an investment. They are hyperagents and they by defintion create the reality within which others operate, whether through philanthropy, business, or government. They might likened not to a poor priest in some South American village shot dead by who knows whom for promoting social reform, but to the Pope who speaks ex Cathedra and shakes the hands of Presidents, Dictators, and Tsar's.

We all have to adjust. Morals Tutoring, my area of special expertise, has evolved to meet market needs. Having set up to provide morals coaching for hyperagents, and finding there were no takers at any price, including free, and having been beaten almost to death, over and over, for my (perceived) insolence, I have now found success offering coaching to losers like you. The wealthy are happy to subsidize the moral reform of their servants, the imprisoned, their employees, even their children who are a constant sorepoint. So, business is picking up. As an outcome of the inputs, this post (my output) should pretty well reform your life. I will be around to check to make sure it has. My hyperagent clients expect the best from you. Now get out there and do it. The World We Want, won't wait.  

Fithian Award from Advisors in Philanthropy

Along with Charles Collier Senior Philanthropic Consultant for Harvard, I have somehow been honored with the Fithian Award at Advisors in Philanthropy. Scott Fithian led the way in values based planning until his premature death. Charles Collier sets the highest standard for philanthropic fundraising. To be mentioned in such a context is an undeserved honor.  However, please do not assume that Gifthub is an honorable sort of place. That would only make you crazy. Here on the Corner of Wealth and Bondage, in my dumpster, I am just doing my job on behalf of my generous patron, she who rules us all. I am her fiduciary, her homme de confiance, her trusted advisor, her philanthropic consultant, and man of all work. Higher than that in life I dare not aspire. We all work on a leash so that we can be managed for the greater good of the owners. Some of us adjust better than others. I myself find it feels like Freedom.

Fred Sievert's New Website, God Revealed

I worked for many years at New York Life, where Fred rose to being the President. As a business leader he was remarkable not only for his ability to institute systems and manage people, and for the lasting  results he achieved, but also for his humor and humanity. Retiring from the company, he took a degree from Yale Divinity School. Now, he has put his life journey on line, at God Revealed, documenting his encounters with God, in moments from ordinary life, where time and eternity intersect. This urge to tell our life story, to see it as a journey with redeeming purpose, to bear witness, is so strong. Here is a numbers guy, a math major, an actuary, a former Comptroller, and what he has to tell us is that the bottom-line is the storyline and that the story hinges on intangibles, what cannot be managed or measured, but which can only be cultivated.

John Gay's epitaph, in the spirit of Diogenes, predating Oscar Wilde, penned by Gay's friend, Alexander Pope:

Life is a jest, and all things show it,
I thought so once, and now I know it.

That too is God talk. Remember man that thou art dust.

Ethical Will as Sick Joke

John, a distant relative left me his entire estate in his ethical will, amounting to several million dollars. I was distressed to learn later that in his actual legal will he left all to his moronic daughter. Asked about this, John's attorney told me, "John had a sense of humor; he left via his ethical will the same millions to about three hundred people, over and over. Contemptus Mundi, John used to say, signing these letters with malicious glee." I guess the point of an ethical will, then, is to pass on ethical lessons. Point taken. I have learned mine.