As a reporter for The Chronicle of Philanthropy's Give and Take, you are sitting, knees crossed, and back straight, in a public relations event promoting a Double Bottom Line Social Venture Bakery in Detroit. From the window you can glimpse a prison looming like a fortress. The meeting is run by a Harvard MBA employed by Beaverton Social Venture Foundation funded with money from a Wall Street Wizard, Boverton Beaver, who made his billions buying and selling weapons manufacturing companies, including one that specializes in anti-personnel land-mines made to look like children's toys. He also served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and as a lobbyist for a defense contractor. He was indicted for fraud, but found innocent via a hung jury after a prolonged trial costing millions to litigate. He is best known for his trophy wife, a former Ms. Nude Miami Beach, now on the Board of a Conservative Think Tank, and for his contribution to the theory and practice of social venture philanthropy.
The bakery employs ex-cons and teaches them the skills needed to get a job: sweeping up, slicing bread, stoking the coal oven, running a cash register, and waiting on tables in the bakery's cafe. The artisanal breads are sold to wealthy friends of the funder. The loaves come with a picture on the wrapper of an ex-con smiling ingratiatingly and holding out a loaf of white bread in his black hand. The MBA is going over what she is calling "the balanced scorecard," showing how many ex-cons get jobs, what the bakery costs, what it earns, how much profit is makes, how much money it saves in social services. She is working her way towards the line called, "Total Net Social Return on Investment," some staggeringly large number, supported by 200 pages of spreadsheets and several metaphors. The cash on cash bottom-line shows that Boverton's Foundation is making 8% ("a Program Related Investment" as the MBA explains.) The Mayor who is active promoting "three strikes and you are out" legislation, and who owns a significant interest in the local for-profit prison business is next on the agenda, to give an award to his friend, and political funder, Boverton Beaver, for service to the community.
An ungainly Stranger, in a white leisure suit, neck open to the waist, bell-bottoms swinging, rises from the back of the room to say, "You know, my Fellow Friends of Philanthropy, I notice that all the ex-cons with brooms and other signs of servitude are black or brown. Talking to a few it was mostly crack that put them behind bars, and petty crimes. Yet, I notice that you, Boverton Beaver, have a daughter in rehab. I am glad for her that her needs are met, and crimes, if any mitigated. And you, Mayor, wasn't your wife at that clinic in the Hamptons? Boverton, what is the double bottom line on those land-mines you manufactured, that now litter Afghanistan? How do you net money and mayhem? And those sweat-heart deals with your cronies in DC? What was the Social Return on that? Has anyone asked whether giving these penny-ante felons a crappy job after 20 years in the slammer, is tantamount to justice? Maybe we got the right bars and the wrong gaolers? Maybe we trade sides, Boverton, and you and our Mayor push those brooms? And the ex-cons make money, 8% cash on cash, on your back and they call it philanthropy?"
Of course the Stranger is hustled out by the Security Guards. "Don't tase me, Bro!," the Stranger exclaims, before he starts screaming. As the door slams, the MBA swishes her fine mane of black hair and says, "Excuse me for the interruption. Where was I? O, yes, the balanced scorecard and our Social Return on Investment."
Suddenly, the Stranger, beaten, bloody, his white leisure suit torn, patches of it smoking, staggers back into the hall - "The scorecard? Balanced? Stacked, maybe, not balanced." Then the room goes black. There are confused sounds of a crowd trampling on each other headed for the Emergency Exits. When the lights come on, there you are, in the empty hall, wondering what you will write for the Chronicle. Something upbeat, something balanced, like that scorecard? Something noncommittal? Or a puff piece about Boverton Beaver? My suggestion is this: Ask your immediate supervisor for guidance. Keep your nose clean and your mouth shut. It is better to err on the side of caution, or like that Stranger, you might find yourself in small dark hole. He will be lucky if they even let him out to push a broom some day in that bakery he defiled with speech so open in a world so closed. Remember, the most important thing in any piece about philanthropy is what you know damn well, and refrain from writing.