Generations of Giving Feed

The New Face of Giving

Nice upbeat piece in USA Today on "The New Face of Giving":

Young people are "not just making checks and going on with their lives. They want to be part of what happens" to their money, says Claire Gaudiani of the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University. She says today's young people contribute to favorite causes earlier, more consistently and in more imaginative ways than their grandparents did.

Perspectives from the Pipline

Rosetta Thurman blogs at Perspectives from the Pipeline:

Rosetta Thurman is an emerging nonprofit leader of color sharing career advice, management resources and fresh ideas to inspire others in their work. A prolific writer, speaker, trainer, and consultant, Rosetta has been quoted in articles about the nonprofit sector in the Washington Post, Nonprofit Quarterly, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Rosetta is also an Adjunct Professor teaching nonprofit management at Trinity University in DC

Millennials Sap Boomer Morale

Carla Dearing on how Millennials are always well-connected online, but not to their increasingly bewildered elders. Compare her take to that of Jean Russell (born 1972). When will the internet live up to its potential for social organizing? When the Boomers sign off, hand off, move along, or die off. Today reminds me of when keyboards came into the executive suite around 1982 with the IBM PC. Many an exec could not type, and never learned, they just gradually phased into irrelevance. Today the leaders in giving are "too busy," etc. to have learned the net. So Milennials must "route around the damage," gently ignoring the elder-leaders who communications strategies now seem archaic. If, as an organizer, you plan an event and want to keep people in conversation before and after, you have to look at the ages. If the Boomers predominate, you might as well use email, since anything more elaborate like blogs, wikis, on line communities, will flop. Yet, the Boomers still have the money, the contacts with money, the institutional memory, and the organizational authority. So, we must slow down technologically to the slowest in the group, the elders, the leaders, the experts. I am afraid the only solution is a generational change that I myself may not live to experience.

"Be the Change" Means "Boomers be Gone!"

A fascinating post by Jean Russell (born 1972) about which generation (mine or hers) is the change we seek. Jean is writing about our mutual friend, and boomer generation social change activist, Tracy Gary. Jean is wondering how the elders who have seen the promised land will pass over, or if we can.  Jean thinks not, though she has that gentle Millennial kindness, the sweetness not to hurry her well-meaning elders along, knowing that our time is basically over.

What Jean senses, correctly, I believe, is that we Boomers will not be able to evolve fast enough to remain fully present. We are already history. I had been thinking about this myself. (Jean and I are trading emails about how to create learning communities online and off around giving. What she understands is that we elders can't.) I had decided that I was living in two worlds, Jean's and Tracy's. Online my friends are mostly of Jean's age and ethos. They let me be myself. They get that one person who is fully authentic and transparent needs at least 44 pseuds to body forth the authentic core self.  In the so-called real world, the influentials are mostly my age and I have to pretend to be a pompous ass to fit in with the prevailing ethos, the proven best practices. At my age, you are supposed to stand convicted of your sorry past. You are supposed to stand with that little sign that criminals hold up with the name and a reference number for your corporate photo. You have to have a resume that the boss can validate. You have to be accountable at all times. How can we get social change when our generation thinks like that?

Recently, at a meeting of family foundation elders and children, we discussed the change of generational consciousness. It was kind of fun and kind of scary. The twenty somethings were so polite and silent as the elders spoke, or orated, or opined, or pontificated. The children were invisible, just listening to the certainties.  But when I asked the younger people  if they lived on line and if they felt their way of looking at money and philanthropy was a new peer to peer consciousness, they all smiled and looked at each other, and the room came alive.  The parents were clueless and fell silent. As moderator, I let it run just long enough so the parents could feel the "family" that these children shared: They were members of the global online tribes.  I recognized that mentoring the young might be a bit presumptuous.  We had better, especially when it comes to topics like building learning communities, start taking our cue from the young. They are the change, whether we seek it or not.

Much too nice, the lot of them for my taste, but at least as they wheel me into the sunshine, they are respectful of my old bald head, covering it with a straw hat, so I look like a proper scarecrow. They are the nicest pallbearers a man might wish, or a planet.

Human Flourishing in a Constitutional Republic

Jay Hughes is the best read and most cultured and probably the wisest of those writing about wealth in families. He has taken certain concepts (such as human flourishing and systems of governance) from political and moral philosophy, along with sources in psychology, religion, and literature to create both a vision and a methodology for perpetuating dynastic families. The truth is that this is an aristocratic vision going all the way back, and honorably so, to Aristotle's Ethics and Politics. What Jay helps wealthy families see is that their success is not just perpetuating the family wealth, but optimizing the family's lived life, their human potential, or human capital. So he talks in terms of developing each family member as a family asset. This means nurturing and cultivating human excellence, productivity, virtue, and wisdom. It also means, I would imagine, getting Junior elected to the Senate, and having Sister run the Family-Owned Bank, and Uncle run the NY Times, and so on, so that the family weaves itself into the power centers of our society in such a way as to become puissant and indomitable. From family, to clan, to dynasty. Aristocracy at its best works like that. At its worst such a system devolves into an Oligarchy, or Plutocracy. And in the ambit of these increasingly concentrated and interwoven power systems comes putsch, silent takeover, gilded lies backed by force, or Tyranny.

My question is this: Can we replant Jay's insights back into their native soil, that of the theory and practice of a just society? Can we ask what it would take not just for some disproportionately wealthy families to flourish, but what it would take for all families to flourish, whether they wear shirtsleeves or ermine?

If the goal is widespread human flourishing, up and down the social hierarchy, and if philanthropy, and personal leadership, and public service, are among the levers, and if social investing or mission aligned investing, and local organizing, and political action of informed citizens are among the levers, then we finally have a topic comprehensive enough to offer potential solutions.

With Catherine Austin Fitts I am trading ideas on mission investing, centered on not only giving but also on economic returns, and also on spiritual and humane social capital widely dispersed. I have learned from Jay how to help families last as economic and social forces for generations, "lest they go from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." (Becoming in the process much like you or me, as horrifying as that might seem to our dynastic clients.) From Catherine, I am a learning how ordinary people can prosper, even when their efforts are sabotaged by those in high places (be they dynasts or parvenus) who have every advantage, including wealth, political power, secrecy and sometime access to illicit force, and who may act as parasites, or tapeworms, upon or within the body politic, flourishing at our expense.

Of course, it matters whether the "dynasty" an advisor seeks to preserve is a restaurant owning family in Smallville, a farm in Nebraska, a locally owned bank in Canton, or a multi-billion dollar family firm with tentacles in think tanks, media, politics and the like. If we are to build and preserve thriving dynasties, I hope they are small, local, and community-spirited. To that effort I lend, and Catherine, I believe, would lend a willing hand.  And in fact while that (the world of small town entrepreneurial families)  is not Jay's world, it is the world of most wealth advisors and attorneys who read his work.  Philanthropy embedded in community, responsive to ethical, humane, spiritual and democratic traditions, in which families give back to help others flourish as they have flourished; well, that is part of the good life in a just society. That is maybe how Aristotle translates in a Constitutional Republic in which we all have an equal right to the pursuit of happiness, or human flourishing, in our families great and small, whether in pinstripes or work-shirts.  It would also be  interesting to hear from Bill Schambra on such themes. 

An Indigent Father's Advice to His Grown Children

Dear Children, Hope of my Old Age:

As you know, I have pretty much wasted my life in the liberal arts and in morals consulting to wealthy people who have zero interest in improving their morals. They go for liposuction, tummy tuck, PR makeovers, hair transplants, upscaling their spouse, or for personal trainers, dancing masters, tennis coaches, and life coaches, or for therapy, or for alternative healers, but they have no interest in buffing or burnishing their moral character per se, unless they have gone to jail and need something to show the parole board, and even then it is mostly about appearances. So, rather than pass on our family values to you, which would only perpetuate misery, I make a plea in your own best interest. Now that you are out of college and had a chance to see how the world works,

  1. Go to Business School to get your MBA, or
  2. Go to Law School, or
  3. Study Accounting or Finance, or failing that,
  4. Become a Fabulist (speech-writer, think thank thinker, publicist).

These are "coin of the realm." The market, the courts, financial statements, the management of money, or the management of public opinion are great goods - imperishable and always in season. Religion, if any, and taste, and wisdom,  or civic spirit, if any, are best left for your own private time with family and friends. If you follow the above advice you will have what is called a "Journey from Success to Significance." Given your ill-considered liberal arts education to date, that phrase may strike you as kitschy, and hopelessly almost tragically under-educated. So call it something else. The point being, kids, get rich first. The significance part is for later, if ever. Get yours first. And please budget a little for my old age. I don't see the morals consulting gig going anywhere good. And with the delirium tremens and with the $1,000 I owe at 38% per annun to the Pierre Omidyar's Social Loan Sharking Venture for the abscessed tooth I had extracted (an operation not to be repeated since it was my last tooth), my future is not what I had hoped it would be, when I first set out to be a Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families.

Children: Remember, "Charity starts at home." A few thousand a year in my case from both of you (that is, say, $5,000 each, more when you can afford it) would make all the difference. My life has amounted to nothing, but the advice I give you now has cost me a world of hurt and is as good as gold. This sorrowful wisdom is your only inheritance. Yet, invest it wisely and you shall be rich beyond measure.

God bless, and please send money,

Your devoted Father.

The Generations Just Get Nicer as They Go Along

Mr. Trexler riffs brilliantly on a Gifthub post on generational differences in activism and giving. Actually, for the record, I am pleased and proud my own kids turned out to be every bit as nice as the nice people their age blogging about philanthropy. My kids tell me, "What can we do, Dad? Protest does not work any more." I agree, we can do nothing, kids, get on with your job, career, romantic life, and next vacation.  If the world goes as it is, these may be the years you look back on as surreal - when there were polar bears roaming the ice flows, when bees flew from hives, when tap water was potable, when $4 dollars bought a gallon of gas, and when speech was relatively free. As would any parent, I take pride my kids' achievements, and am glad they stay out of trouble with the authorities.  I would be pleased if one or both were to study under Jeff Trexler, whether in law school or business school, and learn how to make an honest dollar in social ventures, while preserving their sense of social purpose and impotent irony. I only hope that those in charge serve in loco parentis. With such an obedient populace the responsibility to guide the tractable young must almost be unbearable. Maybe it is sedation that does it. Whatever it is, something seems to be working well in defense of the intolerable.