Market Materialism Feed

Impact investing - Friend or Foe of Philanthropy?

Looks like I have just now agreed to talk on impact investing for a group of fundraisers in May.  They want me to provoke table conversations with such questions as these. 

  1. What is impact investing, as opposed to earlier forms of socially conscious or screened investing?
  2. Where does it fit in your work as a nonprofit? (Endowment?)
  3. Is impact investing friend or foe for fundraising? (A recent US Trust survey of wealthy families found that 1/3rd  do impact investing, and 1/3rd of that third said they do it in lieu of giving)
  4. How do advisors get paid on philanthropy? How do they get paid on impact investing? Any predictions where that will go?
  5. Will impact investing steal your nonprofit mojo?
  6. Are children raised in a mall, whose only categories are “own,” “manage,” “buy,” “invest,” and “consume,” and whose social status, identity, and sense of community are confirmed by “likes” and “friends” going to prefer impact investing to deeper and more challenging engagement with a cause?
  7. Will any rational person prefer sacrificial giving to impact investing when both get results, and confer feel-good bragging rights?
  8. What is your “competitive advantage” vis a vis impact investing  if you are, say, the Catholic Church, Jewish Federation, Georgetown, a soup kitchen?
  9. In seeking the good, the betterment of humankind, to whom, to what prayer, poem, tradition, or prospectus,  do you turn in the dark of the night?
  10. Heidegger wrote, “We live in society, we dwell in community.” If impact investing lives in the market, in what community do you and your donors dwell?
  11. If your gift planning is transactional, all about the art of the ask, who do you think is better at sales, you or the investment advisor?
  12. When income tax and estate tax deductions are eliminated for the highest capacity donors, under Trump, how will you tell a story true enough and compelling enough that the “social investor” is willing to accept a guaranteed 100% loss of his or her funds via a gift, when he or she can get (according to the investment advisor) a market return and greater impact by keeping the money under management for the Greater Glory of God and the Betterment of Humankind in the Bank of Wealth Bondage?

Any thoughts? Further questions?

Pope Rebukes The Wordly

The pope urged the faithful to "shun the worship of idols. Do not tire of doing good!"'  I tried counting the bottom-lines on my fingers. I only got to one, but maybe, I missed a couple. On the other hand, the man does dress well. The days when Morals Tutors operated naked from Dumspters are long gone. Now preaching  is big business, like the philanthropy industry. We all got to make ends meet. Via.

The Business of Giving

Lucy Bernholz, a consultant to the philanthropic industry, or as she sometimes calls it, "the business of giving, "  has a chart showing its evolution since the 1900s. Not one mention anywhere on it of any social movement, whether civil rights,  worker rights, women's rights, food safety, worker safety, social justice, environmental protection, media reform, the resurgence of philanthropically funded conservatism, the resurgence of faith-based initiatives. Not one organizer. Not one mission driven thing at all. Not one mention of any entity or ideal drawn from the liberal arts, political engagment, or from faith. All about structure, technology, business, money, and markets.  A whole sector redescribed and its history rewritten in the language of commerce.  Maybe  Lucy just needs to turn the paper over and do a chart for civil society. That way we could have it both ways, just flip the paper over, back and forth. What would interest me is how Lucy would make two sheets, put them side by side, and explain how the Business of Giving and Civil Society interconnect.  Why has the language of business come to supplant the discourse of the liberal arts, of the spirit and of democracy? What drives that, Lucy? Can you imagine the chart going forward, say a decade, and the whole language of business thing being seen then as passe? A dead end. A last gasp of Reagan/Thatcher/Bush? Followed maybe by an upsurge from below that topples the rotten managerial structure, even as it collapses? Resiliance.

Inspiring Women are Gullible

Phyllis Caldwell of Washington Area Women's Foundation:

I was thrilled when the Dove representative told me how they’d found us.

"We did a Google search for “inspiring women,” she said, and we came up with a blog on your site by Wendy Weaver.

I can’t think of a better Google search I’d like for us to pop up on, since inspiring is really our business.

I know how she feels. The first time Mistress Candidia had me shine her boots, I felt the same way. Imagine! Little me! Shining her boots! So inspiring. Wow!

The Happy Tutor's Cure for Tapeworms

The Happy Tutor, the master to whom I was apprenticed in our noble trade, during my years in Wealth Bondage, when I was young and foolish, before I was born again as a Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families, is almost 500 years old. I assume he was in his thirties in 1515 when he starred in Erasmus's The Praise of Folly.  Some say he is much older than that, older than Romulus and Remus even, old maybe even as Dionysus himself.  Tutor can always be found wherever the faithful make merry in Carnival. You can see him moving among the Monks, Kings, Queens,  CEOs, Trusted Advisors, Butlers, Courtiers, Beggars, and Machiavels, with his Jester's Cap and Bells pushed back on his neck, his eyes aglint with sadistic glee, looking for some lovely upscale sinner to spank into virtue. Some say The Happy Tutor lives inside Wealth Bondage. Others say he inhabits a Dumpster on its margins where Wealth Bondage proper abuts the public square. (Philanthrocapitalists say the public square is a service of  Wealth Bondage provided as an amenity to its Private Clients, and made available to ordinary people from time to time under a double-bottom line master contract with binding one way opt out. Whether that's so or not I do not know.)

Anyway, to bring you up to date, I dropped by the Dumpster after work today to talk with my old mentor. When he is not pretending to be a teacher, he often pretends to be a Physician. (It is all a way to get girls, honestly.) He said, raising his forefinger high in the air, that he had found a cure for the tapeworm. "They are parasites that inject you with a chemical that makes you long for what kills you. The more you consume, the more the tapeworm consumes you. The more you eat, the hungrier you are. You can tell someone has the tapeworm when they begin to talk about Freedom all the time as they compulsively feed their face . Freedom is what tapeworm people call it when they have the tapeworm inside them, eating them alive. Through contact with food, or clothing, or money touched by the infected person, the tapeworm spreads throughout the marketplace. It has become an epidemic, but everyone is happy, feeding away, and passing on the tapeworm to those they love. It has become a huge public health crisis, though no one talks much about it.  Now, you will be glad to hear, I have found the cure! To get the tapeworm out of a consumer's system you can go at it from either end, Phil," he said, "if you know what I mean. You can reason with them, of course, as you do, Phil, for all the good that does, or...." And then he began to rummage among his sacks of garbage for some kind of medical implement. I did not wait around to find out what. I have known him of old. You are better off not messing with him when he is in that crazy mood.   

Total Quality Management for Philanthropy

When philanthropy and the nonprofit sector has been optimized, routinized, and made more effective and efficient, when we have legible and repeatable end to end solutions, when we measure what we manage and manage what we measure, when we prune back the idiosyncratic human elements, and eliminate the dead wood, the malcontents, the unions and the organizers who make nothing but trouble, is it fair to assume the following benefits?

  • Managers, owners and investors will be better paid than currently, having straightened the rest of us out?
  • Worker bees will work within plans that are carefully routinized around the proven and approved best practices, fad by management fad?
  • Lower wages, benefit stripping, pension reductions, risk shifting, outsourcing, downsizing, right-sizing, sigma sixing, mandatory happiness training, and periodic purges will be necessary to insure a steady flow of dollars upward to the bosses, the social investors, the MBAs?

Having seen how this well-managed con works in education (No Child Left Behind and the immiseration of casual labor in academics), can you blame us who are worker bees for being skeptical about the social entrepreneurs and philanthrofatcats who approach us with the line, "We are MBAs. We are here to optimize you"? We know that what MBAs do essentially is what a parasite does, suck out the blood, and grow fat and lazy in the heat of another's labor.

Acknowledgment: I would like to thank my mentor, The Happy Tutor, Dungeon Master to the Stars, for his assistance with the tone and tenor of this post. He is helping me develop my Juvenalian side as part of my performance review and planning annual development program. I am being "optimized" on the fast track to a Dumpster of my own.

Disclaimer: By MBAs I do not mean my immediate superior, nor his boss, nor any of the bosses on up the line, to she who rules us all. Nor do I mean the Board of our Parent Organization, nor the many MBAs who contribute, or rather "invest" in Wealth Bond*ge, proud sponsor of Gifthub. Every rule has exceptions. Those who manage me are very fine people, as it happens, as is my owner.

Wealth as Leading Indicator of Salvation?

If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me" (Matt. 19:21).

Can the camel laden with wealth pass through the needle's eye? Jeremy Gregg posts a commentary from his teacher and spiritual mentor, Fr. Roch Kereszty, O. Cist. Fr. Kereszty notes that Jesus's remarks were addressed to a specific wealthy man, not to all wealthy people. As discussed here, the wealthy man had come to Jesus, asking what he must do to be saved, heard that he must renounce the world, and found that impossible. We may imagine the saying about the camel being delivered to the retreating back of the wealthy man as he returns to his worldy success.  In other venues, Jesus was more cordial. Words to heal. Not all cures work, even when well-chosen, and the same cure does not work for all people. What must I do to be healed? Short of a miracle, or short of any real suffering? How can I be healed of worldly desire and be successful all the same? Since those days we have reframed both question and answer. Now the question is, "Dear Jesus, how can I succeed in all my wordly ends?" And the answer is, "Easy, step into my mega-church and let me explain."

Had Jesus known what we Christians know now, he would have congratulated the wealthy man on his wealth and said, "You must be doing something right, Brother."

Human Flourishing in Bondage to Markets

"While we still draw breath, while we still remain among human beings, let us cultivate our humanity." - Seneca.

Eudaimonia in Greek is sometimes translated as happiness, but meant something more like human flourishing. To flourish is to realize  your potential, as a seed flourishes when it falls on fertile ground and is cultivated. In our inner garden are virtues, or excellences, and there is corruption. As wheat and tares compete in the field, so virtues and vices compete in our inner garden. To cultivate another, to help the other birth their better self, is paideia. Socrates said he was the midwife of this fellow citizen's soul. Such birthing can be arduous. Paideia is a liberal art, not a science or managerial trade. Paideia liberates us from our vices, from our enslavement to base passion, from covetousness. It is a kind of soul-cultivation, or medical practice, to help what is excellent within us to thrive. The liberal arts are the arts of a free citizen and a free people.

Now metrics tend in another direction. Whether in business, government bureaus, whether in China, Russia, or America, when we measure and manage what we tend to create are people subordinate to a system. Weber spoke of the "iron cage" of bureaucratic or corporate life, filled with "sensualists without heart, specialistis without spirt." In other words, a managed workforce and satisfied customers. (For a contempory critique of the managed life, and how measurement and management have been driven across the planet by modernism in all its forms, including communism, fascism, capitalism, architecture, city planning, census studies, contemporary industrial design and scientifically managed agricultural practices, consult Seeing Like a State by James Scott.)

For some of us the nonprofit sector, including the internet commons, is the last frontier of active citizenship. We idealize it as the public square in which we slough off our roles as manager, worker, expert, or consumer and come forward as human beings to cultivate our humanity, not only as individuals but as collective members of the body politic, no more vital when isolated than is a hand cut off from a wrist. Conviviality, congeniality, good conversation, playfulness, and informal civic bonds are messy and inefficient, which is why at work there is no time for them. But on our own time as citizens we can play, or volunteer, or potter about, without having to answer to Head Quarters with our Quarterly Progress Against Plan. From this perspective, an ancient and honorable one, the idea of managing the garden in which we cultivate human flourishing as if it were a factory managed for optimal results is repulsive.

The economy of love and the economy of lucre often stand opposed. We all know that when the experts arrive at the worksite, neighborhood, or the school with their legal pads, stopwatches, and scannable forms, that soon there will be layoffs, mergers, work speedups, benefit cuts, outsourcings, and gentrification. While the woman in the corner office will do better, we may well do worse. The band teacher, the art teacher, are the first to go when no child is left behind as standardized tests and teaching to the test prevail. The discipline of management and measurement is the methodology of Taylorization and mechanization, of the one right way, of the interchangeable part; and, it is dehumanizing, even as it maximizes some numerical result, at the expense of so much that is simply cast off, ignored or suppressed.

By way of analogy imagine that you were put in charge of a forest as either manager or steward. As manager you must maximize dollar value of board feet per year, over the relevant time horizon, discounted to a present value. As steward you might be asked to make the forest as an ecosystem flourish, culling only what you must to keep the forest vibrant. What will flourish under these regimens? And what will perish?

We have reached a point in planetary life where what will perish when all is managed and measured in accordance with the logic of metrics seems to be human life itself. Perhaps it is time we retreated to a more organic understanding, based on metaphors drawn not from modern bureaucracies, whether those of business, military, or government, but from the garden that God entrusted to our first parents to tend.

When I am told, as if I were a slow-witted child, that I must measure and manage my life as a citizen, my creative life, my life as a volunteer, when the benefits of metrics are explained to me, by some recent Harvard graduate, some Wall Street Wizard, or some consultant from McKinsey, when I am told that my gifts of time, love, and money participate in a "social capital market" that can be made more efficient and effective, I glance at the managerial martinent and then look down at my hands thinking that I would not be such a human being, such an arrogant, stunted, blind and deficient creature, such an ideologue, such a bipedal calculation engine, such petty royality, for all the cash in Candidia Cruikshanks' Swiss bank account. I will kiss whatever boots on company time, but my life as a citizen is not yours to manage.  On my own time, I make it my goal to heal what is sick in myself and in others and to cultivate what is healthy, virtuous, excellent. Such is the role of a Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families. (Who because the bighshots don't listen, preaches to the wind on the internet.)

Philanthropy, or giving is a virtue, an excellence, a joy in itself, not a production and consumption process meaningful only as a means to another result. Giving is an expression of grace, or of the graces, of the inner life, of creativity and generativity, of community and solidarity, of love across geography and generations, in us like DNA, "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower." That love is blind and relentless, unforgiving. As the seed breaks the husk, as the soul outlives the body, or the blade outlives the sheath, so by love we are split open, in birthing something better than these mechancial men and women that we become when beaten down into what Wordsworth called "the light of common day."

Thoughts from a Dumpster, old books recalled at the onset of old age. So Diogenes rages as the upwardly mobile reader walks past reading Fast Company or the Wall Street Journal. You know which end is up. If I were as wise as you, I would not be old, friendless, and broke.

The Master Narrative of Social Capital Markets

It is base usury to regard a benefit as an investment. Seneca on On Benefits.

"I have a dream," said Martin Luther King as the crowd stretched to the horizon. But the dream died. Now we have social capital markets, and increasingly efficient and effective research, metrics, and implementation to support the movement of money through a transactional system to a measurable result. 

Professor David Sturm lectures brilliantly on immersive story-telling, truth and fiction, and the formation of community in this 45 minute YouTube video. At How to Save the World Dave Pollard reflects on his avatars online (at his blog and in Second Life in particular) and his "real life" and how over time his identities and communities have begun to fuse, not without unease among some who know him in one role or another.

When the Puritans closed the theaters in London, saying poets lie to us and lead us astray from truth, Sir Philip Sydney wrote his Defense of Poesie.  He suggests that history, philosophy, and sermon may help us know the truth, but poetry transforms us so that we might act and live in truth, in virtue. We may be inspired by a hero with whom we identify; our hearts may be lifted to emulate what we admire, or we may by the satirist, be made ashamed of our vices, and laughed out of our folly.

"Once upon a time there was a little boy. All he knew of story was what he saw on television. Mostly it was brands and cartoons. Being a precocious child he graduated at age 12 to the  financial news, the story of who made a killing.  He dreamed that he would some day grow up and turn the whole world into an efficient market...." Is that not the saddest story you ever heard?