Moral Dimension of Giving 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?

Giving after Great Losses

With the market at 14,000 the rich man muses,  "What can I afford to give? Nothing this year. Each of those millions is needed for my worldly concerns. When I have enough for myself I will give generously, to be sure." Well, then the market, the great God, worshipped by all, takes 40% and leaves the rich man wailing like Job.  "Now, says the voice from out the thunder, "now what can you afford to give?"

What Makes A Person Vote Republican or (Give Generously)?

Quite a fine article on Edge by psychologist Jon Haidt on, "What Makes People Vote Republican?" with comments by a number of distinguished academics. The bottom-line is that people vote Republican because they believe in God, country, personal responsibility, and because they don't want to be a wuss or an intellectual. Other reasons include patriarchal upbringing, being spanked as a kid, ages old ignorance, lousy public schools, racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, and standardized testing that stunts the brain. People also vote Republican because they have anxieties about boundaries: borders, good and evil, and body openings. I don't know, speaking for myself I became a Republican in Dallas after the Church of the Risen Christ torched my house in the last election cycle (for having a Kerry sign in the yard), and after I saw that the Democrats were Republicans under another brand name. Although the Haidt essay and comments were more academic and erudite than my comments here, they are also more insular. Even Haidt sounds like a missionary among the cannibals when he "understands" conservative people and extends to them the empathy accorded the lower primates by the higher. If you want to know what it feels like to experience prejudice, try wearing a Dallas Cowboys cap to a progressive retreat center, as I have done. Talk about being persona non grata.

What has all this to do with philanthropy? I think some people see giving in Englightenment terms as problem solving, or investing, or input/output management. They talk of philanthropy as an industry, but really they see it as a managerial science.  Others see giving as  sacrifice, consecration, self-expression, or as communion, libation, duty, tradition, invocation of the spirit, or as a ritual binding a community together over time. I would be in the second category mostly. Maybe that maps to "Conservative" or maybe it is what could make "Liberalism" a more cohesive social force than it now is. Isn't it strange that Conservatives are, apparently, bigger givers? They don't know any better, I guess.

Bonhoeffer's Gift

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian, writing from Flossenberg prison prior to his execution for plotting to kill Adolph Hitler:

We have been silent witnesses to evil deeds. We have become cunning and learnt the arts of obfuscation and equivocal speech. Experience has rendered us suspicious of human beings and often we have failed to speak to them a true and open word. Unbearable conflicts have worn us down or even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? Geniuses, cynics, people who feel contempt for others, or cunning tacticians, are not what we will need but simple, uncomplicated and honest human beings. Will our inner strength to resist what has been forced on us have remained strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves blunt enough, to find our way back to simplicity and honesty?

Cited by Dr. Larry James. Living with the fear of reprisal, writing and speaking under surveillance, in a state of exception, with the Constitution suspended in order to protect it, intricate becomes the langauge of the oppressed. The pariah speaks in tongues, in parables, fables, allegories, and dark sayings. Comes the moment when plain truth flashes out, and the consequences are irrevocable. If you compare Bonhoeffer's moral biography to that of our philanthropists, you see how paltry a thing is wealth. The Journey from Success to Significance took Bonhoeffer to the gallows. That in my experience is not how philanthropists see things panning out for them. When Dr. Paul Schervish, a former Jesuit, writes of the wealthy and their moral biographies, I wonder if figures like Bonhoeffer, or for that matter Christ, cross his mind, and make him pause, sick at heart, and full of disgust at what we do to flatter the delusions of wealth. We will not cure our time until we cure ourselves. Not that I am anything but ill: afraid, weak, an ennabler still. 

Socializing Upper Class Women to Blind Eyes and Tight Smiles

Speaking of how niceness works in philanthropy, here is Kathryn Davison, PhD, of Tonic Capital, on how she was socialized into the world of George and Laura Bush.

I grew up in President Bush’s bedroom. After the first George Bush was elected to Congress, he and my stepfather concluded a deal over the telephone whereby we bought their house. The two of them shared a laugh about being the only two guys in Houston who actually needed seven bedrooms. That house doesn’t exist anymore, but the sense of linkage, remote yet palpable, remains. We were fostered by parallel universes, W and I. We both came from “nice” families.

Download in 7 page .pdf. Posted with permission.  To see or not see, to be or not be nice, that is the question that must not arise. We just are nice; the alternative is unthinkable and rampant.  To not see is not a moral act. It is simply our habitus.

"What is Going On?" Asked Mouse of Cat

"What is going on?" Niebuhr says is the first question of ethics.

"Are my choices the expression of my character, or is my character formed by my choices?" asks Sartre.

The resistance leader under the Occupation is stood up against a wall and shot. Whether she gave more or less than the philanthropist who endowed the sacristy is an open question.

Most of us cannot be faulted for our existentional choices because we do not see what is going on, any more than did Paul de Man, his nose in a text, in Vichy France. Blindness and Insight is the title of his most important book.

Only a few of us are philanthropists, but we are all collaborators. The Courage to Be, or even to see, is rare, but also contagious, like fear.