Nobility in Giving Feed

Philanthropy as Work of the Moral Imagination

I am reading Understanding Philanthropy, Its Meaning and Mission by Robert Payton and Michael Moody. For my own use here is a series of insights, that are largely theirs and partly my own attempt to assimilate their thinking.

  • Philanthropy is moral action, requiring moral imagination. "What is going on?," per Richard Niebuhr, is the first ethical question.
  • Seeing or not seeing what is going is a moral achievement or moral failing. Being blind, or self blinded, or blinded by conformity and propaganda, or to be rendered myopic by specialized training (as sometimes in law, business, or finance), is a culpable failure of moral imagination.
  • To see, to discern, what is really going on is to be a visionary. (Also, sometimes a pariah.)
  • Philanthropy begins from a moral vision of the world we want and a moral vision of the world we have.
  • Philanthropy may begin in wonder and inspiration or in moral outrage.
  • Philanthropy takes as its mission closing the gap between the world as it is and the world as it might better be.
  • In giving, both ends and means, are disputed, as are most ethical issues. What is going on? is a question that admits of many answers. In a plural society we meet in the public square via philanthropy to contest and achieve our opposing visions of a better world. In the process we create out of our strife a world better than we could achieve if we marched together under a single party banner.
  • Our Constitution was premised on "concordia discors," the well accorded strife of opposing visions, ideals, and branches of government. So too civil society.
  • If we each of us were a musical instrument in an orchestra we might spend our lives siding with the trumpets, if we were trumpets and with tubas if we were tubas, and disdaining those instruments on the far side of the orchestra pit. ("We might get somewhere, if we strings could secede and become a quartet.") Yet, in civil society, as in the arts too, or in our political tradition, the symphony depends on the concord and discord of the many instruments each playing a part.
  • The Conductor if there is one, bringing music from discord is (variously called) the holy spirit, our traditions, the muses, moral luck, fortuna, or the great god pan.
  • Rosa Parks is a more significant philanthropist than Bill Gates.

Payton and Moody's book may not be widely read, though I hope it will be, but it represents another wave rising and falling on the beach, as the tides of moral energy come and go. Their work is a high water mark, at least recently, given how far the tides have gone out. Their well chosen quotations are like bits of old ships and ancient treasures, left by the ebbing tide, and strewn upon the shore for those who might pass by and recognize them for what they are. But we are mostly too busy getting results to go beachcoming for wisdom. Maybe when we retire.

On another note, to say that philanthropy is moral action is like saying that religion is the love of God. "Don't we wish," is one response. Moral action for the good of others and for the public good may be the "final cause," or guiding ideal of philanthropy, or giving, down through the ages, but it is an ideal much honored in the breach. "The catepillar," as Blake noted of priestcraft, "lays its eggs on the fairest flower."

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.

Where in Philanthropy is the Real Gold Buried?

A cultured friend with a deep grounding in the liberal arts, including the arts of healing, and also a deep grounding in the ways of finance and financial institutions, writes me, asking of philanthropy, "Where is the real gold?" By that she asks, where are we to locate virtue in relationship to giving? Is it just math? Giving is good. The more given the better? Double bottom line, single bottom line, it is all about virtue, and the more the better? Here is my response, pending hers.

  • The key (sez I) is human flourishing, sometimes translated from the Greek as happiness
  • Per Aristotle's Ethics, we are sociable creatures as a species; we flourish as a polis or community, or perish as outcasts. (Crusoe is a barbarian; as is Economic Man. The Economic Actor of Milton Friedman is a psychopath. That he mistakes the market for the hidden hand of God is not suprising given his level of moral development. Even now I know educated people in philanthropy who mistake it for a capital market.)
  • Civic virtues are key. Of those philanthropy, munificence, magnanimity, largeness of soul, kindness are all virtues in Aristotle's sense of excellences. (Each of which can be taken to extremes, or perverted so as to become a vice or disfigurement.)
  • The key civic virtue, the virtue of the polis itself, is justice.
  • Against the Aristotelian strand, which is aristocratic, we inherit a Christian strand. "Faith, hope and charity and the greatest of these is charity." Peer to peer human kindness with our brothers in sisters in Christ, one body. Peasant to peasant if not peer to peer. Love as the sweep of the Holy Spirit through us, the all creating spirit, the wind that blows through the wind chimes in Romantic poetry, or speaks to a mad King in the hurricane or tornado.

In my sense of it, we are sick as a society and as individuals. What we are suffering from will not be cured by Prozac nor by therapy. Those are ways of reconciling the prisoner to her cell, to her solitary confinement within a life denying, community denying ideology of market materialism. Of that disease we are dying spiritually, psychologically, culturally, and now really are in danger of dying back as a species. As with obesity, or addiction, or high blood pressure, or cancer, we feel fine for the most part and spit from our mouths any cure unless covered in candy. That (curing what is sickest in us) is the role of art, to be that candy, or was considered the role of art and philosophy in the Hellenic tradition. Emetics also come into that conception, as does the clyster, and leeches, and hot irons to produce blisters - in other words, satire is the cure, if anything is, for moral distemper. But only a Fool would say so, and many a Fool has, if only to provoke a hearty laugh from the Wise who have always known better, from Oedipus to Lear on down to the Wise and the Just who lead us today to our doom. Philanthropy in my own sense of it is one of the Muses, or Graces. What will save us if anything does is love, inspiration, the "force that through the green fuse drives the flower." Art is how we heal ourselves, and I experience giving as an art (techne plus inspiration). This is not in any way to deny what is dark and invidious in art - in Frost, in Milton, in Nietzsche, in Rimbaud, and one and on. We raven down our proper bane. The cure is homeopathic: the pharmakon, both cure and poison. "We have art so as not to die of the truth," Nietzsche. (And the dark sister of art is propaganda, branding, gilded lies. That is art too, in a way. It too is medicine, given to keep us sick with worldly desires by false healers who are sick themselves with materialism. Hence, "Physician heal thyself." There is not great corruption than for those with a healing gift, of art or reason, to use that gift of the Holy Spirit to corrupt and enslave. Yet, for what else are we paid? We knowledge workers in Wealth Bondage?)

Philanthropy no less than art, sexual love, war, or eloquence is a basic human expression, an excellence, but riven to its core (as are the other excellences) by vanity, will to power, ruthlessness. In the underworld from which inspiration springs, the thing and its opposite are one in strife, as you know from Shakespeare, Jung, Yeats, Joseph Conrad, Dostoyevsky, or William Blake. Even the Holy Spirit, the love of Christ, to what does it compel the Christian in the arena? Better not even to contemplate what the force within us asks of us. Sacrifice does not end with the money. We have philanthropy so as not to die of injustice, but it is the expression of a power imbalance and confirms the very thing it ameliorates. War for peace. Philanthropy for justice. Self sacrifice for eternal life, for the life that flows through the genes, spirit, cultural traditions. The Dalai Lama now in Tibet. Is that not philanthropy of the highest sort? In philanthropy of the usual sort,  the market tosses and turns trying to awaken itself from madness, though, as Freud said, the reason we have nightmares is to keep us asleep.

So where is the real gold buried? In the straw that the princess spins, under the watchful eye of the dancing and malicious Rumpelstiltskin, presumably. Or, maybe in Privy of Midas himself? "Bring me the stone the builders rejected," said Jesus, in the Apochryphal Gospels, "for that is the keystone." It is unlikely that philanthropy will be found among the wealthy. Nor did Jesus even seem to have considered that a possibility. He sought caritas among thieves, prostitutes, tax-collectors, enlisted men, and fisherman. The healing he provided, curing blindness, deafness, lameness and raising the dead, was maybe the fulfillment of that whole healing tradition in Hellenic philosophic thought. He helps us find eternal life, by helping us see that our crucifixion under the laws administered by Pilate or whomever is appointed above us by the temporal powers that be, is a small gift to pay forward for what we have been given, for what courses through us. To see the true gold in coin or markets or personal virtue, or in metrics to be managed, or in preferment, or in recognition or fame is to be very much in need of healing. But a Fool like me has not got that touch. Yet, why not spit on my fingers and give it a shot? If not Christ as a model, then bend over: Rabelais was a Doctor too. Not all communion is consecrated, but the holy wine, even if stolen, has a kick. "Come let us drink!" as Rabelais would say, dressing as a King or Philanthropist, and rucking up his robes to show his buttocks, to the saturnalian laughter of the peasants beating their tankards on the table. "There is the real gold!," cries he, letting lose a stream of urine, to rival Pantagruel himself.  "Dear God, giving back is such a blessed relief! I just couldn't hold it anymore - I mean the laughter." Unless, indeed, we laugh at sober virtue we will burst.

The Feast of Fools (aka Feast of the Circumcision) is not on my company calendar, though I work in philanthropy. Maybe, though, I can take it as personal holiday? Whether we can stage Carnival at Council of Foundations, or in the Private Bank of Wealth Bondage, I seriously doubt. We are not allowed to wear masks, there nor go naked for that matter. We are all on our honor to strut about in propria persona dressed as Real People. So, for serious fun, we will have to make do in the Dumpster, dressed in whatever second hand clothes the Real People cast off. Maybe if we rummage in the pockets, or rip out the linings, we will find that gold.

What say you?

The Professional Education of Advisors in Philanthropy (Notes for Donors and Nonprofit Leaders Working With Advisors and Around Them)

Educating Advisors in Philanthropy

We have been asking the general question, "What education is appropriate for those engaged in philanthropy?" We could ask the more limited question, "What education is most appropriate to those who advise clients about philanthropy?" One answer is the syllabus for the American College's Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy. (I hold that designation.) If you check out the course work you will find that it consists mostly of tax, legal, and financial training, with some attention to marketing. Other topics are treated in passing, but there is nothing on informed grant-making. And, there is nothing on what you might call vision, values, ideals. There is no taxonomy of the nonprofit sector. There is little on civil society, or the value of the nonprofit sector. There is nothing drawn from the moral, philosophical, and religious traditions of giving. If philanthropy belongs in "the Ideal School of Arts and Sciences," this curriculum is almost exclusively from the sciences - money, law, tools and techniques, strategies and tactics.

Vision and Priorities: The Donor/Client's Responsibility

To prospective donors and clients I would say: Recognize that ends in view, the purposes served, the vision and goals - the wisdom - of your financial, estate, and philanthropic plans is your non-delegable responsibility. You can bring in advisors for help on tools and techniques, on tactics and strategies, and on effective grant-making, for that matter, but the ends in view, the balance among priorities, only you can set that direction. "Cultivating wisdom, or large-mindedness, is not my job," so most advisors would assert. Most fundraisers would say the same. Most grant making or foundation consultants would agree that they serve the client's stated agenda, rather than conveying or cultivating wisdom and virtue. ("That would be presumptuous," they might say. "I don't want to impose my values." "One person's wisdom is another's folly; it is a free country; the client gives us the ends in view, and we apply the needed strategies.")

Cultivating our Humanity - Whose?

So, whose calling is it to "cultivate our humanity," in Seneca's phrase? Yours as a donor, parent, citizen, spiritual being. Yours as a nonprofit leader. Perhaps we each can cultivate our humanity, beginning with our own, including spouse and heirs, and then the communities to which the family belongs, contributes, and amongst whom it dwells or worships. In that effort we are not just client and advisor, or donor and nonprofit fundraiser, but fellow human beings and fellow citizens. Even those without wealth are able to give of time and love and energy.

Are Life Coaches the Answer?

I have heard it suggested that the wisdom consulting role (the role of Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families, as I wryly put it) is best filled by a Life Coach. I can see that emerging as an answer. (Tracy Gary suggests it as does Jerry Chasen, both of whose judgment I deeply respect.) But here is a caution. We can very neatly for rhetorical purposes separate the conversation of ends from the conversation of means. We can say, for the conversation of ends, talk to a) your Rabbi b) your Life Coach c) your therapist. For the conversation of means, we could say, talk to your tax, legal, and financial advisors, plus a consultant on grant-making. But in truth the conversations go in circles and zigzags.

What begins as a conversation about a tactic ("Should I go with a donor advised fund or a foundation?") quickly becomes a conversation about family ("Who will run it when I am gone?") and one about society ("How will my charitable vehicle make the world a better place?") and one about finance ("How much could I afford to contribute? Can it come at the expense of taxes, rather than my kids? What property is the right property to give? Cash? Stock? Closely held stock? Now? Later? At death?"). The conversation swings among such considerations, ricocheting off imponderables. ("Did I tell you that Mary, our daughter is in rehab?" "Are you aware that my husband has terminal cancer?" "Does it matter that my spouse is a nonresident alien?"). So, the Life Coach who cannot in any way respond to the financial and legal and tax items embedded in the questions above may not be able to keep the conversation going. The Life Coach might encourage a vision that is in reality just an empty dream, or even a dangerous delusion, if the Coach has no sense of financial facts and feasibility. The Life Coach may or may not be privy to the financial information, and may or may not be accepted as  a peer at the client's planning table, among advisors each of whom is, candidly, vying for "client control." So, while an interesting adjunct to the team, and perhaps a good person to help the client keep from stalling in the process, a Life Coach may not necessarily be the right catalyst for a feasble overall vision.

Creating an Open Space for Civic Reflection

For those of you who are conveners, or in donor networks, or who work for nonprofits or community foundations, the "hole" at the center of the the philanthropic process, the hole around helping clients articulate high ideals, in the context of wealth, family, and community, represents a missed opportunity. No one person can fill that role. And, all who might try have a "leash," in that each is most likely tied to an institution that allows that advisor only so much slack. ("Well, Jack, you have spent hours with that client/donor. What are you billing? What gifts have you raised? How much product have you sold? etc. When are you going to bring in the check?"). 

To create an open space for donors, or clients to connect with their own wisdom traditions, their own ideals, their inspiration (as Tracy Gary calls it) - that strikes me as a key unmet opportunity in Dallas, and in most places. I am talking to some people here about it, and would be interested in your thoughts. A bibliography would not be hard to create. A book club would be easy enough to convene. Charles Collier's book, Tracy Gary's, H. Peter Karoff's, Bill Somerville's, or those of Amy Kass come to mind. Let's see if we can create a space for civic reflection that is oriented to inspired action in concert with advisors and nonprofits. How do we make a living doing that? I have no answer to that. It seems like volunteer work. For those whose gift is time and talent, and whose "excellence" or virtue is the art and science of cultivating our humanity,  I can't think of a better way to foment a better world, while respecting the moral agency of our leading citizens.

On Philanthropic Education: A Dunce's Perspective

Caroline Preston at Give and Take:

What do you think? How would you respond to Mr. Cubeta’s question: “In the ideal university, where should philanthropy be taught?” In the history, business, psychology, or even world religions department? And how critical is a humanities background to a career consulting with donors?

All my life, or at least from age 6 up, I know I am in trouble when someone calls me, "Mr. Cubeta." Duns Scotus was a learned man. I am just a back alley Morals Tutor inculcating pratical wisdom as best I can. In the wealthy client, the seat of learning is seldom the head. We as Teachers must use the means best suited to produce a lasting change of heart. Caroline, call me Master Cubeta, please. Our noble trade is taught in some pretty questionable places, among those who, as a practical matter, will do great good or harm. It is not enough that our CEOs and leading families know virtue as depicted in old books; those who are entrusted with the well-being of our society must live virtuous lives, not only in private life, but in discharging the duties of an influential citizen. (People look at me like I am crazy when I talk like this. But remember, this is my business. Making a Fool of myself is all part of the act.)

Are America's Rich Boors Generous?

I had a chance to meet Pablo Eisenberg at Hudson Institute last week. Along with Tracy Gary, he is a long term advocate not just of philanthropy, but of social change philanthropy with an eye to those most in need. He has a eloquent and impassioned article in the current Chronicle of Philanthropy, "Are Americans Generous? - Not really." Now, how can a man who was captain of the tennis team at both Oxford and Princeton be a friend of the poor and disadvantaged? Yet he is, as is Tracy, who was herself born into money. For a certain class within the privileged classes, the felt obligation to give back is urgent. "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." Luke 12:48. Should children of privilege be raised with such ideals, and taught them through the liberal arts? Or, should each family just pass on its own values, however mean-spirited, venal, or cramped? Do we as a society have a stake in elevating the ideals of our ruling class?

I think again of Amy Kass and her book, Giving Well, Doing Good, an anthology of literary readings for thoughtful philanthropists. While she might identify as conservative, her readings would open a dialogue with any literate donor about self, family, society, virtue, self-reliance, obligation, and justice. This is not just about conservative versus liberal knee-jerks; it is about what it means to have a responsible upper class, or a true aristocracy, as opposed to a diverse bunch of rich boors. Amy could well convene such a conversation, no less than could Pablo. We are in this together, as a society. We cannot perhaps reverse the movement of money upward to the few. Can we  not at least try to elevate and renovate their ideals? Nobility - not much of it. As a self-respecting Fool I would willingly serve a King, or an Empress, yet my clients are so often just upstart businesspersons with no class whatosever. So, toss Amy's learned book in the Dumpster; ignore the ideals of Tracy and Pablo. Let's talk about Social Capital Markets instead. That is just vulgar enough to appeal to today's culturally illiterate money. Well, I am late for a consultation on a client's vision and values - Coming Candidia!

Legacy Planning: A Fool's Advice and a Knave's Rebuttal

Legacy Planning Process: Who is a stakeholder? Who is heard? Who is talked about in absentia? Who speaks for whom? Who makes decisions on whose behalf? Who lives with those decisions after the fact?

Stakeholders: Parents, children, grandchildren, generations unborn; nonprofits and society at large; living creatures large and small; those employed by or customers and constituents of family controlled entities (businesses, trusts, foundations, lobbying arms, newspapers, think tanks, social ventures, nonprofits, governmental entities, oval offices, moats, and dungeons); the attorney, CPA, trust officer, insurance professional, financial advisor, family psychologist, philanthropic consultant, fundraiser, religious and moral advisors.

Scope of The Wealthy Family's Vision, Mission, Strategies, Tools, Tactics, Implementation
: Personal wealth and personal time and talent; family wealth time and talent; connections, board positions, "pull";  societal needs; the capacities of others to be led, mobilized, activated, or deluded whether within hierarchies, publics, or lattice structures of friends and  friends of friends (movements, cabals, private societies, taste making, trend-setting, heroism).

The Dynastic Dance: In the dance of the elements above who leads and who follows over what range and in what order?

  • Who leads as to the vision of a better life for the family, of better family members (more fully developed as ethical, capable and engaged human beings) in a better world for all?
  • Who is heard when the wealth is set up for the children? Are they?
  • Who speaks for the complexity of the plan, and how all the entities and tools will be managed?
  • Who visualizes and scripts the ongoing family chronicle, the story of the family and its origins and ends?
  • Who works across the generations, and the silos of expertise, to make the plan, like a Constitution, a living tradition?
  • Who governs and manages the ongoing work of the plan, and the entities it controls?

Leverage Points For Social and Family Good


  • Advisors who say, "Whatever you want, Boss, I am here to serve" are necessary, like soldiers whether in the army or the mob, but they are not to control the process of setting the vision, the tone, the spirit, the meaning or the purpose.  They may call themselves "Trusted Advisor" and compare themselves to Richelieu, but they are Toadies all the same, unless they challenge as well as serve the vision.
  • Parents who make decisions as to vision, goals, end results wanted, without consultation with their own better angel, without consultation with other stakeholders, such as children employees, nonprofits of importance to the family, and fellow citizens.
  • Advisors, heirs, and others who seek to win at the other's expense, jockeying for power, wealth, access, and control as in the court of the Medicis.


  • Clients and advisors who see giving as a tool or technique of tax reduction, and never get around to talking about social purpose and effect.
  • Trusted Advisors who thoughtfully elicit but never challenge vision and values. ("Values-neutral values-based planners.")
  • Fundraisers and planned giving officers who extract cash and assets for social good without knowledge of, interest in, or concern for, the larger plan of which the giving is a part.
  • Moral and religious professional advisors who preach a general sermon, then bow on the church steps and shake the wealthy parishioner's hand, or invite the wealth holder to a private supper to discuss the vestry committee and its works, leaving any particular discussion of the donor's morals aside.


  • Parents who include children and other stakeholders early in the process to help crystalize the vision.
  • Advisors who convene rather than control, who listen for vision, not just opportunities for this or that tool or planning technique.
  • Advisors who work as a team, keeping one another informed within a sense of common purpose.
  • Advisors who have the courage and skill to play devil's advocate, or Socratic questioner, around an emerging vision that is shallow, half considered, or riven with contradictions, family dysfunction, and vanities.
  • Nonprofits who have an effect at the vision level, not just around a gift, but around a sense of what it is for the family to live a good, ethical, or noble life, within a good or just society within a thriving natural world.
  • Children who do their own planning well, and ask parents if they can be included in the larger family planning sessions at least as to goals. (" But Dad we would rather have a foundation get that money.....")
  • Fools who turn the world upside down, if only by aping the advisors with their long faces, long ears, and long tails.

My Own Tutor's Rebuttal

Well, I showed this post to my mentor, the Happy Tutor, Dungeon Master to the Stars, over in Wealth Bondage, America's Most Wonderful Company. I wanted to make sure that this post was not offensive in any way to the higher ups. I don't want Candidia, our mutual boss, to be upset with me. I need a job and I need the money, such as it is.  Teaching philanthropy may be a load of crap, but it sure beats loading body parts into the freezer in the Chill Room.  Tutor's comment was, "Never send a Fool to  do a  Sadist's job, Phil. Send those wealthy sons of bitches over here and I will beat into their bottoms what you fail to drive into their numb skulls." Tutor was drunk at the time, and it is probably unfair to quote him out of context -  a Dumpster full of Garbage where he holds court, naked and unashamed on his own time, after work.

Closing Comment to My Fellow Professionals in Wealth Bondage

We can't save the wealthy from themselves, contrary to what Tutor may think. But we can get rich off them, and escape a beating ourselves, if you follow my advice above. Moderation all things. If you get too idealistic you are setting yourself up to fail. It is not our decision whether the client wants to save the world, rule it, or destroy it. Give the customer what the customer wants, make a ton of money, and give your own opinion, when it is less risky to do so. Now, back to work, there is a fresh load of body parts down on the loading dock.  Get it cleaned up fast. The motorcade from DC is arrives in 30 minutes. We got a Dynasty to plan here folks.

On Cultivating The Seeds of Social Change

As a Dungeon Master to the Stars who has been Born Again as a Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families, let me begin with the words of another whip-wielding master, a man who turned the tables on the money changers, and  whose way of life was more humble than any Dumpster and whose ability to think on his feet would have put his competitor and fellow trickster, Diogenes, to shame.  His thoughts on seeds.

Mar 4:26-29

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

[30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?] 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Mat 13:24-30 [+ 36-43]

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”

Luk 8:5-8 [+ 4,11-15]

[4 When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable:] 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. 7 Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8 Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

I am reading piles of books and articles on how to help a client with philanthropy. Some show how a gift can be contextualized in the donor's financial and estate plan. Some emphasize the importance of a plan connecting a gift via a logic model to a desired social result. Some contextualize the gift within the donor's family, how it helps pass on family values, or helps raise healthy children. Others stress that some families are multi-generational dynasties where philanthropy is part of a complex picture with parents, grandparents, and cousins related via many entities (trusts, foundations, businesses, wills, prenups, divorce settlements, family councils and assemblies). Some relate giving to the donor's values, or community tradition, such as religion. Some bring the nonprofit into the center of the picture and see giving under the aspect of fundraising. Where given so many perspectives, so much potential analysis and planning, does one begin?

I notice that most of the leading books and articles on constructing a giving plan make use of two main carryovers from the world of business: The form of a business plan (from vision to strategies to tactics, or from principles, to policies, to plans), and the language of investment. (investing time, money, and talent.) One bottom line. Two bottom lines. Three bottom lines. But always the language of finance, accounting, and business. These ways of looking at the world, of pulling all that matters under the master metaphor of money and markets, and then managing it all via hierarchically organized plans, is relatively recent and may blind us to another wisdom, one revealed more readily with metaphors or parables drawn from agriculture (culture/cultivation).

The apple seed within one apple, among many branches, among many trees in an orchard contains not only another apple, and another apple tree, but many orchards.

What is the seed of social change? Are we the sower, the seed, the mighty mustard tree, the barren ground, the weed choking out the wheat, or the harvest?

Jesus, like Diogenes, or Socrates, or such Stoics as Seneca and Cicero, is using language not to inform, but to transform those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. (Many do not hear, and many are meant not to hear for Jesus is speaking under hostile Roman eyes, his life at risk.) His words are like a seed that falling in a crack in a boulder grows in the dirt there and splits the stone open. Socrates, likewise, likened his own work as a moral philosopher to that of a doctor, as did Seneca and Cicero, and about all the other Hellenistic Philosophers. Usually the doctor analogy goes to the point about curing moral disease. Socrates, though, with a straight face said he was the "midwife" to his male interlocutor's soul. There the seed when it grows must split the self wide open in birth. If we take this point to heart, that we are but the rind, and that the seed lives or dies in us, and that it will ruin us in the process if it does live, as St. Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus, then the machinery of planning and investment outlined above seems not only sterile but a monument to vanity.With such Planning the Pharisees built Temples and the Romans built roads, aqueducts and the Colosseum. Seneca, reminding us that life is short, exhorted us: Cultivate humanity. Rather than talking of "investing in heirs," or "investing in human capital, social capital, and intellectual capital," or planning for bottonline results in line with our vision and values, perhaps we should begin with seeking that tiny mustard seed, the tiny speck blowing across the client's financial statement, a little thing we brush away with the back of our hand, so it falls on the wooden floor, or the carpet, an almost invisible thing that, had it been properly cultivated, might have given birth to another world entirely, conquering even death, perhaps.

Amateurism, Wisdom, and Professionalism in Philanthropy

"And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and largeness of mind like the sand on the seashore...." - 1 Kings 4:29-34 RSV.

Having gotten involved in giving as a fan more than a player, I have often wondered why anyone pays me any attention whatsoever. Reading Joel Orosz's book on Effective Foundation Management helped me see that even at the highest levels philanthropy is still an amateur activity. Joel is helping to professionalize grantmaking with his new Grantmaking School. More schools are offering business degrees for nonprofit managers. But I keep thinking of Leslie Fiedler who years ago caused a stir among English Professors by suggesting that literary criticism is best done by talented amateurs.  I wonder if giving will be more effective when handled by the pros? Will we lose anything by seeing giving as an "area of expertise," rather than as an obligation or privilege of engaged citizenship? Maybe it depends what goes into professionalism. Could it include readings in moral and political philosophy? Literature? History? How will we develop what was once called "largeness of mind" in philanthropists and philanthropoids, or will it always be about expertise narrowly conceived as "techne," as tools and techniques and measuring and managing? Who teaches wisdom, and how without it will expertise be of value?

Joel himself is a wise and cultured man.  I note his Ph.D. is in American History. William Schambra shares, I believe, some of these sentiments. I note that his Ph.D. is in Political Science. His colleague, Amy Kass, at Hudson, author of The Ultimate Gift: The Philanthropic Imagination in Poetry and Prose, is a Professor at the University of Chicago, a gifted teacher of the liberal arts.  I hope as giving becomes more and more a profession that it raises the general level of philanthropic culture.  As Seneca said,  "Behold! death comes, which makes us all equal. While we are in this mortal life, let us cultivate humanity." Part of cultivating  humanity is the learning the art of generosity, or magnanimity.  It is a part of our noble nature, one that the basest peasant can embody, as did the widow with her mite in the Bible.