Philanthropy Folks Feed

Gen Y and The Changing Leadership in Philanthropy, Reflections on a Conversation with Sharna Goldseker

A few days ago I had interviewed a remarkable woman, Sharna Goldseker. Rather than posting my thoughts I have been mulling over her remarks. Here is something she wrote at age 26, the beginning of her life story as a wealthy heir within the Jewish tradition of love and justice. Here is a piece about her one year later. Here is where she works now, at age 33. And here. And here is a recent piece she wrote about generations of Jewish giving. What have I learned from Sharna?

  • There is hope, if Sharna and friends are any indication.
  • A prior generation made much of the dark side of money, and the baleful effect of inheritances. The literature of sorrow on that score is vast, but Sharna seems to bear no such resentment towards her forbears. She speaks for a generation (Gen Y) that is online, connected, alert, and not given to secrets, privacy, and safe places. She is out there.
  • When I work around major money I try to ask, thinking of advisors, clients, and nonprofits, "Who leads and who follows in the dance?" Sharna has taught me to ask that question of the heirs as well. In the inter-generational wealth transfer process, thinking now of grandparents, parents, and grown children, who leads in the conversation about giving? About social responsibility? About all the money? (Not just the charitable budget or foundation money.)
  • Increasingly, I am hearing that it is the Gen Y heirs who are stepping forward to say, "Mom and Dad, please, why the secrecy? I Googled you when I was 12. I know more about the family finances that you may think. Let's talk about our money, the future of our family, where and how to make a positive difference."
  • Along with Sharna's network I would also instance Resource Generation, and I am sure there are others, in which Gen Y heirs connect as peers, raise their own awareness and prepare to enter the family conversation and family traditions of giving.
  • Since age-mates have more influence on children than do parents in those critical years from puberty through early adulthood, it makes sense for wealthy parents to find a healthy and engaged peer network for the rising generation. Sharna tells me that this is getting easier, since the up and coming generation is networked online. So, national conferences and local meet ups are good, but less necessary than in the past.

One further line of thought. As an aging Boomer who has been online now for almost 10 years, I find I have two networks of close colleagues and friends. One is work related and my age, more or less. The other is online-related and Sharna's age, more or less. Connecting these generational networks and conversations may be critical for the health of our society. If Sharna's networks are online they have a stake in the all these emerging technology based communities we see springing up from Facebook, dating sites,  to Ning, Civicspace, Razoo, and many others.  How will the new funders collaborate with their equally talented but resource starved peers to create a better and more just, a more truly "flat" networked world? Who will lead in the generational dance, as Boomers become inheritors, while simultaneously planning their own legacies? Will Gen Y stakeholders insist on entering the space in which all the family money is planned, not just the philanthropic money? Will they be active in helping set the family vision of what a great inheritance and legacy might be? I hope as I age that the Gen Y world-changers, including my own children, will wheel me into their circle and let me listen, babble a little, and dribble on my bib.  If they need a token elder to murmur a secular blessing, I volunteer.  Would a beard long and white add gravitas?

Beyond Success, by Randy Ottinger

Ottinger Randy Ottinger, of LMR Advisors, has written a book, Beyond Success, that is both an expression of his personal journey and also a map of the rapidly evolving philanthropic field. As a personal testament, you can see in Randy's work a yearning he shares with many Boomers: to have a decent life, making good money, but also to make a difference for the betterment of others. As the son of a Senator, as co-chair of his family's foundation, as a Harvard MBA who worked with Anita Roderick to launch the Body Shop, as a financial executive services, as an executive in high tech companies, and now as a social entrepreneur in his own right, Randy has the background to see the field as a whole, as if from a birdseye view.  He has also done lots of research, not only reading books and articles, but interviewing leading players in the field. (And, he interviewd me.) Randy understands the financial side of wealth transfer planning and how that fits in financial firms. He understands the family foundation world. He also understands the importance of social impact for philanthropic dollars. He understands how intricate are the mechanisms connecting grant to outcome.  He also understands the new double-bottomline hybrid structures, combining features of both for-profit and non-profit. Most importantly, he sees how these elements fit into a system, or ecosystem. For that his book provides an excellent overview or map.

For those familiar with the territory he maps, Randy provides two "new things."

  1. Milken's Approach To Philanthropy: Randy shows how Milken has created a community, or marketplace of ideas, around his cause, prostate cancer, bringing the players into communication with one another, improving information flows and knowledge management, evaluating work being done, attracting new money beyond Milken's own, directing money to leading work, and, in the end, creating real solutions that have had a measurable impact on the cause. Randy sees this as a repeatable success story, and is mining what worked for Milken for transferable best practices.
  2. Predictions: Randy ends with predictions. He is in a better position than almost anyone at this point to "see over the horizon." Based on the book and a call with Randy this morning, I would say that what Randy sees are several mutually reinforcing trends:
    • More Boomers will want a little meaning with their money, but want the money too.
    • Financial firms will seek out legacy planning as a differentiator to attract and retain meaning-hungry clients.
    • Financial firms and advisors will struggle with the meaning piece because they are product driven, deal driven, and driven to retain assets under management, while giving can defund accounts managed by advisor and firm.
    • More issues areas will find a strong center as with what Milken has done. Those field centers will attract more and more attention and more and more resources.

If you are following the giving field or hope to lead in it, or contribute to it, read Randy's book for the "state of the game."

One caveat from my own eccentric perspective, on the margins, a view from a Dumpster by one for whom Success seems a distant and ever receding, indeed delusory, prospect: When St. Paul made his journey, on the road to Damascus, the lightning bolt unhorsed him, and struck him temporarily blind. He experienced a total mind shift (metanoia), and he repented of his earlier ways. The net result was that he went from Success to Significance, as a writer of the Gospels. He was martyred under Nero,  crucified head down. 

My point: Venture Pilgrim! Please don't go too far on your journey beyond success without first engaging a Fool as your constant companion.  Those who would find themselves must lose themselves, as the Bible says. To do that you need "a guide who has at heart only your getting lost," as Robert Frost said in "Directive. "  Sadder and wiser sometimes go together.  Wisdom is often born in "brokenness and surrender."  Milken's road to philanthropy went by way of his own prostate cancer, and was preceded by a career disaster, including jail time.  The meaning thing in our society still needs work. Tragedy as well as comedy, satire as well as hagiography, treat of these themes. "Many are called," as someone said, "and few are chosen." Those untouched by the call to selflessness should be grateful.  I would rather have been lucky than wise, and have turned out to be neither.  On my own Fool's Errand I skipped a step, chasing the ever-elusive Meaning from youth to old age, walking right past Success along the way.  O! What a Fool am I! Wish I had gone for the MBA and left meaning to the Philanthropists.  Even if I had found Meaning, at my age, without a spare million what good is it going to do me? So I must read books like Randy's with a certain bittersweet smile, a sorry Fool, indeed.

To My Liberal Friends: Give Like A Mormon

Modern Donor publishes an excellent free email newsletter on giving trends.  Here from the current issue is a fascinating blurb on who gives most.


Charitable giving would jump by $27.5-billion a year if every wealthy American donated at the same rate as the most-affluent people in the nation’s five most generous states (Georgia, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Utah), according to "Wealth and Generosity by State" by the New Tithing Group (available FREE at NewTithing>). That amounts to a 15-percent gain in the amounts individuals contribute annually. The ten states with the greatest wealth – those where the total assets held by residents were the highest – did not rank in the top 25 percent of most-generous states. Those states were California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York.

Readers of this blog might justifiably assume that I am a "flaming liberal," or worse, something almost unthinkable, an advocate of representative, constitutional democracy, unpolluted by financial corruption, materialism, and the morally corrosive spectacle of mass-mediated society. I am a primitive Christian who believes that Christ castigated materialists, consumers, and money-fixated people generally, that he despised the market, and that his being sold for a handful of silver is a parable about what is happening today, not just to him, but to each of us - each of us. We are sold to advertisers starting with our eyeballs, then piece by piece, from the time we can prattle until the day we die. Worse for me, I believe that America was set up to be a democracy by, of, and for the people, not by, of, and for global corporations and their lobbyists. I recognize that these beliefs, so backward as not even to qualify as conservative, make me a Public Enemy of Freedom within the Sodom and Gomorrah that market-dominated America has become. Yet, in daily life I am fortunate to work with people all over the country, including members of The Church of Later Day Saints in Utah, and cultural conservatives in GA, OK, TX, AL, and community-oriented conservative givers in the Midwest too. I must say when it comes to giving that religious people, conservatives, and small business owners, embedded in local communities are often exemplary in their generosity, and in their investment of time and energy in community projects. If we compete on virtue, I admit to coming in practice way short of many of the conservative people I am privileged to know. If we all gave like the folks in Salt Lake City, our country would be a far better place. If we worked as hard as they do, that wouldn't hurt either. (I find myself murmuring The Lords Prayer as I write this, about being forgiven as we forgive others. My conservative friends: Forgive me this blog. It is my gift of hot air to an already warming world.)

Pierre Omidyar: Repo Man

Repocover Media for Change:

One philanthropist, Phillip Cubeta, declares that Pierre's version of philanthropy is actually micro-loan sharking on his blog.

Well, it would be loan sharking if Pierre sics the Happy Tutor on the deadbeats. As long as Pierre doesn't become an International Repo Man, it would be philanthropy, up to a point, I think. It comes down to whether he forgives the bad debts when the people are very poor, and cannot pay. That would be charity, right? Bust them good, that would be a profit maximizing social venture, right? So where is the middle ground? When the two bottom lines, caritas and profit, conflict, how are they balanced? (By redefining true caritas as sending in the Repo Man?)

Patrician Philanthropy

Dynastic wealth coupled with a sense of civic responsibility, of philanthropy and public service, that is an old tradition, flowing back from "old money" in the US through London to Rome and Greece. Children in such families are raised to high station, and are expected to exhibit taste, culture, and a wider sense of humanity. They would be embarrassed to let a flea market, writ howsoever large, whether on line or off, do their thinking for them, or set their values. What strikes me about so much of the new money is the appalling state of education in America and the uncultured, not to say untutored, sensibilities it fosters. Let an entrepreneur make a billion or ten billion and you often begin to wish the kid had been a bit better educated. David Rockefeller, interviewed here, reminds us of another - I think far better - tradition. If we must have classes, and family dynasties, let our patricians at least live up to the role. (Link via personal communication from Senator Dick Minim, a family friend of the Rockefellers, a member of the Trilateral Commission, and a philanthropist in his own right.)