Think Tank Thinkers Feed

Mapping The Philanthropic Ecosystem

The Ecosystem of Philanthropy

Who is part of your "better world" ecosystem? That is, if you want to create for yourself and those you love a better life in a better world, what other "players" impinge on you, for good or ill? And how might you, then, uplift both your own actions and the overall ecosystem so that a better world is possible? That is the line of thought that I have been pursuing within an informal network over the last several years. I will organize for my own use these observations under key names in my ecosystem.

Tracy Gary

Key actors in her vision are donor, advisor, and nonprofit. Key indicator of success is the number of dollars raised. Key driver of dollars raised is donor training to help the donor manage the planning process with advisors towards a more inspired, but also prudent result. As donors are trained to ask for philanthropic plans that very request will motivate more advisors to provide such plans.  Training for advisors would then be well-received, since tied to a practical result, that of meeting a real demand. Also, a key actor is the next generation, the children of the donor. If money goes to charity it might come at the expense of taxes first, but at some point it will come at the expense of inheritance. Hence, children must be raised and mentored in their roles as carriers on of a giving tradition. Nonprofits on this model become the convener of the appropriate training and conversation and network.

Tracy and I will present this vision to Advisors in Philanthropy at their Annual Conference next week. The following week I will present a version of it to Southeastern Council of Foundations.  We do have some early success stories. A number of other professionals have expressed interest in this way uplifting the philanthropic ecosystem.

Catherine Austin Fitts

A former investment banker, and former assistant director of HUD, Catherine seems to have stumbled upon the dark side of money and become for awhile an "enemy of the state," as she puts it with a smile, suffering the tribulations of Job, as a lesson in civics for herself and others. She is not keen on philanthropy, because she has seen where money, in certain cases, comes from, with whom it consorts behind the scenes, and how brutally those who control so much of the world's money and power behave when their insider games are outed or challenged. She has seen philanthropy used as cover or cleanser for the reputations of people who should probably be in jail for financial fraud, extortion, drug running, betrayal of the public trust, mere graft, or high crimes and misdemeanors. She also sees that philanthropy will be tolerated as a cleanser as long as it remains both upbeat and ineffectual. Philanthrocapitalism is also safe because it does not challenge, in fact personifies the hegemonic game.

You might think, then, that while Tracy is liberal that Catherine is a revolutionary Marxist taking her cue from Che. In fact she is a Christian Conservative taking her cue from Adam Smith and Jesus Christ, which makes her a dangerous mind. She is not asking capitalism to give way to socialism. She is demanding that capitalism live up to its own founding ideals: financial transparency, honest  book keeping, the rule of law, and the prosecution of criminals regardless of their wealth, rank, philanthropy, connections, or access to armed force, or criminal networks.

Catherine urges us to create a better, more financially intimate world, by withdrawing wealth from the rigged and gamed financial markets and reinvesting in places governed by the rule of law, maybe New Zealand, or maybe your home town, or among a circle of friends who have farms, small businesses, or a local bank.  As an investment banker she thinks bigger than that too, asking who will own the water supply, for example, in your town? Who will commandeer the food supply? Might we not form investment pools that would allow local decision makers to steward such resources for the good of the town, rather than, say, Nestles?

You can see that this is not your idea of "philanthropy," but the actors named by Catherine (the drug dealers, the slum lords, the corrupt governmental officials gaming the sub-prime mess, the investment bankers bringing for profit prisons to market, the private bankers who own the Fed, the governors owning prison stocks and passing "three strikes you're out" laws, the shadowy actors trading drugs for arms and arms for hostages,  the corrupt accountants of both business and government, the blackmailers and hit squads operating here and abroad to silence those who out the dirty game) are part of the same ecosystem in which philanthropy goes about its upbeat work.  Some capitalist like Boverton Beaver who has made billions out of buying companies in, say, the liquor business, gambling stocks, the porn business, or armaments, or in for profit prisons, might call himself a Double Bottom Line Social Investor and might start a double bottom line bakery employing at low wages the convicts on parole from the prison he owns up the hill from the ghetto, blighted by the drug lord whose Harvard educated son sits with Boverton on the board of the local hospital, or the home town newspaper, or serves on a Blue Ribbon Commission studying urban poverty.  That philanthrocapitalist might then endow a business school, or a chair in social venture capitalism, or might fund a DC Think Tank on Engaged Philanthropy, or on Pro-Market Public Policy, or might hire out the writing of any number of white papers and scholarly studies on metrics for double bottom line firms.  All this might then be applauded by leading philanthropy bloggers who, in their business life, consult to the banks and the brokerage houses with their captive philanthropy departments catering to private wealth from sources both light and dark, or who make their living managing Boverton's money. So the world closes back on itself in an ecosystem in which the herbivores, the carnivores, and the hominids thrive and prosper - up to a point, though that punctuated equilibrium is far from optimal from the standpoint of human flourishing. 

H. Peter Karoff, Amy Kass, Bill Schambra, and others Devoted to the Liberal Arts

What other actors? What are we leaving out? How about the teachers, writers, artists, prophets, and thinkers who are the masters of our spiritual, intellectual, ethical, and cultural traditions? (If you are not familiar with such figures you might think instead of Star Wars or Marvel Comics or Grand Theft Auto or the Matrix; those may be close enough to wisdom, if that is all you have and you don't know the difference.) If our better world is to be guided by what T. E. Hulme called "the best that has been thought and said," then we must listen to voices of the graces, or the holy spirit, or the muses,  or the voice that speaks out of the thunder, or the still voice we have been ignoring, or whatever one wishes to call that voice that rises in us when we are obedient to what is greater than ourselves, what is most alive and life-giving in our traditions. I could go on at great length on this point. Eloquence trumps power. The pen is mightier than the sword. Love conquers all. And the dead shall rise into eternal life, dead or not, as they live on within the tradition they would not betray, even at the cost of their own life, the ultimate gift.  As different as are the three figures mentioned above they share an almost helpless love for the life of the mind and of the spirit. When they discuss giving, it is within the shadow of Mt Ararat  within eyeshot of the ruined garden. I am not implying that they would get crossways with worldly wealth or power. We catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Phil to Thee

Well, you can see that the company I keep makes my head ache and buzz.  What I come down to is this: Whatever is the correct map of the ecosystem in which we live, whatever actors you see, or think you see, whichever you name, or fear to name, whatever your personal resources, you cannot blink the questions:

  1. What kind of person do you want to be?
  2. In what kind of world?

As you meditate on those questions, you will need your own vision of success, and a realistic model of your current situation - whether upbeat or dark or chiaroscuro. Given that vision of a better life in a better world, and given your assessment of what you are up against, you will have to make your own decisions, in the light of the traditions that speak to you and through you, as to how you will deploy your money, your time, your attention, your life energy, and your love within a risk profile that includes your assessment of the probability of success or failure under conditions you can barely discern. Each of us can see only a little.

Best Practices within a Learning Community

As we find our way, across this landscape, let us share what we see, share what we learn, mapping our terrain, and sharing the paths that lead out of the dark wood into the light. As you address the two questions above (and they cannot be evaded for the evasion itself is an answer), consider sharing what works and does not work so that we can collectively do better than we could alone. I am trying to take that approach here sharing my notes on what I am learning, and hope you will share as well, whether through a note to me, or on your own blog, or however you wish.  Perhaps if we live in truth, and speak what we know, and look out for each other, we  not only ameliorate specific ills,  and prosper in our own lives, but also uplift the overall ecosystem of which our efforts individually are but a tiny part. 


Speaking of Philanthropy at Hudson Institute: My Notes as a Morals Tutor

Kristol Do you know this man? Irving Kristol, considered the founder of American neoconservatism. He sat smiling genially, in attendance at our panel at Hudson. If you read the piece I wrote for that (download 4 page.pdf), you will see it is a very dry satire of the neconservative vision of strategic philanthropy. It was with great pleasure that I heard Bill Schambra read the case study aloud, as Irving Kristol himself caught my eye and smiled. I thought I head Bill's voice crack just a tad as he read the part about the wealthy neocon philanthropist funding a think tank to reduce income taxes, eliminate estate taxes, and roll back taxes on his oil and gas businesses, and so do good for society by creating jobs. On the wall of the Green Room where we had lunch prior to the talk, there was Dick Cheney, seen from below, in a hero pose, against the Hudson banner.  After our recent controversies here about Holden, I felt very safe at Hudson.

Being with Dr. Amy Kass, author of Giving Well Doing Good was a great pleasure. She loves the humanities so deeply and teaches them so well, that political differences seem just an excuse for a good conversation among civic friends. I also had a chance to meet her distinguished husband, Leon Kass. A certain Mad Monk introduced himself to me, in a conspiratorial whisper. And several people came up to confide that they read Gifthub. I got to shake hands with William DennisTim Walter, Katherine Jankowski, and Martin Wooster. After the panel, I had a drink with Albert Ruesga in the Mayflower Hotel (where Monica used to stay). Actually, Albert got so animated talking about grassroots social change that he spilled his martini all over my moth-eaten business suit. I had Thunderbird on the rocks with a twist. Then back home to the Dumpster. There may be no outside of Wealth Bondage, but I would love to go back sometime to our Command & Control Center.  Here  in Dallas, on the  margins  of  empire, it's pretty dull by comparison. They just tell us what they want us to know, and we are supposed to act like we believe it.


Provide, Provide (From Fame to Shame)

STLToday:

"Tomorrow I embark on a new journey in my life," he said. "I do so with a firm faith in God and the support and faith of my family..... I do so with a clear conscience."

Lord Conrad Black? Richard Mellon Scaife? No, Republican ex-Govener of Illinois, George Ryan, reporting to prison for political corruption, including "allegations of sitting poolside in Jamaica at the expense of lobbyists and accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from underlings."

We who do values-based planning for the wealthy often talk of how clients go from Success to Significance. Fortune's Wheel, though, is constantly turning, and many a client rises from Success to Significance only to fall into disgrace.  As Robert Frost once put it, in the spirit of the Vanitas Tradition, "Too many fall from great and good/For you to doubt the likelihood." He goes on to say,

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard.

Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide!

Not to be self-serving, but I would like to suggest that if you are rich and powerful it might be best to provide for yourself, your family and your legacy by retaining a World Class Morals Tutor, such as myself, rather than the usual enablers, flatterers, and "trusted advisors." I may be "boughten friendship," like a politician on the take, or a think tank thinker, or a publicist, or your Bishop, but better boughten friendship at your side than none at all, as Frost says.


Of Wealth and Virtue: The Instructive Story of Cornelius Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt From History News Network comes this fascinating look by Edward Renehan at the culture of philanthropy in the time of Cornelius Vanderbilt. As we have Think Tanks, so in his day the strikingly named London Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor promoted the belief that giving to the poor was generally bad because it encourages vice and indolence.  In America the same analysis was made by The Society for the Prevention of Pauperism:  The poor are mostly undeserving and are best served or contained in workhouses and debtor prisons. The strong survive, the weak perish, and the race is purified of its weak beings and its cultures of failure.  The article shows how this strain of Social Darwinism influenced Vanderbilt and others, reducing or squelching their commitment to giving to the poor.  And, the article traces the "tough love" philosophy down to Ayn Rand and our contemporary conservative thinkers.

When, at Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, Bill Schambra calls for less welfare for the poor and more help from private philanthropy, one can only wonder.  Once welfare is dismantled, and the tax breaks given, will wealthy conservatives step up their giving to the poor? Or, will the arguments and alibis used to make welfare seem a corrupting influence on the poor be recycled and returned to their earlier context, becoming once again a critique of charitable giving to the undeserving poor? Will the rich man who disdains having his tax money go to the indigent, step in to give his money through a nonprofit intermediary, or will he simply walk off, his heart hardened, and his conscience clear, to spend the money on his own deserving self and his own deserving heirs? Sadly, that is mostly what Cornelius Vanderbilt did. His heir, though, the one to whom he gave almost all his fortune, did little to preserve it, and the family, once (in inflation adjusted terms) three times richer than Bill Gates, has seen its dynasty crumble.  Several of the heirs, it seems, contested the  patriarch's will, accusing him of being insane.  The case dragged on; the chosen son, the one who was to inherit almost all, committed suicide.

In the dialogue of Virtue and Wealth, Dame Fortune may have the final word.  Had Vanderbilt listened to the Christ of the Gospels, or to Maimonides with his ladder of giving (or justice), or to the Stoics who counsel detachment from worldly passion, rather than listening to the think tanks of his era, might Vanderbilt's family have been better and done better, not only for society, but for themselves? Unwisdom, selfishness, and sophistry are like vipers we breed in our hearts at our own peril.


Funding American Greatness

"Do you not think I have just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age, had conquered so  many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable?" - Julius Caesar upon reading of the exploits of Alexander the Great

I went to see my friend and colleague, Smoky Joe, Senior Fellow at Rooster Foundation: Crowing in the New American Century. I had hoped to talk about doing some sort of Values-Based Planning deal with their wealthy contributors, but I found Joe with his head down on his desk, weeping, and flailing with his fists.  "Dr. Joseph Goebbels was dead at age 48, Phil," he said, "and look at me at 51.  What have I accomplished that is memorable?" I reassured him that many of his phrases (like "Operation Iraqi Freedom") have been memorable and he still has more than a year to do to America what his hero did to Berlin.  He brightened immediately and went back to his typing. It was a press release, I believe, to be read on Fox News about doing God's work in Iran.  My fundraising idea will have to wait, I guess. I wonder if Bill O'Reilly is a good values-based planning prospect? If we can't cure these people, at least we can make a buck off them. When it comes to advancing my own career, I am transpartisan. Every funder has a right to his or her own values. It is all subjective, anyway. The main thing is to offend no one, make an honest buck, and live well among the ruins.


Funding The End of Democracy: Family Security Matters Calls for Bush to be Named President for Life

DC Think Tank, Family Security Matters, calls on Bush to sack Iraq and declare himself President for Life. Article then disappears from the Security Matters site, but you can read it hereR. James Woolsey, now VP of Booz Allen Hamilton, formerly director of the CIA is on their Board.  More on Family Security Matters at Right Web.  Among their funders, as noted by Media Transparency,  are the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, who also fund William Schambra at Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal. You can donate to FSM here.  Meanwhile Center for Media and DemocracyMedia Transparency, and other basic elements of the battle to save democracy go unfunded.  Go figure.  I am told by well positioned progressive funder friends that such infrastructructure is "not sexy enough" for progressive funders. I truly do not understand the mindset. Is it that the threat to democracy of places like FSM, a favorite source for FOX News,  is not credited as real by progressives? Are we just in denial? Or,  is it all about getting Hillary elected, if Bush does not declare himself President for Life? We don't need millions for more  spin to offset the spin. We need basic infrastructure to support transparency and accountability of both parties to power.  No?


Replace Social Security with Alms, says Schambra

King_giving_alms_small Fungible? What means, "fungible?" It means that philanthropy can substitute for government programs. Here is Bill Schambra fuming that Social Security got off on the wrong foot. Instead of being supported by a national payroll tax, the aged should rely on direct handouts from local rich people moved by their compassionate conservatism to drop a coin in the old woman's palm, while her son bows and tugs his forelock in  gratitude. If only today's peasants were as grateful.


Experts at Hudson - What is Their Role?

Schambra, at Hudson Institute, on philanthropy as civic virtue:   

Scientific philanthropy considers itself to be a detached problem solver, funding experts to track down root causes. Civic renewal philanthropy considers itself to be a catalyst of civic engagement, helping to complete the Founding by cultivating democratic self-governance and the moral and civic virtues it requires. Our times demand a philanthropy that prefers citizen over expert.

Click here to "Find an Expert" at Hudson.  Bill, civic renewal philanthropy does not fund experts. Who, then, funds these experts and why?