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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. 

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?

Razoo Travel Prize for a Good Act

Join Razoo. Do a good deed from those listed, or set up your own "good act." Winners get travel prizes.  What do others think of such promotions? Are we trivializing giving? Is this the kind of incentive that matters to givers? Will micro-good-deeds add up to something?

Looking at Razoo and at Change.org what seems to be missing is something like what Rousseau would have called the creation of a public will. That is, we have a bourgeois model of tiny consumer choices and micro deeds that are somehow supposed to aggregate into something worthwhile; "the market" will somehow produce big results from little acts. The power of many, the wisdom of crowds will bring good results from trivial, isolated, individualistic, gestures aggregated.

I tend to think we need to see giving/democracy/civil society as more the creation of shared understandings through conversation. Then, when we begin to see things in a certain way, and begin to see one another as allies and friends, and when we begin to use words like solidarity and common purpose, our will, our funds, our lives and our deeds can be "aggregated" in acts that form what amounts to a movement within a shared mythos or set of ideals, or common narrative.  Short of that we are entertaining ourselves and putzing about. 

My perspective is that of a Boomer, yes. And I am truly interested in what Gen X or Y folk have to say, from their generational wisdom and understandings. The next big movement, the thing that might just pull us all back from the brink of extinction, will not come from folks my age, but from the people who are now finding themselves and one another online.  They are not "bowling alone," they are online, collaborating, outside the view of their near-sighted elders who rue the declining membership in the Elks and Kiwanis Clubs, or Jewish Federation, or Rotary, or the established political parties.  Rather than criticizing the rising generations, I hope simply to remain involved as a nearly obsolete elder, learning what he can before the lights go out. (My thoughts on Gen X and Y are indebted to Sharna Goldseker. I interviewed her by phone yesterday. More on that in another post.)

Pozo and Lucky Change The World

Pozzo Imagine two tramps pretending to be grant maker and grant seeker. Who do you think grovels? 

Lucky: "Hey, Pozzo, no fair, you always get to be grant-maker, how come I can't sit around and measure you for a change? Why do I always have to wear a leash and carry bags of sand while you crack the whip?"

Pozzo: "Because I am the grant-maker, Stupid! I measure you! I manage you! And I want results! Now onwards!"

(After reading Albert Ruesga who is equally appalled.)

Moving Your Money To Main Street to Regroup

On the one hand globalism driven by the largest companies in league with politicians headed to and from seats on the boards of the biggest companies. On the other hand a quiet rebellion by those on Main Street against the forces of centralization that bring us mass media, punditry, spectacle, the mortgage mess, and a constant parade of whopping liars blaming liberals, terrorists, or anything but themselves for the decline of our civil society, our democracy, and the health of our air, water, and food supply. Here from the Greens a new website on bringing money home to Main Street and so starving the forces of centralization, whether corporate or governmental. Here linked to from the Green site, Catherine Austin Fitts on "Where would Jesus Bank," How to Find a Local Bank that Matches Your Values, and The US Banking Tapeworm.  What is new here is the coalescence of the Libertarians and the Greens.   What we call Democrats are part of the Centralization Party, the moderate wing. Those of us who want to live simply, have family values built on love not hate, on reason not religious fanaticism, and who value community over brands, and who demand a return to a constitutional republic are turning away from both parties in power and their corporate cronies.  To vote against the duopoly in power you have to get local with your money and your political engagement. As to philanthropy, we shall see whether Ford, Soros, Annie Casey et. al. wake up or whether they remain fat, dumb, and decorous as we slide into a corporate security state, via disaster capitalism. As for me, the heck with it. The doctor says the new meds should improve my positive mental attitude and if not, a little shock therapy should do the trick. Millions of marketized Americans can't be wrong. Might as well join them.

Grantmaking: The Lonely Profession

Upcoming Panel at Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal:

People devote their lives with great pride to professions such as medicine, law, science, education, and even firefighting. These professionals are compensated by society with money and respect for doing work that has clear social value, and they are honored as heroes for their accomplishments and sacrifices. Why can’t the same be said of the professional staff of foundations?

Pre-meeting reading material: Laura Horn and Howard Gardner, "Grantmaking the Lonely Profession," from Damon and Verducci ed., Taking Philanthropy Seriously: Beyond Noble Intentions to Responsible Giving (Indiana University Press, 2007).  I can hear the moderator, William Schambra murmuring just under his breath, "You think you grantmakers get no respect, what about me? Why doesn't anyone take think tank thinkers seriously? I am tired of being the poster child for all the ills of the Think Tank Industry. I didn't create a Plutocracy; I just serve it. It is hard enough to live with myself without everyone rubbing it in. I am just about ready to go into college teaching and do somthing worthwile for America." Well, he probably isn't muttering that. He maybe found his calling.

A Fairy Tale for the Followers of Jay Hughes

The Princess lives in lonely luxury, distrusting all suitors who seek her hand only for political gain. Her carriage takes her through villages of cheering peasants, past homes tidied up by her ministers pending her arrival.  Her ladies in waiting praise her beauty, though her mirror says she is plain.  She has a Homme D'Affairs, courtesy of her Father the King, who is coaching her on optimizing her Social, Human, and Intellectual Capital that her Dynasty might Reign One Thousand Years. She sighs, wise woman, "What is this, the Third or Fourth Reich? What right have I to go in ermine while my people go in shirtsleeves or even rags from generation to generation? What is the point of a Dynasty? For me and my stupid lazy brothe? What makes our blood bluer?" She does have a Fool, but he comes from ASCAP and charges Union Scale and tells the same jokes you could have heard on TV. He is a comic, a time-servant. She has sleek high priced Courtier who calls himself her Homme D'Confiance, and thinks he can control her as he does her Father, by flattery and obsequious service and doing all the dirty work without demur. But she sees through him. She gets her advice from a wizened, wised up Dwarf.  He tells her, "You about the ugliest meanest Princess in all of Creation.  You don't know diddly.  You can't spin and you can't weave.  You look silly in that ball gown. And, you dance like a donkey.  No glass slipper for you, Princess. You get the Pumpkin. Cinderella's going to get the Prince." As she laughs, he continues, "If I show you how to make gunpowder, will you help me blow this place up?" "Let's," she says, "It ends with me, this Family Dynasty Crap.  I want to be Cinderella and work in the ashes."

Re: Jay Hughes, Family Wealth. He also has a new book coming out on a related topic. He is probably the best mind in the planning of dynastic wealth, and he is far more self-aware, and more liberally educated, and alert to the full and unspoken implications of his work, than are most of his followers in tax, law, and finance. Are we building a more aristocratic America? Would we if we could?

Ministering to Human Beings who are Wealthy

The Challenge of Wealth, by Dr. Larry James, the leader of Central Dallas Ministries.  I had the privilege of talking with Larry recently about these issues.  We asked how to create a safe space in Dallas for social justice funders to think through their giving in the light of their many obligations and aspirations, for themselves, their families, and for our community.  If anyone in Dallas could instigate such a conversation it would be Larry. 

All About the Wealthy Donor?

7051 Jeremy Gregg raises money for Central Dallas Ministries. In a recent post he reacts, with both respect and some incredulity, to the speech given here in Dallas by Charles Collier, Senior Philanthropic Advisor at Harvard, the gist of which is that eliciting big gifts is all about the wealthy donor, the donor's family dynamics, the donor's virtues and wisdom, the donor's troubled mind, the donor's legacy or  dynastic ambitions. Throughout the talk I was wondering, why Harvard, Charlie? Why religious and arts organizations? All about me is not how a liberal arts grad or follower of Christ should think. Egotism is a failing - even in America, even for Harvard Alums. If our wealthiest citizens expect our solicitude, if they expect that the biggest problem on our minds as fellow citizens is preserving their dynastic wealth, or passing on their values, whatever those values might be, we are as a society basically screwed. From the leader of Central Dallas Ministries, Larry James, comes these photos from inner city Dallas. So when a donor gives to Dallas Central Ministries who is it all about? Larry asks that himself sometimes and concludes, "We are all in it together." A donor who believes that is a better person than one who believes that family dynasty is the highest ideal. (How do I know? The Bible tells me so; and Dallas, this is Bible Country. Your own damn God said. That is how I know.)

My Two Friends: Two Quite Different Approaches to Social Entrepreneurship

In the wake of the Skoll Conference at Oxford comes the NYU Conference also on Social Entrepreneurship.  Maria Nardell and Josh Moore provide an excellent commentary.

To put the conversation about social entrepreneurship in a more personal context: I was speaking in the last few days with two friends. The first is a Harvard MBA, in mid career. He has had a diverse and successful history in business, often with a social focus, and he has been active in progressive philanthropy. As an entrepreneur he is a visionary. (I sometimes ask him, when he gives his plans for the future, "OK, Napoleon, you and what army?") He said to me recently, "You know, I want to do good. I have looked at nonprofit jobs and they don't pay anything. Plus nonprofits so often are disorganized feel good efforts. I want scale, and social results, and I want to make a decent buck. The investors I talk to feel the same way."  By contrast, and it is an interesting contrast, the second friend is also a social entrepreneur, or change agent, but in the spirit of, say, a visionary like Susan B. Anthony.  (Her nose wrinkles when she hears the biz-school buzz words. "Lucre," as in filthy lucre, is a word she might use, or a word that would make her smile in recognition.) For her money is an encumbrance. She lives simply, gives away as much as she keeps, and follows the Biblical injunction to be like the birds of the air, not worrying about scale or businesses plans, or her own finances.  Both of these friends are acknowledged leaders, both are people I admire, and whose friendship I cherish. Both could be described as "elite," in that both are highly educated and well-connected. Both are passionate about social  justice and about democracy. Both are from families in the public eye. Both are the expression of a multi-generational commitment in their respective families to "giving back," "paying it forward," public service, and to being a good person, and a role model in a difficult and dangerous world.  I find that the two approaches are not "rivalrous," though one person may be passionately devoted to one, and disparage the other. I had the good fortune earlier this week to introduce my two friends to each other face to face. I think they may well become friends. We need more of both approaches; I wish both friends well.