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February 05, 2005


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Watched the DVD on the prep work (read as attempts to get funding from those who will benefit) to make the Ultimate Gift movie. What in the world was that? Commodification of legacy taken to the nth degree comes off as disingenuous. It smelled funny.


The Ulitimate Gift is a sentimental tale of a dead man who talks via a videotape to his heirs after his death, seeking to convey not only his wealth but his wisdom and values. A film of the book will be hitting cities and towns soon. The creation of the film is, as I understand it, funded by financial advisors and others. They will be able to bring clients and prospects to the premiere.

What I get out of this at the deepest level is not revulsion at the tacky book, since it is on a par with tv and most bestsellers and self-help books, but that people want a giving experience that reflects their values and their tastes - good or bad. And mostly bad since bad taste is more common than good, and bad art has long since crowded out good in our culture.

What is being commodified or commercialized is an experience that feels good to the donor. For some that will be on a par with the Ultimate Gift, for others Mozart. What behooves all donor advisors, though, and all financial advisors and charities, is to ask whether the gift solicitation and planning process is as much fun as a theme park, a novel, a film, or a work of art.

I happen to identify with the last option, but I don't begrudge our many, many folks who prefer a more pop culture experience. You take them as you find them, and turn that as you can to a giving spirit.

I would predict that the whole Ultimate Gift experience will fill theaters, and move tons of money from many people, particularly social conservatives who are concerned about passing on "family values" like thrift, hard work, and charity.


Admirable Phil. I hope you are right that theaters are packed with people who hear the wake-up call to pass more than money to their families. Life is about meaning making. We should make meaning with those we care about--even if we need pop culture to prompt us. Ah, the irony.


Right, but it sure seems like a strategy that could be used by all kinds of cultural institutions, like museums, colleges, theater groups. Create an experience that seques from a poet, say, to a discussion of generosity, of poetry as a gift, to discussing one on one the donor's own potential gifts. I have had some conversations with Dallas Institute for Humanties and Culture about such an event, and did stage one for Dallas Social Venture Partners with the Institute using a reading from Amy Kass's literary anthology, The Perfect Gift. Worked well. Somehow we have to put a human face on the estate planning process, so that it is a more reflective experience, not just a technical exercise in financial and legal cunning. "Making meaning," yes.

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