Scene 1: The View from the Hilltop
Trusted advisor (Lauren) and client (Leo) have spent the day at the client's farm. Spouse (Charita) and children have gone off to town to see a movie. For the last two days nothing much has been said about finance, or giving, though much has come up in passing about the state of society, particularly the state of our democracy. Leo suggests a walk. Through the apple orchard, down a path, across the ravine, then up the hill. The two are comfortable, being civic friends, with silence. They catch their breath at the top of hill, looking out across the farm land, the stream, and the city in the far distance, shrouded in smog. "Look, Lauren, I have been thinking.....," begins Leo.
Scene 2: Democracy Conference: The Community of Interest
Leo and Lauren are not surprised to have found each other's names on the list of those attending the "post-partisan" conference on revitalizing civil society. They see many old friends, and recent acquaintances. They see people from religious organizations, the arts, political advocacy, the media, funders, and activists. At the reception, they watch pockets form as various groups coalesce and disperse. "Feel at home?," Leo asks Lauren. "Well, yes, sort of. I know a lot of people here, and am glad to see so many new faces from the Christian community and business world." "Yeah, but we Buddhists had better stick together," jokes Leo, "we are out-numbered."
Scene 3: The Family Therapist
Leo and Charita are both on their second marriage. The children from Leo's first marriage are estranged. He has taken her children into the house, if not completely into his heart. They have one child from their marriage. With a prenup in force, the money in the family is Leo's. After the trauma of his first divorce, he is not too eager to share control, as committed as he is to Charita. As "dysfunctional" as his own kids may be, he has not given up on them. As much as he loves her kids, "blood," he feels "is thicker than water." As he thinks about his "lasting legacy," he gets uncomfortable. There is so much that is unspoken. His legal work, other than the prenup, is way out of date. His company, started years ago with very little money, may soon be bought out. Lauren, the one advisor he trusts, is urging him, to basically, get his act together. So, here he is with Charita in the family therapist's waiting room. "Shoot," thinks Leo, "Why does life have to be this hard? How do I tell Charita that her kids ain't getting squat?"
Scene 4: Around The Planning Table(s)
Well, how many tables? Just one with Leo, Charita, and their advisory team? Or will she have her own legal representation, and he is his, negotiating at arm's length? Who will lead and who will follow in the conversations that ricochet around from Leo, to Charita, to the CPA, the trust officer, the financial advisor, the money manager, the insurance agent? (And somewhere in the background maybe the family therapist is involved, and maybe a philanthropic advocate, or organizer for democracy).
If we put a dot on a sheet of paper for each professional, and used lines to diagram who talks directly to whom, how would those lines look?
Controlling CEO Model: Here Leo would call the shots, maybe keeping Charita informed. All lines go from Leo and back to Leo.
Trusted Advisor Model: Here Leo puts Lauren as the "monkey in the middle," as he jokingly refers to her. She is the one in whom he confides his hopes, dreams, doubts and ultimately his decisions. "Get it done," he says, "and keep me informed." Now all the lines go to and from Lauren as trusted advisor and project manager. How well she keeps Charita informed may be a sore point. (Is she working for Leo or for the couple?)
Patient Doctor Model: Leo is no passive patient etherized upon the planning table, expecting his advisors to read his mind and do what is right. He is, if anything, over-controlling. But what of Charita? Might she just let go and let it happen, trusting that her interests will be weighed and considered? Will she say, "Whatever you want, dear"? Or will she assert herself, and if so how will her views be debriefed, represented, and factored into the plan? When the legal and project plans are drafted, does she get sign off or just Leo? And who decides that?
Collaborative Chaos Model: Here advisors jockey for access to Leo or to Charita or both. They keep one another in the dark, and play for positional advantage. Each has his or her own ends in view, and favorite tools and techniques, as well as having the client's best interests at heart. It is not clear who runs the team, and so paper and bills fly back and forth, until the planning tolerance and bill paying tolerance of the family have been reached, and the planning subsides for awhile, half finished.
Scene 5: Hilltop a Year Later
Leo's business has been sold. A chunk went into a family foundation. Leo himself is out of a job, in essence, having sold his company. The legal work has been created for the ultimate tax wise distribution of his estate at death. As head of his new foundation Leo is wondering, "Now what? Democracy....wasn't that the point? How do I get from the interest on this pile of money to a more vital democracy? What am I supposed to do now, exactly? Read all these piddling grant proposals and dole out the chump change? I am a leader, not a penny-ante banker. Wasn't this supposed to be fun? I just got myself a rinky-dink hobby job as an amateur program officer at my own foundation. What was this all supposed to be about?"
Scene 6: Family Therapist Year Two
"I am just so damned depressed," says Leo. "About the country, about my life. I just know there is so much more I could be doing. How do I get something going? I am sick of nothing to do. I am sick of reading proposals. I am sick of being treated like I am some kind of god when all they want is my money. What am I doing with my life? I am a useless piece of dirt." To which the therapist says, "And, Leo, how does that make you feel?"
Scene 7: Team Formation At Democracy Conference Year Two
Leo, Charita and Lauren are huddled with Melinda who has created an online meeting place for funders, activists, and "domain experts" around grassroots democratic revival. A number of community foundations want to use materials she has created to stir up local conversations and deliberations about issues of concern to the local community. Melinda has a network of Open Space conveners who can do citizen driven meetings at small cost. She wants to feed these local conversations up to a master site, or maybe even a national conference, to create enough critical mass to break through into the mediated consciousness of her couch-sitting compatriots. She has a couple of books she sees herself promoting, The World We Want by Peter Karoff, and Inspired Philanthropy by Tracy Gary. She has web friends who will give the project "link love," driving online traffic. She wants to attract big gifts and "legacy giving" along with lots of little gifts accepted online from ordinary people, and to pair funders and activists to go off in many directions in pursuit of the world each wants in their community. She has tons of other ideas and no way to make ends meet as she gets things going. Leo sees that she is talented, passionate, under-funded and out-classed. "How could we grow this to scale," he asks. "What would it take?"
Charita sees the old fire in Leo's eyes. "The man is taking charge," she murmurs. Lauren is taking notes, scoping out the projects, figuring out who else should be on the action team, running budgets and timelines in her head. When Leo attacks, it will be all out. He will need a business plan for this new startup and he will need to rejigger his personal finances to fund it. Lauren is factoring prudence into her fast-running financial eqations. How much will Charita need if Leo blows it all? What should be reserved for the kids of his marriage, her prior marriage, and their marriage together? What is Charita thinking about Leo's new mission in life? Can this be the project that draws them together and engages their blended family?
To Be Continued
Gentle Reader, you can continue this saga as you wish. You can vary names, ages, gender relationships, race, and family situation. Change the cause. The moral is the same. Planning for "The World We Want" is not so easy. The world we want is in our bed with us each night, and in the kitchen each morning, and on the phone when the kids call home. The world we have is on t.v., and in the news, often simplified and distorted. The world we want is not some isolated rich person giving grants, not even if the rich person might be us. The world we want is more inclusive, vibrant and active.
Morals to Be Drawn
- Inspired legacies as Tracy Gary calls them are embedded in deep contexts from which they must be "birthed." The inspired legacy promoter cannot forget or neglect or bypass the deep issues around conflicting personal, family, business and civic claims on the donor-citizen's time, attention, and funds.
- The World We Want will not be funded out of the interest on money sitting in foundations. There is not enough of it. And, unless coupled with active leadership, money alone won't have much transformational effect.
- The World We Want will be funded largely by couples, with new wealth, like Leo and Charita, who work through the issues with a good planning team and get their money and their energies aligned with their talent and their community.
- The World We Want will be catalyzed by legacy leaders who think beyond themselves to engage activists and organizers to co-create a movement or a self-catalyzing chain reaction.
- We are still building the framework within which these self-catalyzing networks of advisors, new money, old money, foundations, volunteers, and activists can meet, form relationships, create projects and get moving. The framework or "hub" will need to foster face to face and online interaction that goes on with increasing intensity year by year.
- If done right, the networks will be self-catalyzing in the sense that they free up more money and energy than they use up.
- I would like to imagine that Leo, having found the team, will aggressively invest his personal funds, as well as his foundation funds, and his life energy and managerial drive in creating the infrastructure needed to help others do the same.
When Peter Karoff asks how the world we want can be accomplished, the case study above is my best answer.