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July 09, 2006


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This is really good stuff, Phil. Almost pushing the technical planning people back from the table, putting them in another room to carry out the instructions from those who are gathered around the table, or a circle. Like the knights of the round table, equals in the quest. Friends and adventurers engaged in building the World We Want.

I would think that long before you bring in the technical advisors, you need to bring in those engaged in the issues, the domain experts. So the first questions will be about what domains are relavent to the building, and then to find people with the right knowledge and experience. In this way, conversations among friends creates the foundations for TWWW. I'm happy to play my own kind of Fool, and contribute what I can from the domains I know best. Thanks.


Gosh, Gerry, that is pleasant to read your comment. I almost always get mystified responses to the process outlined here, on which I have been working for literarlly a decade. The financial and legal professions simply dominate the conversation about money; but as you say here, they have to be subordinate to those who connect with the client's ideals, hopes, aspirations for the life the donor wants and the world he or she wants to leave behind. As you well say, you first have to identify the domains or realms to be brought into the mix, and then invite the specialists in those domains to the planning table, and only then being to crystalize out the "project plans," for self, family and society within the scope of the families financial and personal resources.

Tracy G. and I have been working on this process, and we do have it pretty well systematized. The part that I do I call "the unlicensed practice of the liberal arts," the "tutoring" part. For the financial and estate planning part the client brings in their team of financial, tax, and legal experts. Diogenes remains in his barrel.


Can we flesh these domain experts out a bit? Who traditionally has filled this gap? Who do we see filling this role now? What are the qualities they have that make them so excellent at the soft stuff? Who are these caretakers of values and meaning and purpose? Where do they come from and how are they cared for? Where do we go to find them? How do we know if we have a good one? What is the difference they provide? Are there industry standards? Are there core required skills? What must they know about finance and spreadsheets so they do not lead clients astray? How do I know one when I meet one so I can distinguish him or her from those trained to talk the soft stuff but do not feel it in their hearts?

You know, by knowing me, that I deeply believe in this role. Great post Phil.



When I wrote "domain experts" I was thinking about how I would want to proceed if it was my money. I would want to make myself knowledgable on subjects related to the causes that interest me. I would look for people actually working on the problems and see what they can teach me. I might find a group of academics who would teach me or write paper, do research and such. Or I might find a number of non-profits working on the problems.

How do you know who is good and who is a charletan? No different than hiring for a corporation, you interview and ask questions, and you probably have a small staff of professionals who are good at this too if you really have a lot of wealth to give away.

The technical planning advisors can be put into service here too. As you start getting serious about working with specific organizations, have your pros go over their books and staff and make sure everything is solid. If it isn't they can probably tell you how much it will cost to fix that and the scale of any risks. You want to give them clearcut technical tasks.

Think about different circles, circles of friends, legacy leaders who are on similar paths and sharing stories and the highest level advise and councelling as equals. Another circle of staff level people who maysimilar work or consult for the inner circle, and I would want people in this circle who are real thinkers, generalists with very wide backgrounds and several specialties related to causes I care about. Then the circles of domain experts who are part of domain networks that intersect the inner circles too.

I dsimilaron't think you will find industry associations to vet these networks, but the hands on nature of the process described above. Engagement is the best protection from fraud. That and the advise of friends with experiences doint similar projects.



This topic is my core obsession, if not my core competence. I will try to write more about the "profession," "calling" or job of the Fool as convener of Advisors. How do you know that you have a Goodly Fool on your team?

He or she is as Socrates said he was, the midwife of your soul. Now, Socrates was man, so the midwife image seems incongruous, but even more so when realize that his interlocutors, not clients, were men, often middle aged men, the equivalent in Athens of, say, Dick Cheney. The image of midwifery explicates, "paidia," the drawing out from a person their inner self, their best self, as the seed germintes into plant, or a woman births a new life.

But there is more. Augustine said we are born "between urine and feces." The role of midwife is invasive in some ways, highly personal. Even the Queen has a midwife and the process remains undignified.

Finally, consider the woman's expression, her groans and contortions. Midwifery is not for the squeamish or the courtly.

How then do you know you have a good Fool, or midwife, or "philosopher" on the team? Ask yourself whether they have goaded, coached, and cajoled you through the pain and pleasure of birthing the new life within you, the better self aching to be born.

That process may be strenuous, but for those of us who have experienced the birth of a child, no greater joy. (At least for the man, though no greater joy for the woman too when she holds that new life in her arms.)

That riff above is about Socrates, similar riffs could be given for Diogenes, Christ, a Zen Monk, and the Fool (as in King Lear). How we recognize a wise advisor dedicated to our deepest good is difficult - often as Jesus said, "The stone the builder's rejected, that is the keystone." So, likewise, the advisor the client rejects as impertinent, or insubordinate, he or she may be the one whose questions are essential.

"Growing pains" or "birth pangs," maybe is how you recognize the advisor, or clown, madman or blessed idiot who pushes you to acknowlege the great life, the life that will outlive you, that is being born through you.

What credentials, etc? Well, Spin, you have the printing press so you know. The only real credential is a certificate from the Institute for Moral Authority permitting the unlicensed practice of the liberal arts, including, I might add, satire.


Gerry, domain experts come in so many varieties. The secret is knowing or discerning "proper steps in proper order." At what point in the sequence from brainstorming to plan completion does the wealth holder work with:

- JD
- Bank Trust Officer
- Money Manager
- Life Insurance Agent
- Family Psychologist
- Expert in philanthropic tools and tax exempt organizations
- Financial planner
- Planned Giving Officer or fundraiser for the various charities he or she has supported in the past
- Expert on specific nonprofit domains, like environment, education, health and welfare, media, social justice, etc?

Where does the person begin? Typically these efforts are all disconnected and herky jerky, with lots of advisors and family members pulling in various directions with no deeply considered overall plan for

1. Self
2. Family and heirs
3. Community

No one person has enough vision to encompass all the specialities required from finance, tax and legal to community leadership to family dynamics.

My contention, though, it that is had best start with a Socrates, if you will, or a Diogenes, or someone who can open up the biggest issues. Unless those issues about vision and love and death and community are explored in an open ended way before the client sees the highpriced advisors, the conversation will never happen. You don't do
wool-gathering with a $450 an hour estate tax JD, nor, really do you discuss your spiritual aspirations, and immortality longings with your therapist unless you want to be cured of your better self.

I have lots of concrete suggestions and a roster of specific names of highly regarded people in the various domains and I will continue to explore these issues online if anyone is interested. It does help to read the comments. I have talked to myself about all this for 15 years, so I don't gain much by maundering away alone.


Yes, I really like how you write and think about these things.

No one person has enough vision to encompass all the specialities required from finance, tax and legal to community leadership to family dynamics.

That's what I'm getting at in the second circle, you need some general advisors who may not be active specialists in any of the items you mention. I'm sure you don't get to manage those folks without having a good grasp of what they can and can't do even if you can't do the details of any of it. I'm like that with technology, I can tell if they are full of it even if they aren't in my specialties.

Missing from you list is any nod to organizational design and development. What we often talk about with respect to Open Source models and Commons based production. These are core areas that inform how to build a network that can really change things, but not specifically connected to causes of action. These are methods of acting, as is what you propose with gift hub. These areas can be thought of as causes of their own, but I really think they are key to the overall puzzle of how to avoid the crisis. The social software is the technical layer of this effort, but just like what you describe it isn't central. Bring the technologists in when you know what you want to build, or have questions about what is practical.


Yes, for a given donor or legacy leader, it may be a question of giving a grant to an existing nonprofit, but it might also be a question of starting a nonprofit. It might even a matter of catalyzing a social movement; that last possibility is the most intriguing to me personally. How with a little money, a lot of talent, and many hands united in a growing community, might a legacy leader create and sustain social change?

Open source is a good example, and almost a paradigm. You know that Peter Karoff has written a paper on philanthropy and open source concepts.

For a little money to get disproportionate results would require that the money be "embedded" in a self-actualizing social network. Yet wealth is often isolated from direct participation in the hurly burly of social organizing, online or off.

You are right; I do hope to cross-link these many conversations if I can: the conversations among "professionals" about the processes of working with wealthy people around their giving and the "civic" conversations of self-actualizing democratic revival.


Yes, I read Peter's paper and also one from Tracy that includes a nod to Open Source approaches. I like how both of them have translated the ideas to their domains.

It is almost inevitable that a few donors start to attempt this sort of thing. With what you got for your small donation to start the Giving Conference is a great example that can be scaled up. I sure hope a bigger experiment happens out of TWWW.


Phil and Gerry,

I love your midwife metaphor. To become a heartfelt giver with purpose is to open your lungs to breathe the air as if you were in the womb till now. Some start with a cry. Be sure it is able hands that bring you forth, and call in the best if you turn out breech. For some it is not even a natural process, and they perhaps need a fool to keep them focused while they are sliced out of their former selves.

Giving is not something very often approached with the care and strategizing of business. Many people spend more time planning vacation than intentionally giving money. And some resist, perhaps, the costs of giving well. Who manages all these people who need to be involved? Who moderates--yes, that specific vehicle will avoid taxes, but it keeps the funds held up for decades when it could be given away starting now. Come on, these professional need to take care of themselves. They have motivations of their own. Who holds the vision and sees it carried out? Who champions the donor? While that person plays a specific role, they are not united by title, background, nor association.

I hope Phil and Tracy and their associates can help outline the qualities so that more and more people can find their giving champion.


"Giving champions" often represent specific organizations to which the donor may have some tie. As the donor is asked, so she may give, but the result can be a scattershot giving pattern with limited strategic effect. To champion the donor's own vision and follow it where it leads is an ideal, but one for which few successful business models exist. Donors are often reluctant as they contemplate generous actions to pay high fees to a "philanthropic champion." It seems odd to pay for the help of a champion who champions others giving away money while making money himself out of the deal. Providing the champion role as volunteer or pro bono publico requires some other source of income, from a job, trust fund, or whatever.

Financial advisors do have often a vested interest in keeping assets under management. This may lead to a focus on trusts, foundations, and other tools that defer giving, while keeping principal intact. Candidly, I would tell advisors not to be so short-sighted. Doing right by the donor's resolve, helping her to experience the joy of giving while alive, encouraging her to engage her family, flowing money into organizations and projects that sorely need the current funds all this is good business in a field that is critically dependent on trust, goodwill, personal introductions and word of mouth reputation. No donor gives it all away; there is plenty for advisors to do and to manage. Taking an englightened view of giving puts the advisor in a select group and can open endless doors.


That's why we want to build independent supports for the supporters of the giving network. Some will see how critical this role is and give to organizations like Inspired Legacies so the can organize the "volunteers". Some will have their own family endowments and not need a salary and other will, but to the donor who needs a councellor it is a gift. If later they return a gift so much better.

At the planning table all should come as equals without any financial agenda beforehand. Some will have funds to create interventions, and others will have skills and experience in designing interventions and managing them. Some will have both, but the team works together in any case and makes the big decisions collectively.


Tracy is a key case in point of a true giving champion or legacy leader. Her model is very much as you describe it, "Pay it forward." Building the human relationship first, before categorizing people, or objectifying them as "wealthy," "donor," "grant seeker," "volunteer," etc seems essential to having a healthy community. At the original gifthub open space giving conference, I encouraged people to put just their name on their name tags or use "active citizen" as the tagline.

As to decision making, it is the donor's money. There will be rythym of public and private conversations. The advisor has a fiduciary responsibility to the donor to make sure she takes good care of herself and her family and does not go nuts with giving. You might say a good advisor tempers the donor's prudence with inspiration and her inspiration with prudence. If the donor wants specific grassroots effects it would be smart to involve the community from the beginning as co-creators, not just grant seekers or recipients.

Maybe the internet has a role to play here too. "On the internet no one knows you are a dog," or a wealthy potential funder. We meet as we are, day to day, in our blogs, discussion forums, and comment sections. You can only keep up pretenses so long. As we interact in a human way and build trust, even sometimes behind psudonyms, we can then move to face to face and fuller disclosure of real world coordinates and ground rules.

Givers mature over time and many of the larger givers may be 50+; they are also busy and over-booked, so online conversations about giving, by those in the know, and already engaged, are pretty rare. Omidyar.net is an exception, but the conversation there does not seem to reflect much input from funders.

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