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October 20, 2006


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Dan Bassill

If we can turn random acts of kindness into the type of sustained effort it takes to build huge buildings, we can do more to make this a better world.

Hopefully that's what Sean can do with tactical philanthropy. It's what I'm trying to do in the Tutor/Mentor Connection.


Yes, I like the way Sean emphasizes tactics. He would only do that having understood what strategy is all about. What he is saying, I think, is that vision is free, but implementation is costly, difficult, and risky. Very interesting to have a professional with his credentials and experience online. A conversation is always much more engaging than a monologue.

Dan Bassill

Creating conversation vs monologue is really the goal, isn't it. The next step would be making an effort to get more of the 'right' people into the conversation. We talked about that during a recent Omidyar.net discussion, din't we.

I'd like to propose to readers that we expand this conversation to many blogs, with a goal of trying to impact 2006 year end holiday and planned giving philanthropy into specific streams of service.

If you and Sean and others who blog philanthropy will lead conversations about tactical giving, I'll lead conversations in the http://tutormentor.blogspot.com about how such giving can lead to more and better volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in Chicago and other cities, and I'll point to a database for Chicago that donors could use to choose what agency(s) they want to send year-end donations to. As others who focus on health, environment, senior citizens, etc. join the conversation, they can use their blogs the same way I use mine, but focused on their stream of service. The goal is that our collective efforts draw more donors and more service providers, and more people like you and Sean into one conversation that peaks as charitable giving peaks.

There's really no "yes" or "no" to this suggestion. If we keep the conversation going, it's a "yes" to whom ever joins.


Good, Dan. I agree there is no yes or no, but I would be happy to participate as the conversation evolves, link by link.

Sean Stannard-Stockton

I'd be happy to participate as well. It seems to me that there are many good nonprofit oriented blogs out there right now, but very few that speak to donors. I hope that Joyful Girl at Giving Back continues to post on a regular basis and that others like Julia Moulden at The New Radicals help us build the dialog.

Phil has been setting an example for some time. I hope I can do my small part in helping to build the online conversation. There's a lot to discuss.


Thanks, Sean, there is indeed a lot to discuss, and to hash out. I was thinking just now of 'results,' and 'metrics,' and wondering how the Roman governors and the Pharisees of 0 AD would have posited outcomes and what results they would have wanted to measure. "My Kingdom is not of this world." Are we too far gone, too sunk in materialism, to even envision results that makes a mockery of measurement, so extravagent is the cost and the benefit.

Dan Bassill

One of the ideas I'd like to see discussed in our brainstorming is one of "Taking back turf from those who advocate for a results orientation focus. It's not that I don't focus on results, but without a consistent flow of resources, it's very difficult for non profits to grow from an idea, to being good, then being great, with measurable results that show the outcomes of all of this work.

Thus, I'm looking for people who focus on telling the story, sharing the vision, and attracting donors who share the same vision, and understand that without their consistent investmetn, there will be no results to measure.

As part of tactical philanthropy, we should be looking for early stage investors, on-going investors, evaluation investors, etc. along with those who understand the need to distribute these resources in many places and to many organizations, if sector impact is to be achieved.

If we tell this story well during November and December, my hope is that we attract a few of these early stage and on-going investors to volunteer based tutoring/mentoring programs in Chicago and other parts of the country (world).


Social investors with business backgrounds should understand in principle the need to build capacity, and achieve a certain scale, before 'results' become consequential. Think too of how many great and influential works of art, or religious thinkers, began with being ignored, shunned, ostracized and even persecuted and executed. When the results needed are a moral rebirth and a new civic understanding, the metrics for early stage work have not ever been calibrated. The best you have is your own educated taste and intelligence, and the effect the cause has on you. Sometimes our feet rally and our hearts long before the brain can apply its business as usual pennyante metrics. There is something squint eyed and mean spirited and blind about the whole ethos of "you can't manage what you cant measure." Such a manager may find the metric and miss the meaning. "Bring out weight and measure in a time of dearth," wrote Wm Blake.

Sean Stannard-Stockton

I think that measuring results is very important, as is understanding what can and can not be measured. On the one hand you have some nonprofits arguing that they can't be measured because "you can't put a dollar value on a human life". On the other hand you have some donors refusing to fund anything which can not be measured. Metrics are important tools, but they are best used by someone who understands that results must be measured on multiple time frames and that "intangibles" can be just as valuable as tangible results.

There has been a lot of focus on measuring nonprofits recently. Tactical Philanthropy is partly about encouraging donors to measure their own actions. If a major donor spends a lot of time and effort measuring the results of nonprofits, but then continues to fund them with gifts of cash rather than appreciated stock, than the donor is guilty of a massive inefficiency. We can exactly measure the cost of a gift to a donor and donors who look only at the size of the gift and not the cost to themselves are ignoring important metrics.


The movement towards measurement is an important social phenomenon; donors want to be businesslike, to be investors in social change, to have control and accountability. They should as you say also be effecient and effective in their ow planning. But in the talk of metrics something gets lost too, the way the culture of love, or caritas, and the gift, provides a way of life, a community, a sheltering space from the very logic you are applying here - the logic of business. What is missing, to me is a living awareness of ways of arranging life on something other than a businesslike footing. Philanthropy, giving, mutual care - these go back to before there was money, back to the dawn of human life. There are wisdom traditions 2 or 3 milennia old that grow from roots other than markets, metrics, and money. To enter the field of philanthropy unaware of and unconcerned with these traditions is - here we go - vulgar and boorish. There I said it.

Sean Stannard-Stockton

That's right. Tactics in service of a strategy with no concept of humans as altruistic animals is vulgar and boorish. Philanthropy is a core element of being human (See the Stanford Social Innovation Review article from this summer titled "Hardwired to Help", the key quote: "We have a biological predisposition to be helpful and caring").

Playing with philanthropic tactics without a deep understanding of the "culture of the gift" does very little to help the human condition. I realize that as a proud member of the business community and someone who's day-to-day job centers around numerical decision making I have to prove that my interest in philanthropy is not "vulgar and boorish". But I think you'll find that my interest comes from a deep caring about human kind and a belief that the culture of the gift will emerge as a central culturally hallmark of the 21st century.


Sean, I am giving you a hard time for the sake of surfacing issues. Being idealistic or cultured and being businesslike about giving are not necessarily at odds. The language of 'vulgarity' and 'boorishness' is that of the now declining old money WASP elite from the East Coast preppy set. I was invoking that idiom to highlight how the language of giving has changed, what has been gained, but also what may be lost.

Dan Bassill

Instead of talking philanthropy, perhaps we might use the words "leadership" and see if the conversation is any different. In the Tutor/Mentor Institute section of http://www.tutormentorconnection.org is an essay on Leadership, by General Colin Powell. He talks of making decisions with good information, but not 100% of the facts.

I think non profits need to try to measure what they can, and I think donors need to make giving decisions based on what information is available, along with what their leadership instincts tell them they need to fund in order to achieve their goals --which are the same as their non profit partners.

On Nov. 30 I'm hosting a one-day conference in Chicago. Troy Ratcliff of the Kellman Family Foundation and Spruiell White, of the MacArthur Foundation, will be hosting a discussion of fund raising. They've asked for questions in advance, so they can focus their comments on what participants want to know. In the Discussion Section of http://tutormentorconnection.org people can post questions for this workshop and they will be asked and answered during the conference.

I'm also hoping to recruit one or two bloggers who might blog this conference so the Q&A can be brought back to the Interenet for more people to share in the learning. I've posted information about this conference at http://www.tutormentorconference.bigstep.com and I'm accepting registrations now. Capacity is 100.


Great, Dan. I hope your conference is a big success. Leadership is a key motivator, don't you think? Giving as a form of or expression of leadership?

Dan Bassill

One of the reasons I feel so strongly about the internet is that it gives me a chance to search the world to find others who are already providing leadership to the same cause that I foucs on. If we can connect, we can support each other in many significant ways.

In this concept of leadership, I'm not just looking for non profit leaders. If our focus is poverty, then leaders can be found in industry, philanthropy, education, religion, etc.

If we can get such people into on-line forums where they share ideas, we can build trust, understanding and even shared responsibilities for making our visions a reality. At http://www.socialedge.org/Events/ThoughtLeaders/39 there is a discussion going on about what it takes to build an internet meeting space where leaders can connect.

The T/MC conference in Chicago is just a piece of this strategy. But it is an opportunity for some people to meet face to face, and it creates a reason for even more people to connect via the Internet.


Connecting online and off, building out a network of diverse talents, is a project for the patient. I have found, though, that an online presence does help. (It probably hurts too in certain quarters.) The true leaders may not have time to be online much, but word gets around, if you have an online presence and constantly reach out trying to connect those who need to know one another, or know of one another.

Daniel F. Bassill

Patient, and persistent. And survivors. It's a huge world, thus, finding people who share a cause, and are willing to work together, takes a long time. If the person/group with a vision and a reason to come together can't stay involed long enought, then they probably will never really reach a point where there is a tipping point when enough people share the vision and will help it grow.

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