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December 23, 2006


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Dan Bassill

Phil, I could not agree with you more on this goal of "finding one another, not just as bloggers but as forces for change." An event in April could integrate its purpose with other April events, such as Volunteer Recognition week.

When we think of donors, money is an obvious need. However, without the time and talent of many different people, most organizations may not spend the money as effectively as they could to achieve the social benefit donors, volunteers and non profit leaders all seek.

I'll be hosing a next tutor/mentor leadership conference in Chicago on May 17 and 18 (http://www.tutormentorconference.bigstep.com) and would be happy to give my support to an April event that you've suggested.


Hmmm, another giving conference in Chicago, sounds good to me. April is good.


This may be a small group of people, a core group, to get a specific program, or meeting ground, going. Once we get a structure at the center and key leaders who in turn have their own networks, we can expand it, link by link. Last time it was open space whose rules include, "Whoever comes are the right people." This is likely to be more of "Who are the best connected mavens we can get, if we can get their peers?" This is not an exercise in snobbery or exclusivity, but if the best connected people in the field create a network of networks, that will open up possibilities for everyone else. If we open it up too soon, we may not get the leaders, and through them their networks, just fragments of the total fabric. Tracy has her network. If other Queenpins and Kingpins come as well, it could be the beginning of the network of networks that we have been trying to weave all these years, at that point, it opens up to a larger participation, through the nodes on the network as they branch out, interlink, and connect. (Donors, nonprofits, and advisors being the key pieces to which and through which others can connect "rhizomatically.")I am only learning how to do this netweaving. Tracy is a master (mistress?) of it.


You know best what genres your networks will work best with. We used part Open Space, part Appreciative Inquiry.

Our discussions about creating EFN have developed a model where everything is moved out to the nodes, and what you are doing in giving and philanthropy needs to be a primary node in EFN. As the visioner of GiftHub, it is up to you to say how to proceed and how, why and where to convene events and communications. What can we do to help you facilitate your vision?


That was about the EFN gathering in Blaine, WA at the top.

Nurture Girl from Spinorb

Do not underestimate your own weaving, whether you are queenpin or fool.

The gathering will not convene through open space invitation perhaps. However will the format of the conversation be open space? What format will elicit the weaving of these networks? Will it be the time in the hallways?

What do you feel having a network of networks will give us? And how can we service that meta-network?


Maybe not open space, but the opening of a space all the same. Not lecture, but a revving up of networking to a high degree among those who need one another's network and may not know how to access it. Donors need advisors. Nonprofits need donors. Donors need nonprofit to enact their projects. Nonprofits need advisors to refer donors. Advisors need clients and leads. The evolving profession of philanthropic consulting needs a more realistic sense of what is involved beyond tax and finance. These cultures today are siloed. If the field is to come together for significantly better outcomes, it will be because we thematize our conceptions of one another, and get past them, to a shared understanding and common purpose. Within each of the overlapping disciplines, people are in need of best practices, silo by silo, and across the silos.

How it plays out, and if it plays out, the "order" of the network has to come from those who participate in founding it. What the unmet needs will be should be more apparent if the group actually does meet. The first step to solutions is often points of disturbance. Being with those who sense of your field is very different can be quite disturbing. The biggest barrier to growth is not what you know, but what you think you know and don't. What people think they know about philanthropy, their disciplinary ways of knowing, their own sense of the field, is what will be put in play. An MBA understanding and Tracy G's are very different. A fundraiser's sense and an advisor's sense can be very different. And a donor may be half delighted and half exasperated with how she is treated from day to day - whether as Queenpin or ATM.


Let me put it this way. Some of those who are in their silo considered a Queenpin are in the silos next door completely unknown - never heard of. We should all "get out more," into the related life worlds that all go by the name of "giving" or "philanthropy," but relatively sealed off from one another.


The Appreciative Inquiry approach seems like it might be a fit too, although I'm not much of an expert. We can connect you with Rich Henry and/or Julie who have a lot more experience with it. You probably have some ideas of your own about how to create an opening without scaring them with full Open Space concepts ahead of time.


I am familiar with the appreciative inquiry approach, a variant of the socratic method. Works well with people in despair, helping them recover their self-esteem without blaming anyone but themselves for the ills visited upon them by those who hire the Appreciative Inquiry teams. This is more a meeting of those who are themselves masters and mistresses of netweaving. We shouldn't have to do much to draw them out.

Daniel F. Bassill

In past issues of the Harvard Family Research Project's Evaluation Exchange, Heather Weiss wrote about Learning Organizations. You can read a couple of articles at http://www.gse.harvard.edu/hfrp/eval/issue12/director.html

and at http://www.gse.harvard.edu/hfrp/eval/issue27/director.html

In not sure what structure would bring "the right people into a meeting" but I feel the goal is to create open learning organizations in which all stakeholders can participate and connect directly with others who are concerned with the same issues.

If there is an Advisors in Philanthropy Conference in Chicago, is there a way to hole the meeting this group is talking about in conjunction with that conference?


Some of those attending the conference might come in early for it, yes. That would be the idea. The issue of elitism is hard to avoid here, but if you look at what happened at Omidyar.net with a totally open environment, and its point system, you can see that what happened is that the top people in the philanthropic or socially entrepreneurial field came, checked it out, and left. The conversations were too diffuse and the group was too eclectic. Too much noise, too little signal. Too many loud newbies, too many unconscious incompetents, too many who did not recognize who the leaders from the real world were, and who just talked right over them. Getting a seed group by invitation, and getting them to come because they recognize one another by name or reputation is the key to making this a meeting that might transform a field. When there is a structure in place, that comes together from the leaders of the various "tribes," then we get to the question of how that structure can be opened up or brought to a larger audience, through the leaders, to their tribes, and then across the tribal boundaries. Blogging about an invitation only meeting is probably pretty stupid and a mixed message, but what the heck, my true sympathies are with openness, developing things in the open. But for this to go farther than the original giving space in Chicago or O.net, I think the first step has to be a meeting of the tribal leaders to see if we can create a cross disciplinary tribe of tribes, or a space for that to evolve. Whatever comes out of that will be made public, for others to learn from or get involved with. Believe me, just getting leaders of donor groups, financial advisors, and fundraisers in the same room is hard, much less to catalyze a mind meld.

Sean Stannard-Stockton

Thanks for trying to catalyze something like this. If you were to project yourself into the future and look back on the meeting. What do you imagine the outcome of a successful gathering would be? The initial building blocks of a new organization? A think tank? A "referral" network?

I know that there is latent power that could be unleashed if the multi-disciplinary group came together and managed to "weave" their various skills/networks/wisdom. However, I don't really have a sense of what outcome we might strive for. Then again, maybe we won't know until we try.


The initial outcome might be an ongoing conversation through a listserv, leading to a better understanding of one another's perspectives and needs. That might lead to working relationships, referrals, and "business." It might also ultimately lead to a membership organization, drawn from the giving disciplines, and from groups supporting donors. The goal would be to uplift the field: more giving, more donor satisfaction and achievement, and more business for the best advisors.

Sean Stannard-Stockton

I think a listserv or other web based group conversation would be terrific.

One of my favorite books about investing is called "The Last Liberal Art". The author draws on "finance, psychology, physics, biology, and philosophy to provide a better understanding of investing". In the book he discusses legendary investor Charlie Munger's "latticework approach" of uniting mental models from separate disciplines to achieve better results.

The Santa Fe Institute's multidisciplinary approach may also offer some examples for us to follow.


Yes, to investing, or better yet, philanthropic planning, as the last liberal art. Santa Fe Institute is an interesting analog. Blogging does produce an open lattice of links, and sometimes conversations, and even new communities of interest. But, so many of the most influential people in philanthropy are not in the online conversation and most likely never will be that ways have to be found to convene off-line conversations, or email lists, as well. Then too the signal to noise ratio online is skewed to noise - speaking of my own random writings as a perfectly good example. The busiest and best connected people want well-considered thoughts, among well-connected peers. A key function is that of gatekeeper. Nothing like walls to make people inside feel special. "Summit" is a good word in an invitation. "We the chosen, the elect," etc. is a key motivator.

Dan Bassill

Should it be one summit, or many summmits? Do important people come together around a cause, or around a process? It might be possible to get many important donors together, as Bill Clinton did earlier this year. But those people were not connected to most of the rest of us in any dialog. And they focused generically on the "big picture" or "big ideas".

What would it take to get the same type of people into a summit where they and non profit leaders would talk about better ways to work together to end Aids, or improve learning outcomes, or rebuild the communities affected by Katrina?

What would it take to keep them connected after the initial summit, or summits?


These are great questions, Dan. I thought you would end by asking not just how to keep the leading figures engaged with one another, but how to bring a wave of energy up and down the current status hierarchy. I think maybe, honestly, the answer is a paying business proposition, or a mechanism where those who give, get. That sounds crass, but as a convener, if you can't see an outline of how "everyone wins by partnering" the partnering may not happen. If you look a the stats on lifetime versus deathtime giving you will see that more is given while alive annually than at death as a percentage of networth. That suggests that legacy planning is not being done with an eye to the "whole person" and her considered ends in view. That in turn suggests that we might catalyze more giving, and more advisory services, if we worked better with donors around their overall legacy plan. In that set of considerations you can see that advisor networks might get paid, charities raise more money, and donors might be better served. If that vision is shared, perhaps the parties to that conversation (heads of advisor networks and firms, donors and donor mavens, and planned giving people could be kept in conversation for vital reasons, pertaining to them, and their personal needs and wants, as well as the public good.)


There are many profitable for benefit businesses in this. The answer to the how to keep them connected and additionally how to keep connecting people up and down the hierarchy as Phil says has a technical and a social side. Technical tools plus communities of gardeners who maintain the structure (if any), quality and security of the on-line spaces.

In our thinking about EFN, the network is composed of independent nodes united by a set of shared principles. We will likely start with at least two nodes or clusters of nodes along the tech/social division above. Our friend's Nurture.Biz fits the model of a community node. Grass Commons (doing peer-produced consumer knowledge software) or Geek Gene (Arthur Brock's group working on currency software).

This discussion centers around another cluster, call it philanthropy and include the complex of specialties listed in these comments. The clusters that I described can produce some of the connectivity services to facilitate the creation of the other necessary clusters.

I'll stop now short of tying in a currencies/flow cluster which I consider to be key and have a particular interest in.


I like the vision, Gerry, but shared principles can be bad for business. The Queenpins in this case on the financial services side are tough guys in many cases who do not have anything but contempt for "nurturing" or for green values generally. Yet, the hard bitten sales types and their equally conservative clients can unlock a great deal of money in "philanthropy." So, if you start with green principles you get one kind of network. If you start with giving or philanthropy you get another. When you mix the two, you can get crude and derisive feedback. We are a country riven by politics. Running a business or forbenefit across those boundaries, making it agnostic as to politics, or "transpartisan" is difficult. That is what Tracy and I are trying to do, though we would be identified by conservatives as liberal. The point, though, is to find "shared principles" at a higher level, like that of the US Constitution, where disagreement and even conflict at a lower level is taken for granted, and welcomed.

Still, the node, network, hub, spoke model is the way I think about this too. A network of networks, each with many nodes, with a "meta layer" on top of that which keeps the Queenpins of the networks in conversation with the Kingpins, despite their mutual exasperation.


It is a deep question as to what principles you need as shared globally and which ones can be localized in the network nodes. I'm with you in wanting to find shared principles that are beyond factional disagreements. It may not be possible given what Jane Jacobs wrote about multiple self-coherent systems of morality and value.

I'm interested in where you see it may be possible to get broad agreement. As you can see in the comment I linked, I'm interested in principles that wouldn't turn off my employer as I introduce the possibility that this network could have business and operational value for our organization. I don't really have an answer to Julie's question below as to what is needed. Maybe it is more about what can't be there. To get the core values of an open network without privileging a particular complex of values beyond those necessary to maintain openness and fair dealing throughout the network.


Regardless of the ridicule from the hard-nosed types, donors as consumers of these services want and need information to align their choices with their values. We see an important role for currencies beyond their role in exchange in tagging content that represents opportunities to invest or give to social ventures with information that they can use to make choices. This idea is value neutral, the tagging is to be from the collective and represents the values of a given community whether physical or virtual.

The ones that do good work and consistently create value in alignment with their clients values will prosper with more such information about, but some whose advantage lies in their position in a power hierarchy may find this unhelpful. If the principles of transparency and openness* are abhorrent to these types, I say that is a good thing.

(* Openness and transparency not to the extinction of necessary privacy and discretion, but only to provide necessary information to customers and constituents.)

Sean Stannard-Stockton

Personally, my interest would be in a group of people who had a shared passion for empowering other people to pursue their visions. I don't see there being any need for the group Phil is suggesting to have any organizational "values" of their own. Of course, every member of the group would have their own personal values, but the group should not be viewed as trying to further any particular cause.


The minimum value agreement needed to sustain the federation - that is the essential issue of a liberal democratic constitution. Communities can cohere under than umbrella, with their rights to do so protected, but they do not have the right to suppress or exterminate those who "worship" or value things differently, within broad limits.

So, the "meta-level" of a network of networks is all about opening spaces, making peace, finding ways to express disagreements with respect for the ongoing collaboration of warring elements. Yet, the meta-level not only allows for but presupposes and welcomes coherent nodes whose Queenpins hate and despise everything the Kingpin of another node stands for. That is how you make markets and democracy, not war. For this kind of structure is the civilized alternative to war. That really is the essential insight of our Constitution, liberal ideals, and the market. Pure J.S. Mill.

Almost any "steward" of the metalayer will have her own node of choice in which to have a richer and deeper community with a true values match, but such a steward must also, in her role as steward, make room for differences and keep peace in the family at the meta-layer level.

What we are reinventing here (at least in our bumbling efforts and our fantasies) is Constitutional democracy in an age of inerlinked communities and markets, not just "giving," but public service and the ideal of fiduciaries who are honorable enough to cut those who disagree with them a little slack, in return for same, within a system of checks and balances where there is no Decider.


Sean, vanilla is a flavor. The central values are the values of fairness, openness, and a sense of service to the values of others - as you say. These are the operative values of professionals who serve others as financial advisors, legal advisors, therapists, and in my case, Fool.

The issue we are wrestling with is this: Does Sean have personal views, other than getting clients, serving them, and making money? Does he have his own ideal of a good society, or life well lived, a just and sustainable world, a free market or what? If he does not, then he is a cold fish, an opportunist, or runs the risk of seeming so. On the other hand if Sean really is a passionate advocate of a particular vision of the a better world, then he will find that others, some others, detest his vision. What then? Can we work with those who detest our values? (Yes, we can, if they are not themselves hopelessly prejudiced against us.)

Bottom line: I am determined in this network to get representation from people whose religious, political, and personal values are quite different from my own. I want to see in the network people who despise everything I am or stand for - except my commitment to fair play and respect for others.

It is indeed up to the client to have his or her own passion, and I am entitled to mine. As an advisor I enjoy serving those who are really different in their outlook than I am - I learn from them and admire them. Likewise as a creator of a space for advisors, donors, and nonprofits, diversity (not just of the "race, class, gender" variety) but diversity of Red and Blue, religious and secular, is critical to the vitality of the network. You can call it "transpartisan," but it is a transpartisan network of people who are not all bland, some are very partisan - more power to them. Welcome!

Sean Stannard-Stockton

I would certainly back "a transpartisan network of people who are not all bland, some are very partisan".

The network must be focused on furthering the growth of philanthropy. The underlying members will of course have their own values. Some will wear those values on their sleeves, others will not. But the members must not advocate for the network to back any particular cause.

Consider a nonprofit organization that strives to educate citizens about the political process, register them to vote and give them the tools to get involved. Any members of this organization are likely to have deeply held political beliefs. However, the organization must maintain a politically neutral face if it is to truly advance the cause of democracy. In practice, many organizations of this type are very partisan in nature and focus on "getting out the vote" only in the demographic areas that will help their cause.


I agree, Sean. You do understand, though, how difficult this is in practice. The goal could be as you say advancing philanthropy, that sounds good. But the larger goal has to be advancing a better and stronger pluralistic society by means of philanthropy, charitable giving, volunteering, and social engagement. Otherwise, why are we advancing philanthropy? Just for business reasons? Because it sounds like a good thing? Philanthropy, like free speech, or freedom of assembly, is a personal means to a public end. We differ as to ends. But the end we can agree on, I hope, is that our society is stronger when gifted givers are enabled to give mightily of the best they have, in a great swirling contest of competing visions of the good.

(What I am trying to do, Sean, is to force you past the market rationale to complementary political rationale for open spaces, open society, open space philanthropy. The business rationale is obvious, we want your money, regardless of your politics. That is sane enough point, but it is not what will bring the givers to the table. They are not there just to get processed by agnostic advisors in an efficient and effective value free way. Values free values based planning is cold. What brings people on the giving side to the table is passion and vision, then only later "means to the ends."

Getting the passionate advocates to the table, when their communities advocate against one another, is not child's play, but I believe we have reached a point where it is now a rallying cry for many and diverse constituencies and particularly for their more enlightened and thoughtful "Queenpins."


I hope I can get an invitation to such an exclusive gathering. If not, perhaps I can be present to serve in some insignificant role.

Sean Stannard-Stockton

I don't think there is a business or political rational for being passionless. I am passionate about helping other to give. I am also passionate about a lot of other things, but I think I serve my clients (and the world) better when I leave my personal beliefs at the door and focus on enhancing their passions. I am but one person. I think the collective power of many people helping the world in the way they see fit is far more meaningful than my one voice arguing for my worldview.

Not many people care to help other people with their passions. Most people (and almost all bloggers) would rather shout their opinions into the void. The network you suggest has the potential to act as a lens through which givers of all types could focus their generosity. But if the members of your network do not share the common goal of focusing others’ passion, the lens will be imperfect and the power of the givers will be diffused.


For my employer, I bring along my personal values. I don't advocate for something (e.g. Open Source software) for its own sake, but for its value to the business. From a values perspective, I would hope they would give back to the projects they use in their operations without my advocacy.

That is one of my concerns in the shared principles we are discussing here and in the linked Onet discussion. Will the principles be compatible with a strictly commercial operation without being so open as to be meaningless?


Sean, what you have described and what you embody is the ethic of the professional advisor. My question to you is this, "Have you ever done your best for a client whose values were sleazy, ill considered, corrupt, egotistical, vain, tragically unselfaware, etc?" And if so, did you serve your client well?

Yes, we want to create open spaces where clients can create their own plans by their own lights. Likewise in college, the students create their own papers by their own lights, but some of the papers are ignorant, tasteless, ill-informed, crude. That is why students have teachers.

To what extent do you as an advisor owe it to your clients to help them question and refine their own often ill thought through values?

I realize that the question will shock you, it is totally outside your (and my) discipline's self-understanding. But as a former teacher of the liberal arts, it is the question that means most to me.

The role you describe strikes me as that of a Courtier, serving a King, no matter how misquided. The role I cherish is Fool. And I submit that the Fool's role is often more faithful to the king than his Courtiers who simply carry out his tragically ill considered directives. As trusted advisors we can chasten the ends as well as be providethe means.

We are agreeing about the network being open, and the profession being one of service to wealth. What I am trying to insert is a more dangerous concept of "being of service," one that includes helping clients to be better human beings -- a role that is presumptuous, no doubt, which is why the Fool so often lives in a kennel.


Gerry, how are you at parking cars?

Steve Habib Rose

Great discussion. But, as seems so often to be the case these days, I'm wondering how to weave stuff together.

I'm not in the philanthropy field, and know very few people in that field. On the other hand, I'm an amazing connector in general, and have my spheres of expertise. Some of them could be useful to the work of helping to develop a philanthropy network, or connecting with potential invitees to a conference in April or whatever.

So, I guess I want to just open the door to those possibilities, and offer to do a little bit to help you folks make connections in the Seattle area.

I'm not sure how familiar everybody is with philanthropy in this area. But, just in case, I thought I'd offer a couple links for your review. It is possible that some of these organizations might be interested in partnering with you in some way...

Philanthropy Northwest

Social Venture Partners Seattle

Social Venture Partners International


Thank you, Steve, for the links and the generous offer. "Giving" is the theme here at Gifthub, of which philanthropy is but one strand. "Gifted givers" are found, luckily, in all walks of life. Even Queenpins need Pages and Maids-in-Waiting to hold their trains as they ascend the steps for their Coronation (or beheading). I have enjoyed following your work on social networks at Omidyar.net and look forward to getting to know you better.

Sean Stannard-Stockton

I think that the vast majority of donors are acting out values that are important and meaningful to them. I have worked with donors who have values different then mine, but in general the experience opens my mind and makes me realize that they are striving for something good, if different from what I would do. I have not, to date, had the displeasure (or pleasure?) of working with a donor who I thought was sleazy. I imagine in our polarized nation, some advisors may find almost half the donors they meet to be sleazy. That's not at all the way I look at the world.

Am I a courtier serving a king? I don't think so. The donors I serve are certainly privileged, wealthy families, but they aren't generally the rulers of our land. I think that philanthropy is becoming accessible to more and more people in the same way that the stock market became more accessible in the late 1970's through today. This is a good and important trend and one I hope to encourage with my blog and through other outlets.

I don't strive to be a moral tutor to the wealthy. I think there is an important place for that role, but I don't think that every advisor should strive to be such. I bristle when someone is arrogant enough to try and "teach" me that their world view is better than mine. I love to be challenged and seek people out who challenge me. However, there is a need for many different roles on the philanthropic landscape. If every participant believes it is their role to influence the moral compass of the donors, we're going to end up with a bunch of pissed off donors who will withdraw from the world of philanthropy.

I don't aspire to "helping clients to be better human beings", I aspire to helping my clients become the human beings they want to be.

Daniel F. Bassill

There is a lot of philosophical rhetoric going on in this discussion. I'd like to focus. I invite you to imagine the figure 8 in your mind. Instead of being vertical, lay it horizontal. On the right side of the 8, are donors, volunteers, leaders, etc. I call these "people who can help". On the other side are non profit, or social benefit, organizations, and the people they seek to help. These are "people who need help".

At the intersection of the two spheres of the figure 8 is a meeting point. This could be face to face of two people. It could be many people at a conference. It could be people meeting via the Internet.

My goal is that such meeting places exist, they are supported by libraies of knowledge, have skillful facilitators, and that they are open to people from both sides, such as this blog, the Omidyar site, the Social Edge site, and many others.

Why people come and what their values are is only important to me in trying to understand what keeps important decision makers from participating, and ways that we might get more of the right people to participate more frequently.

In the Tutor/Mentor Institute section of http://www.tutormentorconnection.org I have a presentation titled "Connecting those who can help with those who  need help" which explaines this concept with a foucs on a specific type of social organization. While I show the T/MC as the intermediary in my chart, the reality is that anyone can take on this intermediary role, and we'll be more successful when more people put themselves in in the middle, connecting people they know with people they know need help.

You invite people you know. I invite people I know. More people show up.

Generic discussions of philanthropy are not important to me. Discussions of values are not relevant. My goal is to increase the number of dollars, volunteer hours that go to tutor/mentor programs throughout a geographic area, and to lower the costs (financial and emotional) involved in getting those resources.


Great, Sean, I believe you speak for the enlightened "common sense" of our discipline. I would predict success for you and for your clients within the terms you set. Any other course would be a Fool's errand. All of what you describe, about client's bristling, getting pissed off, walking out, hiring another advisor, are points well taken. Yet - influencing the moral compass, getting it unstuck so the needle seeks True North, is whose job? Can we assume that the job has been done well and fully before we come on the scene? Who did that job? Our public schools? The parents? Mass media? The local Church?

You can't teach someone that your world view is better than theirs, but you can gently probe until their's cracks, to admit a little more light. That discipline, of teaching the unteachable, of reachng the unreachable, around vision and values, is not "imposing beliefs on others," but paidia. Socrates said he was "the midwife to the citizen's soul." We get the wealthy person to have the baby, it is their own baby, not ours, but the birth may be painful, and the life that comes into the world may exceed that the donor expected. That was all implicit in Socrates's point.

Believe me, after 25 years in financial services, I realize that I am running counter to, or beyond, received wisdom - the wisdom you express so well.

I apire to helping others as I would be helped myself - to grow, even in pain, to overcome my own blindspots, to be treated as worth saving, not merely handled, sold, or served.

I appreciate your debating these points with me - almost no one does. They find the points very uncomfortable, because what I am questioning is the very premise that client's know their own best interests, and that serving their needs and wants is the highest role for an advisor/lackey/servant. I would rather think we are the advisor of the client's better angel, the self the client will be, when the the dialogue and existentional decisions, have wended to their final destination. That destiny is unknown at the outset to both planner and client. The Foolish Advisor does not impose the destiny, but helps the client find it, through a probing and interactive dialogue. The birthing of that vision is a privilege, but as in art, the vision may have a "life of its own," one that surpasses the donor's ability to articulate it plainly, or provide advisors with an "order." The intention, if you will, is what is formed in the heat of interactive dialogue.

What I am describing is the highest practice of the liberal arts, not the imposition of the advisors beliefs and values. In fact the reverse of that. Still, it is a risky business - and that I think is why a wise advisor will eschew it - clients can get pissd off, and who but a Fool needs that? Socrates for his reward was asked to drink poison. Let that be a lesson to all who follow the course I am suggesting.


Dan, here is the issue, it ain't your money. The Tutor Mentor donor who gives you $100 will hear you as Johnny One Note. All the song you sing is Tutor Mentor all day long. She hears that from you. Then she gives $100 to Vassar, and the Vassar fund raiser won't stop singing Vassar all day long. Then she gives $100 to Salvation Army, and soon she gets solicited over and over by Salvation Army.

Let's say she could give $100,000 a year, or $2 million now or at death. But all she hears are Johnny One Notes endlessly repeating Tutor Mentor, or Vassar, or Salvation Army. So she eventually finds a giving consultant or a planner to whom she can confide her overall goals, her hopes, dreams, values, her family situation, her legal situation. Out of that comes priorities, and a financial, estate, and giving plan. The plan can increase her overall giving from $100 to an org to $100,000 or a million. But just harping, harping, harping on your cause won't do it. (That she love and understand your cause, among others, is necessary and important but not sufficient.) You have to - or Sean and I as advisors - have to get the donor to relax, sit back, reflect, and get her vision, values, and priorities in line with her finances. That is a role very different from that of fundraiser.

One good thing that may come of our dialogues here is a shared set of understandings about the fractured nature of the philanthropic landscape and how to bridge those gaps for the benefit of donors, nonprofits, and the advisors who serve them.

Frankly, you would be a nuisance at the planning table, because you never stop with the Tutor Mentor mania. The donor has 47 others organizations she gives to. What are we supposed to do? Have 46 fundraisers all singing their single note over and over at the planning table were the big money moves?

There is a reason you and your peers are absent when the big dollars move. You are on the outside because you cannot let go of the appeal for your organization. Everthing you are going to say has already been said, and discounted in advance. You do not represent the donor's overall interests. You don't cut her any slack. You just make your case over and over and over as if your charity were the one and only concern the donor should have.

More power to you. That role of grounding the donor in specific causes is largely driven by nonprofit and fundraisers. But you are getting only a tiny percentage of what could be raised, if you would back off, and open a more generous-hearted and open space for the donor to be at home, to think things through, and take action by her own lights. Maybe that is not your role, maybe you are afraid it might lead to her giving to Vassar or Salvation Army instead. But the role of getting in tune with the client/donor's overall situation and giving philosophy is mine, Tracy Gary's, Sean's and that of the emerging cadre of "philanthropic advisors" being trained, for example, by the Amererican College at their Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy program.

We are pals, Dan, and I appreciate your passion and your continued presence in this dialogue. My hope - my real hope - is to create a space where the disciplines, including that of fundraising, can really hash through these issues and our shared understandings and misunderstandings so that the field as a whole can be uplifted.

Yes, the discussion here is philosophical, but then, again, that is my trade. My true trade. I am just making a living in finance.

Anyway thanks for contributing. Hit me back, if you will, and let me know where I am blind, or off balance, or unfair. I realize that I do not have a grounding in fundraising, and do not see the world through a fundraiser's eyes. I will learn from what you can teach me about that role.


JJ Commoner

Tough, and interesting, conversation.

Liberal Arts versus business models, best practices and conventional wisdom. Purpose versus protocol.

I'm already bent, and I know it .. for some reason, reading the thread made me go search for the following lyrics (apologies in advance for the un-intended cynicism they contain):

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs

the signs were sent:

the birth betrayed

the marriage spent

Yeah the widowhood

of every government --

signs for all to see.

I can't run no more

with that lawless crowd

while the killers in high places

say their prayers out loud.

But they've summoned, they've summoned up

a thundercloud

and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring ...


Giving is an activity, a field, a disicpline, a bunch of businesses, a topic in the Dewey Decimal system, but it is, as you suggest, JJ, also the crack, where the light shines through, one of the bells we still can ring, for some larger, more generous sense of self and community. "Love among the ruins."

Dan Bassill

Phil, you're right to say that all you hear from me is "tutor mentor". That's a complement because I set our in 1993 to increase the daily visibility for tutor/mentor so that more donors would choose this cause for donations instead of Vassar,the local hospital or church, or all of the other charities that were getting a greater share of donations than tutor/mentor programs.

What you're not understanding is that "tutor/mentor" is not a single organization, but is an intermediary pointing at hundreds of organizations in Chicago, and similar networks in every big city.

It's also pointing at maps, charts, knowledge that shows that "tutor/mentor" is just a way to get more adults strategically and consistently involved in efforts that end poverty by helping kids born in poverty go through school and enter jobs/careers by age 25.

If we can get the attention of donors, volunteers, philanthropy philosophers, we can then begin to get their understanding, and then their involvement, and finally, their ownership.

That will take years. It will be enhanced by the type of discussion we have here, and the type of forums that might emerge from this.

It will succeed because thousands of others will take on the same role that I've taken, as intermediaries connecting those who can help, with those who are shown to be working in poverty neighborhoods and who are doing something to end poverty through their long-term actions.


Thank you, Dan, you are correct that I did not appreciate what you are trying to do. I get it better now. I went back to your site and poked around. Where there is a perfect fit between your life experience and gift hub is one level of abstraction up. What have you learned about building a network of networks that would help us link up the networks of advisors, donors, and nonprofits that might coalesce here? (Or, elsewhere?)

What can you offer to others who are building their own local or national "database" or "map" or "market" to bring together suppliers and demanders of philanthropic dollars and volunteer time?

Assume that the audience is fellow "creators" of programs and networks outside the Chicago area. What principles have you uncovered that would help them, not just with establishing Tutor Mentor programs in their city, but in establishing similar, but different projects, such as a market place to bring together activists, volunteers, and funders around social justice, the environment, women's issues, civil liberties, or whatever the specific focus might be?

You are yourself a social entrepreneur and "builder" of networks. What have you learned that is transferable to others who are builders also?

Dan Bassill

Phil, thanks for taking a deeper look through my site. What I have learned would take much more space than what I should write in this message.

However, I've counselled many people to look at my site, not as tutor/mentor, but as a process that could be duplicated in any site.

In the Tutor/Mentor Institute section of the site I've created short illustrated essays that describe my thinking, and my actions. They illustrate the potential use of maps, role of leaders, etc.

I believe that people in other tutor/mentor programs, other cities, or other social causes, could learn from these and apply some of the concepts in their own efforts.

The work I'm doing is a process and thus far, it's been done with the help of many volunteers, and a very inconsistent flow of dollars. However, it's also done with constant optimism and innovation, drawing from what resources are available to try to accomplish what needs to be done, not what's always possible.

My outreach is aimed at finding other people who have talents that I don't have who might share their talents in exchange for me sharing what I know, and what we can create together, that can't be created by working alone.

If you were to look at my web site in this way, you'd see that everything is an invitation for people who want the same outcomes, kids moving out of poverty and into careers, to add their time, talent or dollars to helping this goal be achieved.

What we learn, we share via what we show on our web sites, what I post in forums like this, and what we can create and give away


Thanks, Dan, that is helpful. Network building is "fractal," each network built can become a node on a larger network of networks. The "how to" of building a working network, of elements that don't always meet so easily, is something you and I both have an interest in. A lifetime is not long enough to master it.

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