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August 04, 2007


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Joel J. Orosz

Being a professor, I feel compelled to correct a couple of errors in Candida Cruikshanks' August 4 post, "Foundation people who blog." First, my last name is spelled Orosz (not Oroz), but I can hardly hold that against her, since I have relatives who've never mastered the intricacies of Hungarian spelling. Second, and far more important, Ms. Cruikshanks completely misunderstood the quotation from my new book, "Effective Foundation Management," about CEOs avoiding embarrassing their board members at all costs. I was criticizing that practice, and Ms. Cruikshanks thought I was endorsing it. In fairness to her, the context will be much clearer when she can read the entire chapter in which the quote appears. As the founder of The Grantmaking School, however, I can't let stand her comment that not embarrassing the board "is actually taught to them as a prime directive in their Grantmaking School." Actually, The Grantmaking School teaches just the opposite approach, as its hundreds of graduates will attest. I'm happy to say that Ms. Cruikshanks, The Grantmaking School and I are all on the side of the angels on this issue--none of us will never mindlessly be, in her own words, "chipper, upbeat, and inoffensive."


Thank you. Joel. My apologies for misspelling your name. I have sent away to Amazon for a copy of your book. Thank you very much for your good natured reply. I am truly pleased to learn of your true views and what you teach. How does one, I wonder, work effectively in such an environment, where certain things might embarrass the board, given their class position, political views, personal business affiliations, etc? That must be a conundrum. We all live in such a world, and some of us call it Wealth Bondage, seeing Candidia as the personification of an upper class without class that we embarrass at our own risk. I am very glad to have you as a kindred spirit in the struggle and appreciate your dropping by to comment. I will correct the spelling of your name. Sorry.

Joel J. Orosz

Dear Phil:

Not to worry about the misspelling. The "sz" on the end of Orosz has a specific meaning and function in Hungarian, but it just hopelessly confuses both spelling and pronunciation in English. And I'm always happy to have a thought leader in philanthropy order a copy of my book! The dilemma you identify--wealth bondage--is at the center of both my book and what we teach in The Grantmaking School. The ideological differences between program officers and the board members to whom they report are often profound. The extreme reactions--surrendering your own principles, on the one hand, or getting fired for insubordination on the other--are both unproductive reactions. Neither the book nor the School can offer a magical solution to this dilemma, but we do advance some practical tips for keeping both your self-respect and your job. We advise program officers to choose their battles wisely; to compromise on the margins; to be politley, but relentlessly persistent in championing core values; to select their words carefully (semantics do matter); and to keep the battles on the terrain of data and the common good, not on the terrain of emotion and ideological contention. Given the realities of the power dynamic, program officers will unboubtedly end up compromising more than will board members, but when I was a program officer, I was able, by using these methods, to get support for enough people and organizations I believed in to keep at it for 15 years (and to leave for academia under my own steam)! I surely don't want to trivialize the problems this dilemma causes, but do believe there are ways to manage it so that you don't become the victim of it. Many thanks, Phil, for providing a forum to debate this vexing, problem. I'm sure that our collective wisdom will help us to find a way through the snares.


Joel, thank you so much for the candid and revealing comment. I look forward to reading your book. I can identify with your remarks, about doing what one can at the margins while remaining employable. Very few in my experience can illuminate a moral dilemma or power dynamic from within. Somehow our own consciousness is affected and we begin to half-believe our own alibis. Your clarity and wisdom are a relief.

Your insight that foundations are indeed accountable; that is, accountable to their board, is stunning in its obviousness, now that you point it out. To whom, then, is the board accountable? To the public interest as they and their staff interpret it. And therein lies the torsion, I guess, that allows good staff to justify good programs, even if they are a little against the grain of the board.

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