Maureen Ward Doyle at Heritance in a comment to an earlier post:
"Noocracy" is an enticing concept. Especially for the people who have the where-with-all to get people to lend them their ears. Thanks to the advent of the blog, articulate, self-assured, word slingers -- like the group who is commenting here-- can muster people's attention. It's important to remember, however, that it is capital (i.e. capital, cultural and otherwise) which greases the wheels of all "-acies" (noocracy, democracy, oligarchy, aristocracy... alike) by buying the dominant group the initial audience.
How does the outsider get a hearing? What for instance does the new non-profit do to gain the minds, hearts and cash of others so as to do if they don't have the capital? In particular, what does s/he do if the movement ultimately poses a threat to the existing world order?
This is not just a rhetorical question. I've founded a non-profit whose mission is to bring technical assistance and "best practices" to museums around the world. Our partner museums feature some of the poorest and most remote in the world. We do this work in part by borrowing resources (mostly "experts") from the wealthy part of the museum world (1%) and giving them to the needy (the remaining 99%). After 9 months of trials, we've got an effective product, positive outcomes, dozens of museums on various continents clamoring for our assistance and dozens of museum experts willing to participate. What we don't have, however, is money.
And here's the problem. The public is uninspired by museum development. When you can feed the hungry or nurse the sick, why give money for a community-based museum in Mpophomeni, South Africa or traveling Mayan textile exhibit in Chiapas, Mexico? And foundations are not enough moved by our story to award us a grant, at least not the foundations we have already approached. (Many seem to be on other routes to social good,which are remarkably like each others'.)
Furthermore, the story we tell is potentially off-putting to a category of potential donors, namely the art collector and museum patron. Since we favor the tearing down of the thick walls between the haves and have-nots of the museum world and the creation of numerous, small, decentralized community-based museums, our values are at odds with this group of potential donors.
The same could be said of potential corporate sponsors. Since we work in places that were exploited (or continue to be exploited) in part by greedy corporations, we are very slow to find compatible donors in this sector.
Laughable as it may seem for a broke non-profit to be thinking this way, we can only imagine accepting support from an organization or person whose values we endorse. In fact, I'd rather the organization die than sell out.
So the question arises: short of waking up one morning as wealthy as George Soros or charismatic as Christ, how is it possible to sell a new, somewhat controversial idea without selling your soul? Setting aside the question of stretching one's soul (albeit mine could use some stretching beyond its puritanical limits), how does one get heard if one isn't already recognized as worth being listened to and isn't of the Napoleonic self-crowning bent?
Maureen is asking excellent questions to which I do not have the answer. Do others have suggestions on how an organization like Heritance, doing good while challenging the status quo, might win attention and funders?
One gets funded the same way one gets "dozens of museums on various continents clamoring for our assistance and dozens of museum experts willing to participate"--by telling one's story. It's probably best to tell that story, though, to individuals, who (unlike corporations and foundations) don't have Boards of Directors to be placated or pre-existing commitments to battle inequality in another way. "The public" supports very little--otherwise we'd have a truly progressive tax system and a serious social welfare structure. But individuals support all kinds of things, from the efforts of the Scottish National Trust to corrective periodontal surgery for dogs. If the members of the Heritance Board of Directors aren't themselves giving money and identifying people who will give money, it's time for a Board recruitment project.
If you could get money from corporations, though, I don't see why you shouldn't take it. If Exxon damages culture and takes resources out of the developing world, why shouldn't it be asked to sustain culture and put resources back in? In what way would that constitute immorality on Heritance's part?
Posted by: Nonprofiteer | December 31, 2007 at 06:41 PM
On the subject of accepting money from people whose value we do not share, anyone read Shaw's "Major Barbara?" In my own case, I do not share Candidia Cruikshank's values per se, but I do want to offer her this opportunity to fund something good (namely me), given how much suffering she causes in her professional life. Not that I am judging her. As Emperor Vespassian said of the toilet tax, "Pecunia non olet," money has no smell.
Where would museums be without plunderers, tomb raiders, conquerors, and hedge fund managers.
Posted by: Phil | December 31, 2007 at 07:02 PM
Nonprofiteer, I agree that what Heritance needs is to do is tell our story. To do so more effectively, we could improve the tools we've got (the blog, executive summary, power point, website, etc.), add some new ones to our repertoire and polish the storytellers' shoes (though mine are faux leather). And you're right. We could also work on board development, in particular expansion, so as to make those precious contacts. The situation comes back to the point of departure: How to recruit the board? How to gain an audience if you're from outside the court?
Phil, I think you're right that money has no smell. Certain corporations, however, such as Exxon, do. I wouldn't want to accept their money if they intended to go right on looting and polluting. It would feel like a sin tax. They pay us so that they can go on sinning. If we play "quid pro quo" this way, how do we ever get off this carousel?
Phil, you're also right on when you say that museums are built on booty. Certainly this is true of the "Greats", the national museums entrusted with their nation's "heritage", which more often than not has been appropriated from someone else, someplace else. This game is all part of nation-building and the Louvre, the Smithsonian, the Hermitage, the British Museum are the tools par excellence for achieving this misson. For the most part they've laundered their goods with the help of international commissions (such as UNESCO, which have established the statute of limitations on antiquities theft; 1972 is the magic date I think), retributions (such as the Met and the Getty) and newly adopted acquisition policies. These institutions have made their peace, more or less with the world, and have a cozy relationship to the auction houses, private collectors, art dealers, investment advisors and IRS's of the world.
What Heritance (along with some like-minded reformers) would like to do, however, is to reinvent museums in the image of a post-colonial, post-national world. It would serve the world by serving its community first. An example of such a museum is the Lower Eastside Tenement Museum (LETM) in New Yorker (www.tenement.org) which has also founded www.sitesofconscience.org
The LETM services range from language training and rights advocacy for newly arrived immigrants to the collection and exposition of US immigrant history (its stuff and stories). In my mind, museums remade in this image, would provide first and foremost a forum for self-definition, self-determination, identity and connection -- thereby making life for the massed filled with more sense and less melancholy.
The bottom-line question remains: how do we get off this carousel?
p.s. If you want to read more about Heritance's mision and vision, take a look at Heritance's executive summary: http://www.heritance.org/corpdocs/Heritance_ExecutiveSummary_071106.pdf
Posted by: maureen Doyle | January 01, 2008 at 04:04 PM
I think you are right to see this as about access and relationships. The question is maybe how you begin to move in circles where your mission might resonate. Take a look at Tides and Momentum.
You would find the people congenial. Getting introduced and mixing and mingling with the funders would be the challenge.
Do you write articles on museum issues? Seems your message has enough "edge" that it would provoke controversy and with it publicity.
Do your volunteers know people? It would seem that if you are drawing volunteers from the museum world that you can not be more than one degree of separation from significant pockets of wealth. Can you ask for time, talent, ideas, before asking for money? So as not to objectify the donor as donor?
Posted by: Phil | January 01, 2008 at 07:02 PM
A heap of helpful comments and questions. Thank you.
Thank you also for your patience. What you didn't say but could have (perhaps because you're too nice) is to knock off the "Vox Clamatis in deserto" mantra and pound some pavement.
Of course, you are absolutely right to point out that raising money consists primarily of talking to real people not some other life form called "donor". Which reminds me of my attitude as first time Mom... Home alone with the newborn, I kept watching the door, half expecting the real Mom to show up at any moment to take care of the kid. It's only when I recognized that parents were people, too, that I could stop feeling like an impostor, relax a bit and embrace the role.
It's time for me to stop waiting for the real "fund raiser" to show up and put my mouth where the money is.
Posted by: maureen Doyle | January 01, 2008 at 10:32 PM
Exactly, you seem to have a some very strong ideas, and ideals. As with Handmeon, giving is all about engagement and reciprocity. You have so much to give, you give so much, givers will recognize themselves in you. Many of the people you have known over the years are "donors," but do not self-present that way. They would rather not be treated as ATMs. Giving others ways to get engaged is a gift for gift. Some will have greater capacity than others, but each can be a giver in her or his own way.
Posted by: Phil | January 01, 2008 at 10:56 PM