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January 17, 2008


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Rich Polt


Thanks for calling attention to my blog post (not to mention the PR for Louder Than Words). Here's what I liked the best about your post: "a good story works best when woven around real results." Amen to that. The reverse is also true. Interesting numbers only come alive when human stories can be attached to them.

I did find it a bit odd though, comparing the achievements and sacrifices of Dr. Martin Luther King to the business practices of PR and metrics reporting. A bit apples and oranges perhaps?

I would say that all the PR and all the metrics in the world are no substitute for one charismatic leader who can marshal millions of people and catalyze a national movement by appealing both to their minds and their hearts.


Well, no, the question is how we achieve high and noble ends. For example social justice. Business? Government? Philanthropy? Grassroots activism? When you get into positing an end in view to be measured and managed, and when you start talking about eloquence, I can't help imagining the real thing. The question is always, as you know professionally, what is the frame. I am saying that for some social ends in view business, metrics, and pr are the wrong frame.

I took the MLK quotation from a collection of readings edited by Amy Kass, entitled, Giving Well, Doing Good, Readings for Thoughtful Philanthropists. The section heading was "Philanthropic Leadership."

Rich, I believe that Tracy Gary is one of your firm's clients. The connection between her work in Inspired Philanthropy or at Inspired Legacies and the tradition of MLK is hard not to notice.

For some results, leadership, inspiration, and the activation of a community in solidarity are the only means. Metrics and buzz marketing just disguise that uncomfortable reality. Measure, manage, promote - a mindset that I meant to reframe and gently protest. Thank you for your comment. I am sure Tracy chose your firm for good reason. Even an inspirational leader needs good media to amplify the message and help it carry to more ears.

Helen, Clean the Naugahyde!

Perhaps Dr. King, exhorting his auditors to "rise up" and "move on" did not conceive of or intend to address them as a mere audience.

Antoine Möeller

Wow, Helen, nice distinction. Really, really nice.


Good point. The words he seemed to use were "Brother" or "Sister." I used those once in a talk a few years ago. A philanthropist came up to me afterwards puzzled: "Did you think we were black people?" he asked.

handy checkbook, naturally

If you can't be a full citizen, familial solidarity is the next best thing?


Yes, poor people should love each other and care for each other as Jesus taught. The joy of giving is not something we should deny them, since it costs us nothing.

hazardous condiments negotiated

A little while ago a really loud short and rather demanding Puerto Rican woman was haranguing the Iranian deli guy preparing her sandwich "put lots of hot sauce on it, but not so much it burns my asshole." A middle-aged, haggard, Swedish-looking garage mechanic says to me "She thinks she's in a four-star restaurant." When it was my turn I said to the Iranian guy "How's it going tonight?" He said he was a little tired. I said "lot's of crazy people come in here?" and he just waved his hand, "Nah, they're OK." His store is next to a homeless shelter.


Understanding social networks, one node connected to Cosmos Club, another to the deli, another to the Homeless Shelter. "We all want social change," someone says in the Cosmos Club, "we just don't agree on direction." "Root causes?" smiles another. "root causes are so grandiose. Better that we do a little good well...." We cannot help all, so why help any?

Sean Stannard-Stockton

Phil, I'll be commenting on Rich's post on my own blog soon. But without commenting now on stories vs numbers, I'd like to ask a question about your MLK analogy. MLK was the leader of a great movement. Great leaders are a rare and wonderful thing. But the very best great leaders have organizations that are run with great PR and effective tactics.

If you wanted to start a movement, wouldn't you want to have a great leader, great stories and a great analytical team figuring out the best tactics to achieve your ends?

It seems to me that the nonprofit world has many great leaders. It has some great storytelling. But it has very little effective, analytical teams developing tactics.

MLK says in your quote, "let us move on in these days of challenge to make of America what it ought to be." The question for me today is "move on and do what?". If we want to reform education, do we move on and demand more standardized tests? move on and create more charter schools? move on and provide a loving environment for children where their human needs are addressed with the assumption that humans who are cared for will learn naturally because children love to learn?


Have you ever read Dickens' Hard Times? About Gradgrind, a utilitarian who teaches by the numbers, destroying all joy in the process.

If I hoped to found a movement, or be the harbinger of one who would, I might start with prayer and fasting. I might read old books, or learn Latin. I might dress as a beggar and camp out on the steps of Harvard Business School, offering apples for a dime each. To speak of quality when a person only understands quantity is sadness itself. "What do you mean by color? What does it weigh? How long it is it?" asks the blind man. (By the way I head a team of 5 who in real life teach business planning to entrepreneurs. I get the metrics; I just wish a) the unbusinesslike would learn the drill about metrics, and b) the most businesslike would bend their knee to spirit, acknowledging that what matters most cannot be be measured, only shall we say, appreciated.) As a practical step towards seeing what I mean, get a copy of Amy Kass's anthology of literary readings, Giving Well, Doing Good. See if it opens your eyes to what the talk of metrics miss.

Of course the three graces dance with well-measured step.

Sean Stannard-Stockton

Metrics miss a lot. Did you catch my On Philanthropy post about Consilience?


Yes, I thought it was a good article. You know, giving has been a topic of religious, literary, and philosophical traditions for all of recorded history. Certain things we do for love, or as a virtue, or because it is fulfilling, or because it meets a deep yearning. Nonprofits can focus and channel that energy. Metrics are often used within a business setting to measure, manage, and dehumanize. We just don't want to always be little gerbils running in our cages while some manager holds the stopwatch. The nonprofit sector offers blessed and rare relief, a refuge, from the utilitarian business sensibility. A business exec attends the ballet. At intermission he asks his wife, "I can see they are expending a lot of energy up there, and these sets obviously cost a bundle, but what are the actual results?" If he was loud and brash enough, he might even get the dancers to doubt themselves, but he would be a barbarian none the less. Metrics are the reason high schools fire the band teacher and the art teacher. Metrics are why the English teacher has to count something, and make stuff up to count. Knowing when to use taste, tact, and judgment, rather than numbers, is part of being a liberally educated person. The Three Graces: Weight, Size, and Speed?


I'd like to report a synchronicity. I don't really know that word, consilience, but after reading it here, I was listening the this and the word jumped right out at me. Fascinating.

Thanks to Sean and Phil for sharing this dialog with us.

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