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March 04, 2008


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Sean Stannard-Stockton

Phil, what do you think of the Big Give if you step back and think about it as a small part of the grand narrative about philanthropy?

I'm torn myself. It seems to me, that Oprah has the ability to turn people on to something that is wonderful, but that they do not know much about. So in that sense, it seems that the Big Give is a positive part of the narrative. On the other hand, I can definitely understand the take that the Big Give is framing philanthropy in an unfortunate light and that it in fact is disruptive to the narrative that you and I support.

On the other hand (yes I know that is three), I'm aware that when something goes mainstream, the original supporters often dislike the fact that "their" idea is gaining broad support because they felt special by being the only ones "in the know". So maybe the negative take on Big Give is similar to whining Nirvana fans in Seattle who wanted the band for themselves and defined themselves by liking something that most people didn't know about. So when the masses embraced their band, their self-identity was jeopardized and they felt betrayed.

I'd love to hear your thoughts along these lines.


Well, publicity is good. I am suprised, though, at the format. Orprah herself seems more genuinely caring than the reality show format would suggest. She could model caring and giving and volunteering and make heroes and heroines out of unsung people without having to have the winner/loser approach that seems to me so antithetical to "caritas" or the economy of love. I take your point, though, about the whole question of leadership. Perhaps some people might feel threatened by new leadership, whether along the lines of Big Give or along the lines of the capital markets appraoch you and Lucy B are promoting. I can see the defensiveness and reactivity against to your model, that I do see. I kind of model that old money disdain (though with me it is role playing to get a conversation going, rather than a univocal perspective), but with Oprah my sense is that people are just disappointed that she took a reality show format rather than creating a new format that would come across as more genuinely caring and supportive - a win/win perspective where no one loses by being a kind and caring person doing good things. We all win that way, and perhaps it is only way we all win. Even at times Adam Smith would have agreed. Markets and spectacle and win/lose are the current American mode, but adding a tinge of caring and community to all that Hobbesian, or Social Darwinisit, strife would be nice.

Sean Stannard-Stockton

As I wrote when I mentioned Big Give on my blog, "Does "Big Give" signal the next leg of the Second Great Wave of Philanthropy, or does it mean that, at least temporarily, philanthropy has "jumped the shark"?".

I get the impression that Big Give is a non-event. It is a sign of the growing importance of philanthropy in society, but it is not representative of that which makes philanthropy important. It is a symptom not a cause.

But I've always been struck by the way so many people who care about a niche subject, hate to see it become popular. My thought is the negative reaction they have against the rising popularity of "their" interest, comes out of a desire to feel ownership and create self identity from that interest. It seems to me that the almost universal negative reactions to Big Give from people who have cared about philanthropy for a long time is a function of them worrying that philanthropy will change if they don't control it.

I guess I'm just thinking out loud. No point to be made really. Thanks for your input.


If you are sensing a social class element to philanthropy, an in group thing, and if you are sensing that vulgarians don't qualify, you may be onto something. What would happen to high society if we let money managers, talk show hosts, and other vulgarians into the inner sanctum? The next thing you know they would be talking in their crass way about "social capital markets," or staging some kind of reality show thing with nobodies. It is generally accepted among well-bred people, Sean, that it takes at least two generations and often three or four to purify money soiled by trade. You will never be accepted into polite society, even if you corner the market on tactical philanthropic money management and make one billion off it. But your great children may if they are educated in the liberal arts, and do philanthropy in the proper spirit.

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