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February 01, 2009

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Sean Stannard-Stockton

Why do you think "An investor approach ignores the interconnectedness of so much of the community-change work and changes the dynamic of the level of mutual accountability"?

Phil Cubeta

Sean, the tone and style of venture capital philanthropy is that one person with the money investigates and puts through hoops and manages the grant seeker. I think you really have to pay more attention to tone, style, body language, decorum. Humility is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking of the social venture types. They walk, talk, strut, style and profile as managers in the corner office. They don't sully their hands with detail work. They evaluate and manage those who do. The model is corporate and hierarchical. "The golden rule is that those with the gold rule." That is the spirit as I have experienced it. By contrast, you have Bill Sommerville for example, or Bill Schambra for that matter. "Grading" the nonprofits as your social venture friends aspire to do is to put yourself in the role of the bigshot teacher or analyst, the know it all, the one above the fray who hands out grades and rewards. "What the f qualifies you to evaluate me?" To that the funder answers, "Well, I got the money so you can kiss my a." Getting mutuality and common purpose to emerge from a power imbalance like that is difficult. It requires great gifts of self knowledge on the part of the funders and that is often missing.

Sean Stannard-Stockton

So I understand your point if you are examining the way many "social venture types" are. But I don't think this is inherent to "an investor approach".

The argument that "the way some social venture types approach philanthropy ignores..." might be valid. But is this a function of the "investor" model? In the for-profit world, start up ventures that have yet to prove themselves are surrounded by investors who tell them what to do. But those that have proven themselves often find the power structure reverses so that investors compete to get in on the best deals and or for access to management.

I think this is an important question because if the current implementation of the "investor model" is being done wrong, it can be corrected. But if the model is flawed, we should reject it.

Phil Cubeta

Let us say that there is a social justice model and a social investor model. They to some extent "map" the same space, but they are quite different in their provenance. The social justice model is rooted, for example, in the Gospels, in the Kantian notion of human dignity, and in things like solidarity, equality, reciprocity, and human kindness. The social investor model is more antiseptic, libertarian, values neutral, pro-capitalism, and brings with it many assumptions. The issue of whose paradigm is to prevail is pretty important. We can discuss giving as if it were only tactical and strategic within capitalism, as a fullfilment of capitalism or to save it, but if we wish to break out of, or to chasten, the categories of business (investor, producer, consumer, manager, markets), we cannot accept the language of business as final.

Moral, ethical, political, literary traditions - giving as a liberal art and political act - if this model is wrong, Sean, we should correct it. Doesn't that sound insane to you? It should. A way of life, a commitment to a certain way of being in the world is not flatly true or false or flawed. To see life in such such postivistic, utilitarian, pedestrian, terms is precisely the spiritual disease I am unsuccuessfully trying to cure in you, in me, in all of us.

What is needed is not more info or correction of details but metanoia, meaning a change of perspective, but sometimes translated as "repentence."

To live, love and worship in the language of investments is to have failed, it seems to me, as a human being. Likewise to have one's language of love, the language of philia and caritas limited to the terms of business is not to be wrong, but to be half dead, a zombie, a creature from another species, born without a soul, living without a heart, a brain on two legs, with a wallet in its hip pocket.

Your taking my points would be evidenced by some such statement on your part as this, "I once was blind but now can see. Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me." Your language would change, your countenance would change, your reading would change, the timbre of your voice would change. You would be reborn, a new man in a world that would seem new to you. Will this happen? I doubt it. Yet, perhaps in a moment of grace your heart will be softened. I will invest a prayer in producing that measurable result in you as my social investment for today. If that fails, I turn you over to Tutor to provide nonconsensual penance.

Phil Cubeta

Here are two questions that come from a Jesuit active in the social change movement. He says he asks these of his students in high school. They are excellent questions for clients:

What kind of person do you want to be?
In what kind of world?

When you answer those questions in the language of business and investing and markets, you have painted your own moral portrait, written your own moral biography.

How would you answer, Sean?

Sean Stannard-Stockton

I understand the importance of language. Whether you call something an "estate tax" or a "death tax" reveals important things about you as well as changes the terms of debate. However, I think your argument rests on the idea that the language of business is a loaded language designed to accomplish certain goals. For me, the language I use is passion filled and mission drive. It is not a stale, formal, textbook "business speak". I think my readers (and people who resonate with my mission and goals) literally feel my passion and joy about philanthropy flowing off their screens.

When I read your writing, the language you use puts me off. It seems designed often to mock those that don't share your literary interests. But for me, while the language you use often confuses me, I don't demand that you use a different way of speaking. Doing so would prevent you from making your most important points just as someone who might be fluent in a foreign language still must use their native tongue to explain their highest callings.

Your questions are good ones. But I think I've spent 2 and half years describing on my blog the kind of person I want to be and the world I want. But as you know, I generally speak in terms of tactics. But underlying those tactics is the universal search for meaning that I think drives philanthropy and I know drives my philanthropy.

Anyway, my point in all of this is that I think the quote in your post is flawed. The idea that an "investor mindset" ignores "mutual accountability" and "interconnectedness" is just wrong. As someone with an "investor" mindset I wrote a whole essay on consilience in philanthropy and I've discussed a latticework approach to investing as described in the book Investing: The Last Liberal Art.

I think you are hearing my words and putting me into a frame that is familiar to you instead of trying to understand what I'm all about.

Phil Cubeta

I like and admire what you have done with your blog and how you have become a kind of networking center for key thinkers. You have done that better than anyone I know on line, on a par with what Bill Schambra has done at Hudson with face to face symposia. Consilience is indeed what you are creating at Tactical Philanthropy. Also, your passion, care, and concern are obvious and admirable.

Let me not fall below what I really want to say. Often in working with donors or advisors I remind myself to watch their hands and feet rather than get caught up (as I tend to do being an English major) in the words they use. I often find that while I would not use the words, or sacred texts, or allusions that they other person does that I nonetheless admire and endorse the real world direction. Leaving "framing" aside, count me a raving fan of what you are accomplishing for the field.

The Russian poet, Mayakofsky once wrote, "How with two words, one of which is apparently 'borscht' to celebrate love and the spring?" I cringe when the conversation of ends is presented in the language of means, but so be it. The key thing as you say is to build alliances across the silos, including the silo of left and right brain, liberal arts and management sciences, hard and soft, new money and old, etc.

In the Hawaii foundation piece I got the impression taht both funder and funders felt that they were making a breakthrough from traditional, businesslike and aloof, relationships to something new, more humane, more like open space, more like democracy.

That is not a new concept. Social justice philanthropy or social change philanthropy has traditionally taken the stance that the recipients of grants should be the decision makers about who gets grants. That is, the funder convenes a working group in which potential recipient communities are represented not as "askers" but as "deciders." I think you will agree that this is not the approach taken by, say, Holden Karnofsky. Holden evaluates grant seekers, but he does not enter into a many to many dialoque in which he solitics input about the limitations of his methodology from those he rates. He does not roll up his sleeves, as does Bill Sommerville, and go out into the streets to load a truck destined for a grantee, or stop by to chat with a grantee, becoming fast civic friends.

You see some of this divide in the conversations you yourself hosted with Schambra, Brest, and Sommerville.

Social change philanthropy is very challenging, when pursued in a flat or open space with grantseekers. Candidly, the experience has been mixed. While idealisitc, the process can break down as those seeking funds may fall to competing rather than collaborating, or may not have the skills to rise to a level of management style conversation that puts aside their special pleading.

For social justice funding and its roots:
http://www.haymarket.org/

For some of the tribulations:
http://tiny.cc/LcfoB

One of the Haymarket founders was George Pillsbury, a cousin of Tracy Gary.
http://tiny.cc/bmlQe

You can see that the language used in this field is not so much business like as it is political. The personal, as the saying, goes is political, including style and stance.

"Haymarket Peoples Fund" that sounds and is quite difference from the way social venture talk goes. It sounds like Che Guevara more than like Milton Freidman.

Haymarket is named in honor, by the way, for a famous or infamous 19th century labor riot in which striking workers were massacred. You can see in that context why talking like a manager would be considered a political gesture, whether conscious or unconscious.

Didn't mean to scoff, mock or scorn. Thank you for continuing the conversation towards "consilience," indeed, or at least collective bargaining.

Sean Stannard-Stockton

Thanks Phil. Your writing has regularly helped prevent me from taking some of my ideas to their logical/market driven/capitalistic extremes. I think that having been raised by a sociologist and a psychologist and being married to an art therapist, I have a different take on business and markets than many business people do.

It is my job not yours or anyone else's to use language that frames my thinking accurately. When I talk about markets and business I speak of them in aspirational terms, not what they are today. I think of them as biological systems that are neither good nor bad. They may get sick, they may encroach on the habitat of others. But at the end of the day, disliking them is like disliking the oceans or the weather.

But when I speak of markets, a whole lot of political/personal frames fall in place around me. That's my own doing. I'm not sure I'm a good enough writer to effectively cast off those scales while still making my point. Thanks for helping me think through it.

Phil Cubeta

As a fellow sufferer, and fellow professional in a very diverse and often divisiive field, let me give you another angle on this. Imagine a town square, as in New England. At the center is a town green, where people can meet for parades, picnics, theater under the stars, fun with friends. Around the square are shops, houses of worship, public buildings, maybe a college up on the hill. When people come into the public spaces, whether commercial or the town green, they have, in some ways, to self-censor. To get along in our diverse society, we learn to talk a language that is fairly neutral. Business language and business ettiquette are like that. So is professionalism. That is often the right language to use in our profession becasue it is non-threatening and does not generally set of disputs. It is our common language in a market based society. But then we have our other lives. When the issues are of great moment, as with birth, marriage, death, or salvation we retreat into our more "sacred" (or secular but intimate) communities. We retreat into the bosom of our family, and our religious organizations, our private clubs, and our schools. We then speak a langauge that is fuller, richer, with roots going back into books and stories and rituals that make us Orthodox Jews, Latter Day Saints, or Skull and Bones, or secularists rooted in the liberal arts. There in those moments we pray, write poetry, raise our children, confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, honor our forbears, and mourn our dead.

Sean, here is my dilema and probably yours too. As a professional on company time, meeting with someone whose value tradition I do not deeply share, what language do I use and what language do I encourage when the topic is philanthropy, heritage, community, legacy and what lives on? I like you can fall into the most neutral professional tones about tactics, and that is safe, but what if the client really needs someone with whom to brainstorm the life and death issues? What is the client begins to speak from what is deepest in the client, citing his or her sacred texts, texts I do not share?

We don't want to deny or shut down that deeper dialogue, nor can we fully share it since we are not consecrated in that tradition. We can listen respectfully, we can murmur, "Tell me more...." but it is not our tradition.

What you say about your family background makes me think that you very well understand this tension between the public and the private, between the language of busienss and the langauge of, say, art and art therapy.

With whom, then, should the client have the heart to heart connection that guides the philanthropic plan in the light of all the client holds holy?

Yes, the client does have a Rabbi, and no, you and I are not the client's Rabbi, but when the Rabbi at the Temple asks the client for money, it is just a pitch, not a plan; it is all about the Case Statement and "The giving opportunity."

I am beginning to think that what needs to happen, in order to complement and complete, the strategic and tactical financial and estate plans is for a class of people, drawn mostly from the liberal arts and from religious studies, or from psychology, to be trained to serve as a) elictors of the client's best self and b) bridges and translater for the tacticians and strategist. I believe that the research by Backer and Freidland (both doctorates in pych, as you know)tends towards some such conclusion.

Ideally, CAP will work at the boundary between these two worlds, or realms, and these two ways of talking and thinking about what matters most.

As a professional choice, I do really, "get" why you would keep it clean and professional. Best way to maintain a wide and diverse clientele. Best way not to offend or cause arguments. But as you well know, Tactics report to Strategies. Strategies report to Mission. Mission reports to Vision. And what informs Vision? Well, that gets you back to religion, ethics, sociology, and the other liberal arts. Either such traditions inform vision or vision is blind.

You can also venerate markets, of course, but that is another issue. Much harder to do that this February than last February. The corruption in those markets is painfully apparent. The Hidden Hand seems to need a little help, whether bailouts, ethics, regulatory schemes, or jail time for offenders.

Getting to the level, though, where you are acknowledging and affirming your political theories implicit in your economics is taking you to vision, and beyond tactics, as you will agree. You are tipping your hand about values-commitments. You are showing that you do have a values-frame, it seems it is liberatrian, actually. We all have frames. The question is how we bring them to the public or semi-private conversations we have with clients, or whether we withold our frame to come across as neutal professionals.

Social justice is largely about fighting the market's tendencies to inequality. To be pro-market may be to give short shrift to those who are at the bottom. Not necessarily, but that is what gives these conversations about markets/justice their edge.

Frames fall around us all. When we evoke them, we do have to play off against the reactions we regularly provoke. So, do we retreat as best we can into values netural tactics, or do we counsel clients around vision, values, and the langauge and traditions that frame them?

Who should? Who should not? Is it mandatory for a CAP, optional, or prohibited? I wonder what you would say, and what other CAPs would say? Maybe we should get pscyh MAs first? Or maybe an MA in art therapy? Or a masters in theology? A credential in life coaching? Many a good philanthropic advisor has come to the work from such backgrounds. I hope more will. I also hope we will generate a larger number of highly competent tacticians who defer to the vision created by clients with advisors skilled in that pre-work of discovery agreement.

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