Facilitator: Aaron Edison
Participants: Geoff, Claude, Ellen
Fuel the Wars
"When I was a consultant
to the Rockefeller foundation, I said to them, 'For every
dollar you give to a liberal cause, a conservative foundation
is funding a conservative counterpart. At best these dollars
cancel each other out--at worst, they fuel community-based
cold wars. You say your work is about building community,
but you are often just arming adversaries. Could you fund
a better way?'"
"Even if funders agree
with one side of a war of ideas, it makes sense for them
to use precious philanthropic dollars to build bridges
between parties rather than to fund one side of a cultural
war. They are more likely to come up with a durable lasting
impact, and to promote community revitalization and self-governance."
--Mark Gerzon, director,
I'm 27 and the Executive
Director of my family foundation. I enjoy the world of
philanthropy and plan to make it a lifelong priority.
About Mark Gerzon's paragraph: I've noticed that in the
foundation world, organizations of grant-makers tend to
carry with them rather obvious political biases: e.g.,
the Council on Foundations is liberal; the Philanthropy
Roundtable is conservative. In fact, the latter was formed
specifically by a small group of funders to be the antithesis
of the former.
On one hand, I find that
the tension between opposing viewpoints creates a diverse
"marketplace" so to speak, for philanthropic ideas, a
competitive atmosphere where we hope the best solutions
will come to light. On the other hand, I agree we all
need to move beyond partisanship to get things done.
I am a 68 year old San
Franciscan, the founder of RCM Capital Management which
now manages over $25 billion in securities for institutions
and high net worth families. I wrote four books on investing,
and two years ago published a book on philanthropy now
in its eighth printing (Wealthy and Wise:
How You and
America Can Get the Most Out of Your Giving
Brown & Co.) My wife and I are entrenched philanthropists
who believe that we should do as much as possible while
we are living to make our communities safer, better educated,
I think it makes good sense
to bring people with diverse views together to shape proposals.
Our experience is that not enough interaction and collaboration
occurs in the philanthropic communities. Too many organizations
are duplicating the services of others, without communicating
as to what is working well and what is failing, and why.
My major criticism about Gerzon's approach is the fear
that "too many cooks spoil the broth," hence that too
many voices from multiple constituencies probably will
lead to mediocrity.
I live in Vermont and am a consultant in
the field of philanthropy. I grew up middle class, and
while I have inherited some money, this does not change
my class position. I am interested in these issues for
personal as well as professional reasons. I struggle with
how much money to give away, how to communicate about
inheritance with my kids, and all that.
Responding to Ger-zon,
I would hate for people with liberal or progressive views
to think, "for every dollar I might give to progressive
causes there's one going to conservative causes, so they
cancel each other out..." Let's be real. The Right, whether
religious or not, has access to many, many more times
the funding than progressive organizations do. In Social
Change Philanthropy in America, researcher Alan Rabinowitz
estimates about 1/10th of 1% of the total giving in this
country funds progressive social change. I want funders
to think, "In such a small pool, every dollar I give really
counts, so I want to give it the very most effective way."
Sure, in some circumstances
dialogues such as Common Enterprise will be the most effective
strategy for change, but in other circumstances lobbying
might be the best strategy, or grassroots organizing,
or public education. Those of us who care about social,
economic and environmental justice in this country find
all kinds of reasons why progressive organizing is not
more successful: lack of collaboration, factionalism...
These may be true, but lack of funding is also a major
factor. I don't think money is the only, or even the most
important resource needed, but it is certainly a critical
"If I could wave my magic
wand, people would let go of needing to pick exactly which
groups get their money. Instead, they would decide how
much to give overall and to what issues, and then give
through intermediary foundations who have done the thorough
research needed to strategically leverage a lot of change
with small amounts of money. Or they could hire their
own staff to do this kind of legwork."
--Teresa Odendahl, director,
National Network of Grantmakers
Regarding Teresa Odendahl's
views in "Be Strategic," I think she misses the point.
Sure, people should trust other organizations to research
effective causes; but more importantly, I think that others
should respect people's right to do with their money as
they see fit. We can cajole, suggest or even implore others
to consider the avenues of charity we think are best,
but ultimately, it is up to the grant maker to give funds
where he or she thinks is best.
We could open a discussion
about to what degree there should be individual, private
ownership of massive resources--I happen to think there
should be greater limits--but that seems a whole other
question. Teresa is in no way denying that we live in
a country where people have the right to build unlimited
wealth and do what they want with it. She's saying that
if funders care about the results of their giving then
making their decisions in an isolated way undermines that
intention. Unless you're devoting your life to analyzing
a certain social problem, it is very hard to make informed
and strategic individual decisions about what will really
make a difference.
I agree with her that most
giving is done in a whimsical, "whatever moves me at the
moment" kind of way. Very few donors or even foundations
have a clear analysis of the issues they fund, or the
key points for high impact intervention. It takes enormous
work to figure this out. That is why it is critical either
to do this analysis yourself or give through an intermediary.
Is anything changing because of the work you fund? People
with wealth have a responsibility to give in such a way
that they can evaluate the impact.
From my foundation experience
I'm always shocked when I examine closely the financial
statements of organizations that "sound" like they're
doing a lot of good for the world. But when you see the
excessive salaries, excessive overhead and the massive
sources of other revenues, your realize that some charities
try to obscure the facts about themselves.
I encourage donors to
look at their contributions as they look at investments.
They should expect good value in exchange for their efforts,
and there are many obstacles out there--serious, self-centered,
clinging obstacles--that need to be "pushed and pushed
hard." Too many donors have been too polite; it may require
some tough bargaining to reach compromises, much less
constructive changes that will produce successful results.
"Holding onto excess wealth
may be a deep and old human pattern, but it's a false
and selfish way to live your life. Sure, keep whatever
millions you think you need for security-but then, give
yourself and your family the pleasure, dignity, and honor
to give away the rest. Don't wait until your deathbed."
--Waldemar Nielsen, contributor,
Chronicle of Philanthropy
I think that being a philanthropist
causes many wealthy people to get a "I MUST SAVE THE WORLD"
mindset. Not only is that impossible, but it undermines
people's feelings of effectiveness in the local causes
they support. For example, in Philadelphia where I live,
the homeless and poverty and graffiti problems are so
pronounced, it makes me wonder if any help could ever
make any difference whatsoever. Then I realize that long-standing,
complex problems require long-standing, complex solutions
which need many more times the time or resources than
I could ever devote. That's why instead of criticizing
the priorities of current philanthropists, I'd rather
proselytize to the masses of people who are either too
unenlightened, selfish, or unknowing of how to give money
at all. Wally Nielsen's paragraph speaks for me, here.
Boy, do I agree with Wally's
paragraph. (I'm biased here, because I know that anything
he writes amounts to unusual common sense and honesty.)
Wealthy and Wise
I prove with new, conservative,
and quantitative definitions of financial wherewithal
that it is in everyone's interest for wealthy people to
give substantially. People of means must understand that
if conditions in America stagnate and deteriorate,
they (people of means) will no doubt be singled out and
penalized. Higher income taxation and/or higher attachment
of inheritances may become new orders of the day. Indeed,
people of means should develop the attitude that solid
philanthropy is one of their wisest, even most self-interested,
I agree. It is totally
in our own interest to use our resources to make a more
just world. I am profoundly disturbed to see this country
moving increasingly towards what used to exist only in
countries like South Africa: rich people living in
walled compounds with guards at the gate, unable to feel
secure anywhere without protection. If nothing else but
for the nourishment of own humanity and spiritual well-being,
we can't cut ourselves off from the rest of society. .
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