More Than Money
Issue #12

Creative Giving

Table of Contents

“Questioning the Norms -- Publicly”

Giving choices are generally considered private decisions. If discussed at all, differences among individuals' giving strategies are often shrugged off as a matter of style and personality. "You give spontaneously; I give strategically; viva la difference!"

We believe that lack of discussion about why and how people do their giving deprives us all. Greater effectiveness could come from openly exploring and challenging our different choices. Certainly, ways abound to be a caring and effective giver, and people's giving naturally follows their particular interests and strengths. Yet we all also have blinders--from the limits of our life experience, and from the norms that surround us.

To illustrate, here are three issues about giving that we care about:

  • Understandably, many people are drawn to give locally, to projects where they feel a personal connection. But if most people give that way, many areas of great need and potential impact will go underfunded--for instance, communities of color, or projects of national and international scope. An argument could be made that committed local givers should still set aside a certain percentage of their giving for further afield.
  • At present, almost no one has as a funding priority "organizing people with wealth" or "building philanthropic infrastructure." But philanthropy doesn't just happen--it needs to be developed and supported. If most givers set aside even 1-2% of their funding for this area--much as businesses routinely dedicate a percentage of profits towards research and development--there might be significantly more money available for everyone's most pressing issues. (This would be especially true ff additional philanthropy did not try to replace, but helped to restore and increase the government's vital social services).
  • Often, giving from the heart is posed as the opposite of giving strategically, and giving spontaneously considered incompatible with following an overall giving plan. It seems to us that these apparent opposites need to be reconciled for giving to be both joyful AND effective. If more people talked about these differences, perhaps creative giving strategies would emerge that integrate these different modes.

Where can issues like these be discussed if giving is simply a matter of private personal preference?

In the following three pieces, the authors openly advocate controversial positions about giving. While we may not see eye-to-eye with the writers, we applaud them for opening these discussions and taking provocative stands. May their boldness stimulate all of us to talk more openly with colleagues, friends, family about what makes for satisfying and effective giving-and increase our willingness to enjoy and learn from the differences among us.

- Christopher Mogil and Anne Slepian, editors

1. Supporting Community Reconciliation. As a consultant to the Rockefeller foundation for the last several years, I said to them, "You are a liberal foundation giving to liberal causes. Most of the time I agree with your inclinations. However, 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. Unfortunately, more often they are like fueling community-based cold wars. I think there is a better way. You say your work is about building community, but you are often just arming adversaries. How could you do this differently?"

As a result of this kind of discussion, the Rockefeller Foundation is now giving several million a year to a process we call "the Common Enterprise." It works by lip finding communities in conflict and funds a process in which the stakeholders in the conflict are brought together. The funders say to the community, 'We'll fund you if and when you get together with the groups in your community who have opposite viewpoints and shape a common proposal." The foundation spends relatively small amounts of money for facilitators to aid the process. There are now four cities with Common Enterprise teams, where people of all political persuasions are working together.

Even if you agree with one side of a war of ideas, it makes sense to use precious philanthropic dollars to build bridges between parties rather than to fund one side of a cultural war. You are more likely to come up with a durable lasting impact, and to promote community revitalization and self-governance.

- anonymous author

2. First Come, First Served. I offer a story about how much we can do in philanthropy when we dare to break the old rules. Back in 1971, with the proceeds of her landmark book Sisterhood is Powerful, Robin Morgan set up a fiscal situation that allowed her to give everything the book earned to the feminist movement. Robin's criteria were unusual and simple. She decided to give all the royalties on a first come, first served basis, to autonomous women's groups helping women.

After unsuccessfully trying to involve the anthology writers in choosing recipients, she decided to send an open letter out to all the women's centers, groups, and media. Requests poured in. Once she and other members of her funding group asked around in the community how credible the groups were, small seed grants of $300-$1000 were given to each project. In total The Sisterhood Is Powerful Fund (which was the very first feminist foundation) gave about $30,000-money which helped launch many of the first rape crisis centers, incest survival centers, and battered women's shelters. That total, adjusted for inflation, would now be about $300,000.

I am telling you this story not only to honor a trailblazer but to comment on the daring trust that it takes to give away money with such broad criteria on a first come first served basis. There were no site visits, no big evaluation, just the idea that the women who applied should receive the money. In fact, Robin considered the money was already "theirs" because the anthology was a book about and for the feminist movement. In addition, Robin was not wealthy herself, so she gave away money that she could easily have used to buy a house or farm for herself.

The women's movement is incomparably larger and more complex than it was back then. Funding has not grown comparably. I'm not suggesting we all do exactly what Robin did, but I think her approach was as innovative as it was simple. We sometimes value stinginess over generosity--calling it 'prudence.' We value suspicion over trust-calling it 'responsibility.' We dutifully follow in the footsteps of ancestors who never challenged the system.

I really like the idea of finding simple and non-bureaucratic ways of funding. It is up to us, those who benefit from the unjust system that creates such huge needs worldwide, to change the models of funding. What do you think?

- anonymous author

3. A Challenge to Traditional Assumptions Underlying Giving: A Proposal for Reparations. As an educator and civil rights lawyer, I have spent my adult life living and working with people of color trapped in urban ghettos. Over the past twenty-six years I have worked with thousands of folks, mostly poor, young, Black and Puerto Rican people chewed up by the system. I have come to believe that only radical economic, political and social change will eradicate the deeply oppressive conditions of our society.

As I read More than Money, I see that many people who are sensitively trying to deal with their wealth still think in terms of giving and contributing. But these concepts do not end the power relationships between those who are wealthy and those who are struggling in poverty. In addition to contemplating how to "be generous" with an inheritance, why not also look at how you and your ancestors allowed this wealth to be consolidated, maintained and inherited in the first place?

If you trace the roots of any person of African descent in America, you will find lives of stability and plenty back in Africa. Millions of people were kidnapped from their lands and businesses and forced into slavery. Their descendants were released from slavery into a racist, hostile society in which every opportunity to succeed was denied. Is it any wonder that millions of African Americans today are caught up in poverty and despair?

I believe that this poverty should be and can be lifted through reparations, not charity. Through reparations, the U.S. government would return resources to those from whom they were taken. While many different reparations proposals are being discussed, most suggest financing an infrastructure for education and economic development rather than distributing individual payments. The estimated cost ranges from $700 billion to $4 trillion, to be paid over a period of twenty to twenty-five years.

This figure may sound far-fetched, yet reparations have happened before: the U.S. Congress provided them to Japanese Americans for their wrongful detention in the 1940's; Germany gave money after WWII toward the development of Israel; the tiny country of Poland just approved $7.5 billion to compensate people whose property was confiscated by Communist authorities after WWII.

Now there is a growing reparations movement in America, as sensitive people from all walks of life recognize reparations as a legitimate concept waiting for action. Congressman John Conyers of Michigan has repeatedly submitted a bill (H.R. 40) to establish a commission to study the issue; it is only a matter of time before it passes and reparations gets its due on the Congressional floor. How long will we pour a fortune into building prisons, arming our communities, dealing with "troubled youth?" Why not instead commit the resources necessary to develop economically functioning, stable communities?

Rather than "giving," Americans swimming in money should consider "returning" the proceeds to those from whom it was taken. By putting resources behind the budding reparations movement, they can help acknowledge society's grievous wrongdoing and create a dignified way for African Americans to claim their rightful economic place.

- anonymous author

© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved