Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Safe Travels

I'd like to take a moment to thank Ather for his help getting this blog off the ground. Next week he's headed to India for a semester of learning... and giving, I hope. Remember, give first. Bon Voyage!

On the Moral Life of Philanthropy

From “The Moral Case for Change” by Gara LaMarche originally published by Yes! Magazine:

The author strikes a salient point regarding the efficacy of giving. There must be will. There must be direction. There must be risk. It is the risk that creates reward. Moving philanthropic endeavors into the political realm is the form of a new diplomacy. Imagine capturing the competitiveness of the free markets in the capacity of giving. The convergence of the private sector ambition and not-for-profit altruism would change the world for the better for all humans. Philanthropy and Humanism, although distinct, go together hand in hand. Both function to grow the awareness of ethics, humanity, and progress. Giving charitably highlights human values which expresses a commitment to improve human welfare in this world. (Of course, human welfare is understood in the context of our interdependence upon the environment and other living things.) Ethical principles should be evaluated by their consequences for people.

The Moral Life Of Philanthropy

The world of philanthropy needs to strike a better balance in arguing for change. Most philanthropic mission statements focus on “solving problems” or “addressing issues,” but shy away from stating explicit and sometimes politically volatile goals. Even the foundations comfortable supporting public policy advocacy tend to avoid discussing it or making any effort to knit their disparate issues into a larger frame.

Many foundations are increasingly influenced by public opinion research, which has a strong place in any social change effort. But if the research is not closely hinged to first principles, to fundamental values, it cannot be a tool for meaningful change.

Pollsters have told me that the best way to get public and legislative approval of progressive measures on immigration or prisoner re-entry is to cast it in punitive terms—requiring undocumented immigrants to become citizens or forcing prisoners to get a high school equivalency diploma—tilting a majority toward reform. But this approach accepts pernicious stereotypes that will come back to haunt us.

In our everyday lives as activists and donors, are we more likely to support an organization based on its tax status and effectiveness rating, or based on our passion for its goals and principles?

In 1976, the philanthropist Paul Ylvisaker wrote: “Philanthropy [must] move out of fixed and safe positions into more independent, flexible and far more exposed stances between the contradictory forces that are generating tension, and without the resolving action of some agent such as philanthropy, will otherwise tear nations and neighborhoods apart.”

And yet foundations today too often are entrenched in those fixed and safe positions. If they speak out, it is more likely to be about the preservation of tax exemptions and payout rates. During the Bush years, it was hard to find a voice in American philanthropy raised in protest of tax cuts or the wars.

In recent years, a number of foundations have formed what might be called an “effectiveness movement” in philanthropy, with the idea that good intentions are not enough. Atlantic{} has been deeply engaged in this movement, supporting the creation of organizations like The Bridgespan Group and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations to help nonprofits and grantmakers set smarter benchmarks and assess impact. But this movement is now finding that there is no real constituency for effectiveness, as such. Like our politics, it’s easy to see why: values move people to enthusiasm and action, not sterile concepts of metrics and results.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What Can You Give?

Philanthropy isn't necessarily limited to monetary contributions. In the previous post, I referenced The Power of Giving: How Giving Back Enriches Us All, and in the chapter 'What Can You Give?' lists many tangible and intangible things one person can give. I will outline and extrapolate on these items with my favorite quotations by my favorite peoples.

  • Love

      "If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it. I know that sounds a little pious." - David Foster Wallace

  • Laughter

      Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” ~Kurt Vonnegut

  • Knowledge

      “Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” -Oscar Wilde

  • Leadership

      “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” -Harry S. Truman

  • Hope

      “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Emily Dickinson

  • Life

      “Your birth is a mistake you'll spend your whole life trying to correct.” -Chuck Palaniuk

  • Time

      Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” -Carl Sandburg

  • Money

      “There is always enough for the needy but never enough for the greedy.” -Mahatma Gandhi

  • Skills

      “A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.” -Larry Bird

  • Health

      “He who has health, has hope; and he who has hope, has everything.” -Thomas Carlyle

  • Touch

      I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.“ Maya Angelou

  • Attention

      “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.” -Henry David Thoreau

  • Advice

      “He that gives good advice, builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both; but he that gives good admonition and bad example, builds with one hand and pulls down with the other.” -Francis Bacon

On the nature of philanthropy

I recently perused The Power of Giving: How Giving Back Enriches Us All by Azim Jamal & Harvey McKinnon only to find repeated affirmations of the trite platitude, “the more you give, the more you receive” or various iterations of said cliche such as “the more you give of yourself, the more you find of yourself.” The familiar truism is the driving force behind the chapter 'Why Give?' (and really, the only suitable philosophic answer to that question so I forgive their repeated use of the cliche) accoutered with asterisk.

“The paradox is,” write the authors, “when you give expecting a reward, you won't receive one. Author Earl Nightingale tells a story of a man who went to his empty fireplace and said, 'Give me heat and I'll give you the wood.' But giving does not work that way. In fact, giving functions under the universal law of cause and effect.”

Given its reciprocal nature, philanthropy isn't material as it is experiential. Giving what you can is commendable, but experiencing giving is truly fruitful. In the heart of it, philanthropy isn't about what you give, but how much you can relate spiritually to what you give, tangible or intangible.

A Visit With John Siebert

Executive Director of Parks and Recreation John Siebert was recently quoted in this article as saying, “This city has a legacy of support for the parks. A culture of extraordinary volunteerism and philanthropy has made our parks system shine.” I was curious as to how he came to that conclusion and what philanthropy meant to him as a public servant.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with John. He is a slim, mustached man with a friendly smile and even friendlier demeanor. After he kindly offered me a bottle of water, we began to talk.

It didn't take long for me to realize John's affection for Valparaiso. He's been in the community since 1980 working with a host of esteemed organizations in addition to the Parks Department such as Porter Hospital, the YMCA, Mayor Costas, Opportunity Enterprises, and Housing Opportunities to name a few. His rich experience with Valparaiso lends a great deal of validity to his opinion on philanthropy in the community.

“Valparaiso is an extraordinary community of corporate philanthropists and individual philanthropists,” John said with gusto. “The culture of selflessness is a unique part of this community. The core quality of Valparaiso is its giving culture.” The memorial fountain pictured below is an example of this giving as it was entirely funded with private donations.

The Memorial Fountain commemorates duty & sacrifice, charity, hope, and friendship.

John credits his faith for his steadfast service to the community. All faiths including the secular worldviews encourage humanity through kindness to one another. In his eyes, the giver often becomes the receiver. Whether the rewards of philanthropy come from a religious faith or from one's own personal satisfaction, the tradition of giving will not fade any time soon in Valparaiso.

Bill Gates Pushes Students Toward Philanthropy

In this brief video, Bill Gates regales us with the refreshing perspective of his young daughter. In a profoundly simple manner, she reminds one of the greatest living philanthropist that philanthropy at its core is about individual human beings.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Making a Difference Everyday

Check out Stephanie Jones inspirational blog: 1 Making a Difference. She's committed to making a gift-no matter how large or small-seeming every day. Way to go Stephanie!

This is definitely Philanthropy to Celebrate!

A Litmus Test for Giving

Recently, I worked with a men's church group that was struggling with a question of how to distribute the money that they work so hard to raise during the year. They invited me to help facilitate a conversation that could help them untangle the issues.

I asked each committee member to write down 3-4 of the core values that they hold as members of this church group. As diverse as the committee was and as varied as the perspectives held by each person, they all coalesced around:

Family/Family Values
Providing Direct Service and Financial Assistance to Individuals in Need

These guys worked very hard through this meeting, and they came to the conclusion that these common values were a "litmus test" not only for their charitable giving, but also for the agenda of their activities during the year. Ideas were flying, and tension dissipated. It was a great night for the group, and I felt privileged to be a part of the discussion.

There are about 1.5 million not-for-profit organizations in the U.S.... hundreds and thousands of "good causes" to choose from. To start a philanthropic conversation between couples, within a family, or among members of a volunteer group, it is important to start with a discussion of shared values that you can reflect in your charitable actions.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Joyful Giving!

My two sons--ages 7 and 6--spent an entire summer afternoon wrapping presents to give to each other, their father, and me. The presents, toys that they already owned, old matchbox cars, a couple of super-bouncy balls, a crayon, etc., were carefully wrapped with excessive amounts of Scotch tape and layers of multi-colored construction paper.

They delighted when I unwrapped my gifts--squeals of laughter--and proceeded to re-wrap the same gifts for another turn.

It struck me that we know from a very early age that giving is joyful, fun, and fulfilling. When we pick the perfect birthday gift for a friend--even when it takes a couple shopping trips or evenings on Amazon--we're almost as excited as she is to open it. This is how giving should be.

Sometimes, though, when we translate this experience into charitable giving, it isn't what we would first describe as joyful. We can feel inundated with invitations to attend galas, direct mail solicitations, and special requests from friends. And there are so many good causes--1.5 million not-for-profit organizations in the U.S. alone.

This blog is about celebrating philanthropy and helping people bring clarity, intentionality, and joy to their charitable giving. I have invited Ather Ahmed, a junior at Valparaiso University, to post to this blog as well. From time to time, he'll interview individuals and community leaders about giving and philanthropy and share what he's learned on this blog.

If you have a moment of joyful giving that you'd like to share with me, please let me know... I'd like to celebrate.