Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Estate Tax Resources

The upcoming vote on the estate tax has been postponed as Congress concentrates on the Katrina relief effort. I was unable to attend a recent blogger conference call on the estate tax, but Becky Lewis at OMB Watch was kind enough to send along these resources discussed at the conference, which I pass along to you with some suggestions of my own:

General Resources
  • Americans for a Fair Estate Tax Talking Points

  • Estate's Rites

  • Recent Estate Tax Poll Results

  • The Estate Tax: Myths and Realities

  • OMB Watch's Budget Blog

  • Books
  • Death by a Thousand Cuts

  • Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes

  • Organizations
  • Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

  • Coalition for America's Priorities

  • OMB Watch

  • United for a Fair Economy

  • If you have any more suggestions, let me know. I'll be updating this post as I find more.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2005

    The best argument against the estate tax ever

    Ted Frank at Overlawyered (via Clicked), talking about how much Batman/Bruce Wayne would get sued for his exploits in the movie Batman Begins, contends:
    Separately, Wayne's escapades would never have been possible in the first place if there had been an estate tax: otherwise, his wealth would've been dissipated by the government by two successive taxations on the Wayne Estate, one when his parents died, the other when Alfred declared him dead and inherited Bruce's assets.
    When you tax the rich, their sons can't afford the appropriate lairs, vehicles, and gadgetry to effectively dispense vigilante justice. Is that the kind of America you want to live in?

    Save the estate tax!

    Save the Estate Tax

    From OMB Watch:
    Join our conference call Wednesday at 2:00 EST and learn how you can help stop President Bush and the Republicans in Congress from doing what they do best: acting in the interests of the wealthiest in our society.

    The estate tax is the most progressive part of the tax code, and it is under seige. Repealing it will save a handful of wealthy and powerful individuals billions of dollars, while making the rest of us pay more. The effort to repeal the estate tax is one of the most egregious examples of taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

    We need your help in order to combat the plethora of cash currently being spent by pro-repealers. Join us to find out how you can help fight back to preserve this important and progressive tax.

    Details are below - Please RSVP to if you plan on joining:

    What: Blogger Conference Call on Estate Tax
    When: Wednesday, August 31, from 2:00 - 3:00 pm EST
    Where: By Phone (Dial-in at 1.800.820.4690; passcode: 2022348494)

    Moderated by:
    Adam Hughes, Budget Policy Analyst, OMB Watch

    Policy Experts:
    John Irons, Director of Budget and Tax Policy, Center for American Progress
    Joel Friedman, Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

    Tuesday, August 30, 2005


    Jane King at The Giving Blog points people to an organization called CharityFocus.

    According to the website:
    CharityFocus has no paid staff members. A common downfall of nonprofit organizations is that their pure intentions are often overshadowed by the challenges for survival. What begins as a way to serve others, very easily becomes a self-propagating system that aims to stay alive at all costs. Noticing that trend, CharityFocus took another route -- keep the organization fully volunteer-run. No money to raise, no vested interests, no hidden agendas, no image to uphold. So long as volunteers give, the organization will continue to thrive.

    It's gloriously utopian:
    CharityFocus has no leaders, no followers; its strength comes from its emptiness and its beauty resides in the hearts of its volunteers.

    Take a look at their programs. Amazing. I'd tell you to donate, but I don't think they want your money.

    Hurricane Katrina

    I haven't said anything about Hurricane Katrina because there's really nothing to say when these things happen.

    FEMA has information on how you can help.

    As for me, I donated to the Red Cross.

    Please do what you can for those in need.

    Once you've done that, come back and read the rest of this.

    First, if you're one of my conservative readers who just puts up with my left-leaning ways, and you're a fan of G.W. Bush, scroll to the next paragraph. Nothing to see here. This just burns me. And so does this. And this. Now you could argue that Think Progress is exploiting the tragedy for to score political points with these posts. I'd reply that it takes one to know one. The fact is, at times like these, we need funds and we need leaders. And I have learned where to begin looking for those things - and where not to. [UPDATE (5:25 PM): I'll give Bush some credit. He's cancelling his vacation, which is great. So why do I find myself recalling this?]

    Foundation boards and staff, please take a moment to review your emergency grantmaking policies. If you don't have one, get one. I know you've got an endowment to manage and program areas that deserve your continuous support, but there's no reason that your foundation can't give a little in the event of some calamity. Many certainly do, and that relief is incredible. The Council has some resources on disaster grantmaking created in the wake of 9/11 that can help you with your discussion. Just make disaster relief a part of your foundation's machinery so that when disaster strikes, the funds to rebuild are there.

    Philanthropists as a group should also prepare for these things. If your program area is scientific research, the more we know about how hurricanes form and behave, the more prepared we can be for them. Also, every region has its natural disasters - earthquakes in California, hurricanes in the southeast, tornadoes in the plains - is there any way that funds can be set up in a given region as a sort of philanthropic insurance in the event of these disasters? Foundations could contribute to a separate regional fund or to a set of donor-advised funds at community foundations in the area so that funds would be available for use in the event of a disaster. I know, I know, it's called FEMA. It's called the Red Cross. But, seriously, do such funds exist? If not, would they be a good idea? Philanthropy as social insurance - it might be worth some thought.

    Finally, philanthropists ought to be concerned with rising levels of poverty in our country. Natural disasters disproportionately affect the poor. Your important work in matters of social and economic justice matters, especially at times like these.

    For now, though, don't think. Give.

    Telling Stories

    While I'm in the mood on donor intent, The Chronicle of Philanthropy has a story on storytelling in family foundations.

    Now I’ve never heard of anyone who said, "Talking to your kids about your philanthropy is a really bad idea. Talking about your values with your children is just plain despicable. And telling stories! God, that’s just...criminal."
    Nonetheless, I started reading Darlene Siska's piece with tremendous skepticism. I read the slug, "Foundation leaders spin tales from their families' lives as a way to share values and traditions," and, instantly, I was off --

    Storytelling? You mean indoctrination. What’s the point of storytelling if it props up the dated views of a backward donor? Storytelling is great in and of itself; it’s just that when people say "storytelling," especially in family foundations, they don’t mean "sharing" stories. They mean older generation gets to tell the younger generation a story, so that the littluns lern they place. When did we start assuming only one generation has a story worth telling? If your stories are going to keep the next generation from telling its own, then sucks to your storytelling. Families might want to ask: why do I want to tell this story? to share my experience? or to duplicate it? to enlighten? or to indoctrinate? Families should be encouraged to tell their stories — as long as they understand that their story isn’t the whole story. As for me, stories? I don't need no stinking stories.

    Yes, I've been sitting on those issues for a while... I might want talk to somebody about that. But the article seems impervious to my skepticism: most storytelling is simply not that didactic; most story-tellers, simply not that vicious.

    If anything, storytelling can save us from the philanthropy-speak that too often bogs us down in meaningless buzzwords. William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund trustee William C. Graustein argues later in the article:
    Story works at a very different level than analytical thinking...We're schooled to think analytically, but story communicates at a level that is much more powerful at building things like trust and imagination.
    Narrative short-circuits the philanthropy-speak we frequently fall back on, breathing new life into our discussions. Just when thought you could get away with dismissing a grantee, with a wave of your "we're looking for a more collaborative, scalable approach" wand, they tell you what the grant would mean for the people they serve. Just when you thought you could dismiss your cousin Percy's latest program idea, he tells you how much Grandpa cared about that sort of thing. Suddenly, the people behind the buzzwords appear. It was easier, you think, when they were just buzzwords, but it makes for better philanthropy.

    Stories? I think we could use some good stories.

    Against donor intent

    Phil Anthropoid's reflection on an op-ed in Forbes has me thinking about donor intent, and I suppose it's as good a time as any to declare my instinctive hostility toward it.

    This isn't to say that I don't think the views of those who have gone before us shouldn't factor into our decisions. G. K. Chesterton once wrote, "Tradition is the democracy of the dead," and I believe that - our forebears should get a vote. I also believe, though, what Mordecai Kaplan said, "The past has a vote not a veto." So I guess I'm not against donor intent so much as the privileged status of the donor. The donor's views shouldn't count for any more than ours simply because they're the donor's views.

    Frequently, the appeal to donor intent is a sham. Say I want my family foundation to venture into a particular program, but my cousin, Percy, prefers things to stay as they are and have been for a long time. Percy might appeal to the values and vision of our venerable grandfather who established the foundation. My dear cousin, however, couldn't care less about Grandpa's values and vision except in this particular case where it serves his purposes. It's me vs. Percy right now, but if my cousin can swing it, it'll be me vs. the grandfather without whose wisdom we wouldn't even be having this argument. Suddenly, I'm arguing uphill. Instead of deciding between the alternatives before us and arguing the case on its merits, we often wrap ourselves in tradition and deliberately confuse the issue.

    If we had any respect for so-called donor intent, we'd see a great deal fewer people appealing to it. Think about it this way: imagine Percy could actually resurrect my grandfather, bodily with all his opinions, thoughts, hopes, dreams, and fears. Instead of Grandpa-the-argument, which is all donor intent makes him, we'd actually have Grandpa-the-person back. My cousin and I are arguing, and he says, "We'll settle this the old-fashioned way - VOODOO!"

    You have your board meetings; we have ours, okay?

    So my grandfather appears. Naturally, my cousin resurrects him thinking that my grandfather will agree with him, but what if he doesn't?

    "Sorry, but I think Madmunk's right on this one. Grandson, what kind of a name is Madmunk?"

    Or, more likely, what about the next issue? Maybe, when the discussion moves on, my cousin would very much like my grandfather to go back to being dead. Grandpa was all for Percy on Issue #1, but on Issue #2, he's sided with me.

    "Sorry, but I think Madmunk's right on this one."

    "What are you talking about?

    "I think maybe Madmunk's got a point."

    "I think maybe you should go."

    "No, I think I'll stay. Grandson, what kind of a name is Percy?"

    My cousin doesn't want my grandfather around anymore, but he's opened Grandpa's Box and there's nothing to be done now. In fact, I think he might come around to my point of view after enduring a stern lecture from Grandpa:

    "Madmunk, why should Grandpa's views count for any more than mine?"

    And now we're on to something.

    Thomas Paine wrote in his Rights of Man:
    There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the 'end of time,' or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it; and therefore all such clauses, acts or declarations by which the makers of them attempt to do what they have neither the right nor the power to do, nor the power to execute, are in themselves null and void. Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself in all cases as the age and generations which preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies. Man has no property in man; neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow. The Parliament or the people of 1688, or of any other period, had no more right to dispose of the people of the present day, or to bind or to control them in any shape whatever, than the parliament or the people of the present day have to dispose of, bind or control those who are to live a hundred or a thousand years hence. Every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require. It is the living, and not the dead, that are to be accommodated. When man ceases to be, his power and his wants cease with him; and having no longer any participation in the concerns of this world, he has no longer any authority in directing who shall be its governors, or how its government shall be organised, or how administered. (The emphasis is all mine; those are incredible lines.)

    Now, you might argue that I shouldn't be appealing to historical figures in a discussion against donor intent, but I think it shows that history has a place in the discussion. I'm not against that - especially when they state the case very well. I'm against the presumption that the views of the donor matter more simply because he or she made the money. I don't listen to Thomas Paine because he's Thomas Paine. I listen to Thomas Paine because the guy was right. Similarly, I shouldn't listen to the donor because he or she was rich but because they had something important to say.

    So I suggest a compromise. Donors should be allowed to speak, but that speech should be limited. Donors, if you have a specific intent (and by specific I mean anything more specific than "for the general improvement of humankind," but I could be persuaded otherwise) for your charitable dollars, you must place a time limit on the existence of the foundation (anything from the lifetime of the donor to, say, one or two generations). If you want the money to go to a specific community or cause, you must limit the number of generations you bind to that community or cause. When the foundation's time is up, it must either spend down or convert to a general-purpose foundation. The next generation must be allowed to chart its own course.

    You see, I see this a lot from deliberative democracy theorists. "If only people were informed and gathered to discuss the issues, they would make the right decisions," they say, and by the "right" decisions, they too frequently mean "their" decisions. In the same way, if people want more respect for "donor intent" and a true "democracy of the dead," I say let them have it. Just understand that it will be a true democracy, which means at least two things: the past isn't always going to vote with you, and neither will I.

    Sunday, August 28, 2005

    Who is Madmunk?

    Either I was cursed with very cruel parents; I was blessed with very prescient parents who prepared me for a career as a supervillain, D&D fanatic, or blogger; or, Madmunk is a pseudonym.

    Anonymity has an important place in the philanthropic world. The great philosopher Moses Maimonides placed anonymous giving just below the highest form of giving, entering into a partnership, in his eight levels of charity. Anonymity can protect the benefactor from unsolicited requests and enable him or her to practice giving solely for giving's sake. For these reasons, among others, donors sometimes seek to remain anonymous.

    Anonymity also has an important place in the blogosphere. It protects a blogger from ad hominem attacks and frees a blogger to say what he or she thinks and feels without fear of reprisal. For these reasons, among others, I have elected to publish under a pseudonym.

    If you must know, I live and work in the DC metro area, my heroes are Thomas Paine and Friedrich Nietzsche, and my favorite Bath & Body Works fragrance is Sheer Freesia. For those of you who do know who I am or happen to find out, I trust you to keep my identity secret for the time being.

    I can be reached here.

    In the meantime, my name is Madmunk, and this is Philanthropica.

    Saturday, August 27, 2005

    Emerging Issues Tours Philanthropy's Blogosphere

    The Council on Foundations' blog Emerging Issues gives a rundown of philanthropy's blogs.

    Philanthropica is graced with a mention (thanks very much!), and Candidia Cruikshanks over at Wealth Bondage is simply thrilled with the recognition.

    Thanks to Phil for all his work getting the conversation going.

    The Weary Titan

    Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian (via Clicked):
    If you want to know what London was like in 1905, come to Washington in 2005. Imperial gravitas and massive self-importance. That sense of being the centre of the world, and of needing to know what happens in every corner of the world because you might be called on - or at least feel called upon - to intervene there. Hyperpower. Top dog. And yet, gnawing away beneath the surface, the nagging fear that your global supremacy is not half so secure as you would wish. As Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary, put it in 1902: "The weary Titan staggers under the too vast orb of his fate."

    Someone else noticed, I see. I work in the district, and I've been telling friends lately that it feels like Paris just before the Revolution. His analogy's a better one. I don't imagine guillotines - just the end of an era. There's a creeping anxiety beneath the Mall's monuments. You feel like you're standing on top of something that can't quite hold itself together, can't go on much longer. It could be your political leanings, but even some people on the other side of the aisle can sense that all is not well in DC. I know a few folks who were here a decade ago or grew up here long ago and now have moved back, and, for them, there has been a tremendous change in the tenor of the city. Whether or not you agree with his claim that "Iraq is America's Boer war," I think Ash is on to something, and you can feel it in DC.

    But this little blog of ours is supposed to be about philanthropy, and Ash's conclusion is a test for the philanthropic imagination:
    So this is no time for schadenfreude. It's a time for critical solidarity. A few far-sighted people in Washington are beginning to formulate a long-term American strategy of trying to create an international order that would protect the interests of liberal democracies even when American hyperpower has faded; and to encourage rising powers such as India and China to sign up to such an order. That is exactly what today's weary Titan should be doing, and we should help him do it.

    People set up foundations in perpetuity and make international grants, but do we consider when making these grants that America may not always occupy the place it does in today's international order? Can we count ourselves among those far-sighted few?

    I ask because I don't think that looking at the world with these questions in mind demonstrates any lack of faith in America. If anything, it demonstrates a tremendous faith in our principles to think that they can and should survive even when the power that once sustained them passes away. Philanthropy is our way of assuring that our ideals live on even though we do not, that America still lives though its hyperpower fades.

    Friday, August 26, 2005

    If you're going to reform the sector...

    ...we have a few suggestions.

    Authors Jan Masaoka and Jeanne Bell Peters offer an amazing set of "reforms to make nonprofits more effective and accountable." You'll wish you'd thought of them. You'll wish you'd said it first and laid it all out there like this. I know I do; they had me from proposal #1.

    Scrapping "concerns of what is politically achievable," Masaoka and Peters are freed to tell it how it should be. It's fantastic. Circulate this to everyone you know. As much as I respect what Independent Sector has done with the Panel, I'd like this in the back of our leaders' minds come this fall.

    Thanks to reader Nick for pointing us to this great critique.


    Stephen Viederman, former president of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation and co-founder of the Initiative for Fiduciary Responsibility, emailed Philanthropica some time ago with some fantastic resources on socially responsible investing (SRI) and the power of institutional investors to change the world for the better through shareholder resolutions and strategic investments. You can email Viederman here for those resources. They were just a few articles but very interesting stuff.

    I'm extrapolating here and more than likely projecting, but I detected three major themes for philanthropists in his works:
    1. agents: philanthropy is mainly the province of large institutions run by elites, a group of folks Robert Monks simply called "top people;"

    2. aims: the philanthropy of these large institutions tends to favor the status quo; and

    3. actions: many foundations have become grant factories, forgoing the responsibility to consider the political, social, and environmental consequences of their investments out of a misplaced concern for the bottom line (when evidence shows that SRI can actually produce better results).

    Reading through the articles, I am struck by the tremendous democratizing power of SRI. You'll notice that these themes basically describe a philanthropy of, by, and for elites as opposed to a more democratic philanthropy of, by, and for the people. Institutional investors, particularly foundations, can exert a powerful check on corporate power through their status as investors. We do tremendous good with our grants; imagine the good that could be accomplished via shareholder resolutions and the like.

    SRI also democratizes the investment discussion. One of the things that I think keeps the philanthropic world in the shadows is that a lot of people don't know how foundations work exactly. The simple mechanics of it are lost on many who just see rich people giving money away here or there (or not). Furthermore, even those in the foundation world (and you find this, for instance, when training new board members) don't quite understand how the investment side of foundations works. I don't always anyway. With SRI, however, investments aren't an esoteric analysis of economic forces and trends but a consideration of the political, social, environmental, moral, and cultural implications of one's investments as well as that analysis. This makes investment not just a discussion for the financially hyperliterate but for everyone. I may not understand how to protect the bottom line in the way my expert investment manager would, but I do know that I don't want to compromise my mission through dealing with certain types of companies and that I might need to change how I deal with a company to make a difference. SRI makes that desire part of the investment equation, and it's brilliant.

    Thanks to Steve for sending the stuff our way.

    Thursday, August 25, 2005

    A Cynic's Guide to the Foundation World, Part One

    Community Foundations
    In 1914, Frederick Goff did for philanthropy what halitosis did for Listerine: he created the "The Community." While no one knows who exactly this Community is (The Community does not keep membership records), thanks to Goff, we all know that (1) we owe it a great deal; (2) we are supposed to "give back" to it; and (3) community foundations like Goff's Cleveland Foundation can help us do that. Despite such auspicious beginnings, however, today, community foundations are the ruling elite's answer to the redneck front lawn, little more than parking lots for inoperable giving vehicles. Cut a philanthropist's grass, and you'll find another donor-advised fund his wife didn't know existed.

    Company-sponsored Foundations
    American corporations sponsor foundations the same way you sponsored that adorable child you saw on TV. Ever wonder what Sally Struthers' camera crew was eating? (Mmm, hey, let's order some pizza. No, you can't have any. This is mine.) Think about that the next time you read a corporate foundation's annual report. Thirty-five cents does go a long way, but if you spent half as much on grants as you did on PR, you could go much further. Company-sponsored foundations, however, are hampered by the fact that corporations are created to maximize shareholder value; hence, they cannot in good conscience give away someone else's hard-earned money. Corporate foundations, thus, have a great deal to learn from family foundation program officers.

    Operating Foundations
    For the discriminating philanthropist who truly understands that nonprofits are too stupid to be trusted with your philanthropic dreams, operating foundations allow you to foist your conception of the common good on unsuspecting at-risk folks without the annoying middlepersons. If you're up for "Extreme Makeover: Social Engineering Edition," consider the operating foundation your Home Depot. Sure, it might be better to call a plumber after a toilet explodes, but, hey, you're doing just fine on your own. Thank you very much. It's only medical research that could save millions of lives or none at all, a think tank that can inform Congress or lead it astray, or a museum that can preserve our common human history for generations to come or let it disappear forever - honestly, how hard can it be?

    Independent Foundations
    If a foundation doesn't give back to The Community, provide excellent PR for a foundering corporation, or, well, operate, the foundation is considered "independent." This independence, however, is exceedingly tenuous. As long as the your investment manager takes good care of your wallet, regulation isn't overly burdensome, the IRS doesn't order an audit, and the state attorney-general takes his foot off your neck, you're independent. Since none of these conditions currently obtain, "independent foundation," like "civil society," is a contradiction in terms.

    Family Foundations
    Family foundations form the last bastion of the aristocracy in our civilization on the brink of collapse. It’s incredibly important, nay, vital to the continued prosperous existence of our polyarchic society that you hold your considerable wealth hostage to your dysfunctional family dynamic. This incredible power to change the world for the better must be mercilessly tied in perpetuity to your dated dogma, backward values, and mindless idiosyncrasies lest the underclass climb out of the muck in which we so painstakingly keep them.

    The Hiatus is Over

    We now return to our regularly scheduled programming already in progress.

    Wednesday, July 06, 2005

    Bailing on the Boys & Girls Club

    Board members are bailing on a struggling Texas nonprofit. From the Brownsville Herald:
    After threatening to shut down last Friday, the Brownsville Boys & Girls Club’s future remains uncertain, pending a potential loan from the city and with several administrators resigning this week.

    The Boys & Girls Club is on life support,” said Lynn Anderson, president of the club board. “We’re going to do Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and if we don’t see anything by Friday to make the payroll then we’re going to have to shut down.”

    Club officials announced an indefinite closure of the club Friday before a meeting with city officials led to an agreement to re-open the club with loan money


    Al McClandon, regional service director for Rio Grande Valley, has been working with the Brownsville club from his San Antonio office, and will visit the area today to assess the situation.

    He said the problems faced by Brownsville are not unusual for non-profit organizations.

    Funding is one of our main challenges, so pretty much it is a problem in most places but we find a way to work through it,” McClandon said. “There is always a cash flow problem when you talk about the number of kids versus the money coming in.”

    To further complicate matters, executive director Lou Gracia informed board members she would resign when her contract ends on Aug. 1. She did not return calls by press time Tuesday.

    “She’ll be there until August and they’ll put out a search to locate a replacement,” McClandon said, adding they were looking for people from other clubs. “But the most important thing is how you can work with people and energize them for the mission.”

    Gracia isn’t the only one stepping down.

    Of the club’s eight board members, treasurer Chris Inderidson, has resigned and member Dean Owens is expected to resign soon. Other board members may follow, according to Thirlwall.

    “It seems that if they’re going to close the club, everybody is thinking about resigning and the financial responsibility is what everybody’s trying to avoid,” he said. “This past week several board members put in the money themselves.”

    Before the city discussed loaning money to the club, board members had to use $4,000 of their personal money to cover employee wages.

    Thirlwall said some people see the club as a lost cause and are ready to cut their losses.

    There’s no value that you can put on this for the children of the community but the people that wanted to close it down are just tired of fighting,” said Thirlwall, adding that funding changes over the last several years have led to the club’s financial dilemma.

    Until today, I didn't know where Brownsville, Texas was exactly. I certainly didn't know it's the sixth fastest growing manufacturing region in the United States. But I do know that a nonprofit there is struggling to keep its head above water, and some are looking to cut their losses. Is there a philanthropist in the house?

    After a cursory search, I couldn't find any foundations in Brownsville, TX (I found one in Brownsville, Wisconsin), but I did find seven foundations based in Corpus Christi (four hours north of Brownsville) that might be willing to help a nonprofit in the Brownsville area:

    Coastal Bend Community Foundation
    The Six Hundred Bldg.
    600 Leopard St., Ste. 1716
    Corpus Christi, TX 78473
    Telephone: (361) 882-9745
    FAX: (361) 882-2865
    Contact: Ed Harte

    Ed Rachal Foundation
    500 N. Shoreline Blvd., Ste. 1002
    Corpus Christi, TX 78471-1016
    Telephone: (361) 881-9040
    FAX: (361) 881-9885
    Contact: Paul D. Altheide, C.E.O.

    Earl C. Sams Foundation, Inc.
    101 N. Shoreline Dr., Ste. 602
    Corpus Christi, TX 78401
    Telephone: (361) 888-6485
    FAX: (361) 884-4241
    Contact: Bruce S. Hawn, Pres.

    Allen Lovelace Moore and Blanche Davis Moore Foundation
    3765 S. Alameda, Ste. 416
    Corpus Christi, TX 78411
    Telephone: (361) 814-6700
    Contact: Gary Leach, Dir.

    Paul and Mary Haas Foundation
    P.O. Box 2928
    Corpus Christi, TX 78403-2928
    Telephone: (361) 887-6955
    FAX: (361) 883-5992
    Contact: Karen L. Wesson, Admin. Dir.

    Estill Foundation
    4022 Lowman St.
    Corpus Christi, TX 78411-3133
    Contact: Jeannette Holloway, Pres.

    Behmann Brothers Foundation
    P.O. Box 271486
    Corpus Christi, TX 78427-1486
    Contact: Charles L. Kosarek, Jr., Pres.

    Contact these seven foundations and tell them not to bail on the Brownsville Boys and Girls Club.

    Boys & Girls Club of Brownsville Inc
    1338 E 8th St
    Brownsville, TX 78520
    Telephone: (956) 546-4254

    Monday, July 04, 2005

    Fourth of July

    In celebration of the Fourth of July, I offer the following: a statement of our ideals, a witness to their betrayal, and a hope for their defense.

    "The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind."

    May we never forget that.

    Happy Fourth!

    The Declaration of Independence
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

    Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" 5 July 1852:
    What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

    Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

    Thomas Paine, Common Sense:
    The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankind are affected, and in the Event of which, their Affections are interested. The laying of a Country desolate with Fire and Sword, declaring War against the natural rights of all Mankind, and extirpating the Defenders thereof from the Face of the Earth, is the Concern of every Man to whom Nature hath given the Power of feeling...

    Friday, July 01, 2005

    Bitek Okoye

    Live8 starts tomorrow, and, while I'm all for raising awareness and pushing government to enact reform, I really couldn't care less about Live8.

    From The Long Walk to Justice, the Live8 site:

    Every single day, 30,000 children die, needlessly, of extreme poverty.

    On July 6th, we finally have the opportunity to stop that shameful statistic.

    8 world leaders, gathered in Scotland for the G8 summit, will be presented with a workable plan to double aid, drop the debt and make the trade laws fair. If these 8 men agree, then we will become the generation that made poverty history.

    But they'll only do it if enough people tell them to.

    That's why we're staging Live 8. 10 concerts, 100 artists, a million spectators, 2 billion viewers, and 1 message... To get those 8 men, in that 1 room, to stop 30,000 children dying every single day of extreme poverty.

    We don't want your money - we want you!

    You want to do something about world poverty? Let's start with the fact that 8 unelected leaders have had the power to stop 30,000 children from dying and haven't. Let's begin with the idea that 8 unelected leaders have that kind of power on a planet of six billion. Then, let's think about the fact that Bob Geldof's response is not "let's make sure that those 8 people are good people who protect people as well as trade" or "let's make sure that such institutions are accountable to the people their decisions will affect" or even "hey, are we doing enough in the way of foreign aid" but "let's have a rock concert." Hey, you do what you can, right?

    I hope something comes of this, I really do, but I have two words for you: Bitek Okoye. While we're rocking out to U2 feeling just great about ourselves, you have to wonder if our lavish show of solidarity makes any appreciable difference in the lives of the people we're trying to help.

    For his part, Eric Alterman says it more bluntly than I would, "To Hell with Live 8 (And I mean that.)":
    I’m an idiot, I know, but I just figured out that Live 8 is not raising any money for famine relief or malaria cures or AIDS treatment in Africa. It is just designed to “pressure” G8 countries into doing what’s right. Thing is, guys, the G8 doesn’t, (and shouldn’t) care what Madonna, Elton John, U2, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, R.E.M., Coldplay, Bjork, Sting, Dido, Justin Timberlake, Green Day, Snoop Dogg, P. Diddy, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Celine Dion, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill think about anything, particularly if they won’t put their own riches where their big mouths are. (Ditto Pitt, George Clooney, Will Smith, Natalie Portman and Salma Hayek.) I am in favor of harnessing the power of celebrity for global good but where’s the good in this? Good God, this is a moral crime. All that money available just for the asking—all those lives that could be saved by people who won’t miss the money--and these guys won’t even bother to ask? They won’t even allow charities to canvass the audience. Turns out the concert is NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING but moral vanity, and the exploitation of starving, sick Africans, by pampered, rich as**oles and their self-interested corporate sponsors rather than their potential salvation. This is really unspeakably shameful.

    The man, as always, has a point.

    Bill Gates, the supposed lord of a new generation of robber baron philanthropists, has done more for African children than Bob Geldof, their self-appointed champion, ever will.

    So all I want is some much needed perspective here. If we're going to make a difference, let's make a difference, but let's not pretend that this is anything other than what it is. It's not charity. It's not philanthropy. It's not justice. It's a rock concert.

    Now we'll have to work harder

    From yesterday's Aspen Philanthropy Letter (hyperlinks mine):

    Contact information for ten large Atlanta-area foundations has been posted on a new philanthropy-specific Web log, or blog, and readers are urged to pressure these foundations to help a struggling Atlanta nonprofit cover an impending loss of $65,000 in federal funding. The June 8 post to the months-old Philanthropica blog has the potential to become a model for similar, new-media-focused funding campaigns, especially as blogs continue to grow in number and cover more topics. Among the dozen or so blogs to emerge in the past year that regularly cover philanthropic concerns, Philanthropica is unusual in its willingness, even eagerness, to make blunt demands and go beyond diplomatic criticism of the sector. In earlier posts, the author, identified only as "Madmunk, philosopher and philanthropoid," called on foundations to stop complaining about the quality of research about foundations and do something about the problem by increasing support for independent university research. He's also expressed outrage at the "elitist" suggestion that foundation abuses could be curbed by requiring that foundations have assets of at least $1 million.

    This blogger's willingness to be so frank is likely a reflection of his anonymity. Madmunk provides no personal contact information, identity, though it is believed that he works as a donor consultant. By email, Madmunk declined to reveal his identity for readers of this newsletter.

    Thursday, June 23, 2005

    Large national importance

    I will admit I haven't read the book Martin Morse Wooster reviews here, but take a look at this comment:
    Whether CEOs of large establishment groups such as the San Francisco Foundation or the Ford Foundation are white or black, male or female, they present themselves as pasty grey people who have long shed any passions or quirks that would make them interesting. Consequently, many people have quit listening to them. It’s been decades, for example, since the president of a major foundation has written an article or given a speech of large national importance.

    If I were Sandra Hernandez or Susan V. Berresford, my response might be, "This from a conservative hack toiling in the book review section of Philanthropy? You write much material of 'large national importance' sneering at the work of others?"

    But I'm not them, you see, and I think he's got a point. So all I see is a challenge.

    Not just for the wealthy

    From Philanthropy Magazine:

    Most observers now recognize that lifetime giving understandably increases as people move up the economic ladder. For instance, the richest 1.2 percent of American wealth-holders contribute 28 percent of all charitable donations according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy (CWP).

    But CWP research also suggests that it’s not just the objective size of people’s pocketbooks that matters but also their subjective sense of financial security.


    A sense of financial security has a strong positive relation to charitable giving. Why? At the least, these findings reflect a growing ability and desire among people who have settled the economic question for themselves and their heirs to discern their discretionary resources and to invest that surplus in socially and spiritually purposive ways. For this reason, a growing and vibrant economy that fulfills the desires for family well-being is an indispensable ally of philanthropy.

    Charts not included in the online feature seem to show that people don't just give because they can but because they feel they can. Even with more modest wealth, people give when they feel financially secure. It's not about whether or not you are rich; it's about whether or not you feel rich.

    Key to democratizing philanthropy, to making philanthropy a viable option for everyone, then, is a "a growing and vibrant economy." In such an economy, philanthropy is not the exclusive privilege of the rich but the promise held out to anyone who seeks to better the conditions of others.

    Happy Birthday

    There's a cute story in the Minneapolis Foundation's Spring issue of Catalyst (good name for a magazine).

    A woman donated $18,263 to a group called YouthLink in honor of her husband's 50th birthday. 18,263, one dollar for each day of his life.

    It makes you wonder what you might accomplish even with modest wealth as long as you do it over time and with a few like-minded friends. When you can feed the Queen of England for a buck-twelve a year, what else might we achieve?

    Bite the Hand that Feeds

    After conservatives criticized Amnesty International for calling Gitmo "the gulag of our times," conservatives are now targeting the Red Cross. In a report titled "Are American Interests Being Disserved by the International Committee of the Red Cross?," the Republican Policy Committee questions whether or not the organization "has lost its way." From the Los Angeles Times:
    The ICRC is the only organization mandated by international treaty to monitor the observance of the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of prisoners, and it has the right to visit prisoners. But the GOP report charges that the group has exceeded the bounds of its mission by trying to "reinterpret and expand international law" in favor of terrorists and insurgents; lobbying for arms-control issues that are not within its mandate, such as a ban on the use of land mines; and "inaccurately and unfairly" accusing U.S. officials of not adhering to the Geneva Convention.

    I'm amazed that the government can tell this organization that it's lost its way. I'm pretty sure they're very clear on what their mission is. If you don't like what they see, don't criticize the organization - look in the mirror. When ICRC, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other groups are reporting on North Korea, China, or Sudan, they're lauded as courageous organizations who speak truth to power. We can't suddenly wonder about their credentials when the spotlight is turned on us; we should be worried about our own.

    It's a disturbing trend to see this kind of rhetoric. One of the more dangerous recommendations the Senate Finance Committee included in its July 2004 white paper on charitable reform was having the tax-exempt status of every charity and foundation reviewed every five years. Adam Meyerson, President of the Philanthropy Roundtable, called this "a serious threat to philanthropic freedom," saying:
    This automatic power, unless it is very carefully circumscribed, would be an open invitation for presidential administrations to use the IRS as a weapon against charities and foundations they disagree with philosophically. Even if tax-exempt status were not revoked, a serious IRS challenge to the exemption would tie up in administrative knots a politically disfavored charity or foundation, making it much more difficult to carry out its mission.

    Meanwhile, the Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal held a discussion in November of last year entitled Philanthropy and the American Regime: Is It Time for Another Congressional Investigation of Tax-Exempt Foundations?, in which Hudson scholar John Fonte advocated another Congressional investigation into American foundations and whether or not their grantmaking served to undermine the American regime. I don't mean to say that any of these occurrences are related, but I do think they contribute to an atmosphere in which it becomes possible to shut down charities not for any financial indiscretion or instance of self-dealing but for what they try to accomplish. If people can go after the Red Cross, of all groups, what marginal grassroots nonprofit stands a chance?

    The Costs of Compliance

    I've never accepted "it's hard work" as an excuse for noncompliance or underperformance, but I wonder if the regulatory atmosphere in the third sector doesn't make the nonprofit CEO's job unnecessarily difficult. Not only does overly burdensome or unclear regulation divert precious charitable resources but such regulation prices the people out of the charitable marketplace.

    From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
    Business executives who worry about meeting growth targets every quarter may think they would have fewer headaches running a nonprofit. In fact, the job is more stressful than ever as more nonprofit groups compete for limited funding. And while juggling myriad personnel and other duties, heads of nonprofits also feel pressured to strengthen governance practices and codes of ethics. In this post-Enron era, many nonprofits, including Juilliard, have adapted the governance practices laid out in Sarbanes-Oxley, the 2002 corporate reform law.

    "Sarbanes-Oxley doesn't apply to nonprofits, but like ink in water it's changing the way they operate," says Charles Elson, director of the University of Delaware's Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance. "Suddenly you've got accounting firms that audit nonprofits clamoring for the same financial controls now in place at for-profits." And nonprofit trustees want more transparency. Although they're exempt from financial liability in most states except in cases of fraud, they worry that in this climate their reputations could be hurt if money is misused or the organization falters.

    Charities worry less about actual instances of abuse and more about the appearance of abuse. It's understandable. Public trust is their stock-in-trade. On the advice of professionals, they adopt a regulatory framework that doesn't even apply to them, which increases the compliance headache, which pushes them back to professionals, and you get the idea. I don't have anything against the accountants, lawyers, and financial advisors who, to a great extent, have made the good work of this sector possible. Instead of or in tandem with the contemplation of creative, carefully crafted regulation and figuring out ways of installing the proper safeguards, we turned those professional energies to how to make compliance easier for nonprofits. If we want to do more to make the sector more effective and accountable, we should be exploring ways to make it easier to be such. Expanding e-filing programs and the capacity of the IRS come to mind. As Thomas Paine once wrote, "Laws difficult to be executed cannot be generally good."

    Wednesday, June 22, 2005


    I caught the American Film Institute's top 100 movie quotes last night.

    I'm not about to engage in what should have made the list (what? not one quotation from a Quentin Tarantino movie?). Any list is bound to have omissions. The whole list isn't as much about ranking as much as it is about pointing out just how much these words have become part of our culture, part of our lives.

    I was in England as an exchange student for a semester in college with a group of about twenty other college kids. We hopped on a charter bus in Oxford and went to Bath and Stonehenge to see the sites. We took these trips as part of a month-long British history, culture, and civilization orientation course. We'd been to Stratford-upon-Avon, to London, and one of the trips was Bath and Stonehenge. I don't remember much of the trip, except posing for pictures, but on the long way home, the bus had television and a VCR and, for reasons I don't understand, we end up putting in a beat-up VHS tape of "A Few Good Men."

    The movie's winding toward its finale as we wind our way back to our destination near the Bodleian. We arrive, the movie's cut off right before the final confrontation, and we're told it's time to go. Of course, Jack Nicholson lecturing Tom Cruise at the film's end is the only reason to watch this movie, so we convince the driver and our teacher guide to let us stay and watch. Finally, we all got what we stayed for:

    "You want answers!?"

    "I want the truth!"

    "You can't handle the truth!"

    The whole bus explodes into applause. It's total pandemonium. We were cheering, yelling, screaming. It was one of the most incredible movie-watching experiences I've ever had, and it happened one September evening on a bus in Oxford with a Tom Cruise movie.

    Are you crying?

    This is absolutely ridiculous:
    Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) yesterday offered a tearful apology on the Senate floor for comparing the alleged abuse of prisoners by American troops to techniques used by the Nazis, the Soviets and the Khmer Rouge, as he sought to quell a frenzy of Republican-led criticism.

    Durbin, the Democratic whip, acknowledged that "more than most people, a senator lives by his words" but that "occasionally words will fail us and occasionally we will fail words." Choking up, he said: "Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies."(my emphasis)

    "A tearful apology."

    "Choking up."

    What is going on here? Here's what the man actually said:
    "If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings," Durbin said. "Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners."

    I don't see anything to apologize for. Torture isn't something you'd expect from Americans. True. This is something we're supposed to be above. True. Suddenly, instead of answering the charge, he's made to answer for his rhetoric. We go after Durbin for what he says instead of others for what they do?


    This quotation gets at the heart of this:
    Then, Chicago's Democratic mayor, Richard M. Daley, declared: "I think it's a disgrace to say that any man or woman in the military would act like that."(emphasis mine)

    Note that. It's not a disgrace to do such things; it's a disgrace to say somebody did those things.


    And, then, after holding out for a time, he apologizes. Tearfully.


    Senator Durbin, you had no reason to apologize, and you gained absolutely nothing for yourself, your party, or your cause by doing so. You work among people who have apologized for nothing. They don't apologize for being asleep at the wheel, for dropping the ball on Osama bin Laden. They don't apologize for largely abandoning Afghanistan. They don't apologize for a bungled Iraq war, the deficit, anything. There are things in this world for which you should be made to answer, but you didn't do them, so why are you apologizing?


    UPDATE: See Eric Zorn's "What Dick Durbin Should Have Said."

    Tuesday, June 21, 2005

    Strong and Weak Accountability

    I'm skeptical of accountability as a concept because of the coercive social control apparatus I see at work behind it. The charitable sector is allowed to take risks, to be innovative, to be different precisely because it doesn't answer to constituents or stockholders. As long as there are convictions that aren't up for a vote or sale, there ought to be a sphere in which we are largely able to act upon them, and that sphere is the philanthropic world.

    So the problem for nonprofit and philanthropic accountability is: to whom do we answer? The quick answer for me, in the interest of absolute and perfect freedom, is: no one.

    But how do we account for the fact that we employ accountability as a concept?
    Perhaps, introducing a new distinction in to our notions of accountability might help. I'm aware of procedural/legal (filling out your 990) vs. substantive (do you fulfill your mission?) distinctions that have been drawn, but I don't know of any that specifically highlight the coercive element. Actually, in the notion I'm about to talk about legal accountability is the only accountability there is. In my mind, you're only really accountable if you can be either stopped (strong thesis)... or bested (weak thesis):

    Strong thesis: Person X is accountable to Person Y if and only if:
    1. Y may question the activities of X.
    2. X must answer to Y to the satisfaction of Y.
    3. Y can legitimately compel X to cease and desist his/her activities.

    Weak thesis: Person X is accountable to Person Y to the extent that:
    1. Y may question the activities of X.
    2. X must answer to Y to the satisfaction of Y.
    3. Y can engage in competing activities that neutralize the effects of Y's activities.

    This demonstrates the alternatives available to those who want to see the sector become more accountable. In an attempt to make philanthropy as free as possible, the only notion of accountability I can admit is one which minimizes the amount of coercive power brought to bear on the sector. Therefore, I endorse the strong thesis, and I'm incredibly skeptical of most regulation of the charitable sector. This, however, leaves a lot of room for abuse of the sector. What good is this freedom of ours if it's squandered? This is where the weak thesis ought to come in. Accountability is about competition, pushing someone to compete with you, to answer to you.

    We make the tools of philanthropy available to as many people as possible so if someone comes in to the sector and creates a think tank we don't like, we are able to answer them in kind - we start our own think tank and neutralize the overall effect they might have. If people are funding harmful groups, we fund the helpful. They counter with more refined efforts; we anticipate their actions and push ourselves to innovate.

    Accountability is often about the less powerful demanding more from the powerful or vice versa. Viewed in the way we just described, however, accountability can become about equals demanding more from one another and pushing one another to greater heights.

    Conrad responds

    In response to an email I sent, I just now received a response from Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota. He writes (apologies, no scanner, must type):
    Thank you for contacting me regarding Washington, D.C., property taxes. It was good to hear from you.

    The homestead deduction is a reduction in the assessed value of a home, prior to tax computation, for a property owner claiming Washington, D.C., as his principal residence. I maintain a residence in Washington because I have been elected by the people of North Dakota to represent them in the nation's capital. However, since my principal residence is North Dakota, I have repeatedly asked the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue not to give me this deduction. Enclosed is a copy of a letter I wrote the D.C. government, and a copy of the letter I received in response.

    Again, thank you for contacting me... (emphasis added)

    He encloses a copy of his handwritten letter, which begins "As I explained last year..." and includes this great passage:
    Although we apparently qualify for the homestead credit, we choose not to receive it.

    The letter from the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue reveals that Conrad "neither applied nor qualified" for the deduction in question.

    I sent all the Senate Finance Committee members who received the DC homestead deducation an email and Conrad is the only one to have responded with a letter. I did get a few confirmation, you-sent-us-an-email-thanks-very-much responses. I don't begrudge the others' not responding to me. I am a Virginian who works in DC, emailing about a DC issue to a senator from North Dakota, among others. While senators' decisions might affect me, technically, they don't answer to me, so I don't expect the thorough response Conrad gave to my email. Thanks and kudos to Conrad for taking the time out to answer a concerned citizen's questions.

    It's good to know that this is an error.

    Wednesday, June 08, 2005

    Keeping Hopes Hi

    An Atlanta-area nonprofit that serves developmentally disabled adults stands to lose federal funding for meals due to how the federal grant guidelines define the services such a grantee can provide. From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
    Some of the developmentally disabled adults who spend their days at the Hi Hope Service Center in Lawrenceville have been dining for free in the agency's cafeteria since they were children, but that's about to change.

    Starting this month, the 46-year-old nonprofit center, which offers training services, work programs and housing for its clients, will lose about $65,000 a year in federal grants. Hi Hope officials say replacing that revenue will require the agency to charge clients $75 a month for meals in Hi Hope's cafeteria. The food subsidy paid for breakfast and/or lunch for about 100 Hi Hope clients.

    Other recent cuts in the agency's funds may require the center to assess clients' families other charges for services, Hi Hope's executive director said Monday.

    "Everybody is going to have to pay something. At the rate we're going, there's going to have to be an assessment fee," said Alice Cunningham, the executive director. "It concerns me because without doing the assessment fee to families, it's going to be very difficult to stay open."

    This is pretty standard nonprofit news fare as nonprofits whose services often depend on receiving such subsidies face budget cuts on the federal and state level. This forces them to pass the expense on to families that may not be able to afford them. What isn't so standard about Hi Hope is why they stand to lose out:
    Mentally disabled children who started coming to Hi Hope when it was a school in 1959 are now adults who do part-time work in the center's workshop — putting nuts and bolts together, stuffing envelopes or labeling packages — for less than minimum wage.

    The goal of the workshop is to make participants productive people in the work force.

    And it turns out that's bad for Hi Hope.

    The center has been disqualified from the federal meals subsidy because it doesn't meet the definition of an adult day care center, said Todd Blandin, spokesman for the Bright From the Start, Georgia's Department of Early Care and Learning, which administers the program money.

    If the workshop were being used to maintain mental alertness and motor skills and not to train clients for future employment, Hi Hope would qualify for the food subsidy, Blandin said.

    "There are guidelines and clear definitions, and based on that information, they're not eligible," Blandin said. "It has to come down to something, otherwise it's just all a gray area."

    But the way Cunningham sees it, that means that if the center's clients sat around and watched TV all day, rather than work, they would qualify for the meals subsidy.

    "That's the government," she said. "That's the law, so it would be a matter that the Legislature would have to look at."

    It's simple. Where the government ought not, cannot, or does not provide adequate social services, it falls to the philanthropic sector to pick up the slack. Often, philanthropy claims that it cannot do this. It's simply not up to the task; the philanthropic sector doesn't have the resources the government does. However, organizations like Hi Hope don't need $2.338 trillion; they need $65,000 per year to serve meals to their clients. That's not out of the realm of possibility for Atlanta's generous.

    The following ten foundations are among the biggest givers in the Atlanta area. Contact them, refer them to the story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and ask them to contribute to this nonprofit that has been doing good work in their backyard for the past 46 years.

    Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, Inc.
    50 Hurt Plz., Ste. 1200
    Atlanta, GA 30303
    Telephone: (404) 522-6755
    FAX: (404) 522-7026

    The UPS Foundation
    55 Glenlake Pkwy., N.E.
    Atlanta, GA 30328
    Telephone: (404) 828-6374
    FAX: (404) 828-7435

    Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Inc.
    50 Hurt Plz., Ste. 449
    Atlanta, GA 30303
    Telephone: (404) 688-5525
    FAX: (404) 688-3060

    J. Bulow Campbell Foundation
    The Hurt Building, Ste. 850
    50 Hurt Plz.
    Atlanta, GA 30303
    Telephone: (404) 658-9066
    FAX: (404) 659-4802

    The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation
    3223 Howell Mill Rd, N.W.
    Atlanta, GA 30327
    Telephone: (404) 367-2100
    FAX: (404) 367-2059

    The Goizueta Foundation
    4401 Northside Pkwy., Ste. 520
    Atlanta, GA 30327-3057
    Telephone: (404) 239-0390
    FAX: (404) 239-0018

    The Marcus Foundation, Inc.
    1266 W. Paces Ferry Rd., No. 615
    Atlanta, GA 30327-2306
    Telephone: (404) 240-7700

    The Coca-Cola Foundation, Inc.
    1 Coca-Cola Plz., N.W.
    Atlanta, GA 30301
    Telephone: (404) 676-2568
    FAX: (404) 676-8804

    Turner Foundation, Inc.
    133 Luckie St., 2nd Fl.
    Atlanta, GA 30303
    Telephone: (404) 681-9900
    FAX: (404) 681-0172

    The Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation
    1201 W. Peachtree St., Ste. 5000
    Atlanta, GA 30309

    This isn't just a job for big foundations though. Please consider getting involved yourself. Contact the Center:
    The Gwinnett County Association for Retarded Citizens, Inc.
    Hi-Hope Service Center

    882 Hi-Hope Road
    Lawrenceville, Ga 30043
    Telephone: 770-963-8694
    Fax: 770-963-0038

    Friday, June 03, 2005

    Could Thomas Paine have written today?

    Great post by Digby via Atrios.

    If the true test of the vitality of a culture is whether or not it could, in principle, reproduce the forces that brought it into being, produce such people as those that made it great, then I think we've got some serious thinking to do.

    Thursday, June 02, 2005

    A Vision for Philanthropy

    I want a democratic philanthropic sector.

    I want a sector "of the people, by the people, for the people."

    I want a world in which anyone with a personal computer, an Internet connection, time to spare, money to burn, and a desire to make a difference can become a philanthropist.

    I want to be able to walk in to a public library tomorrow, sit at a public terminal on a public network, and, from there, at little or no cost, start my own giving vehicle - be it giving circle, donor-advised fund, or private foundation.

    I want, with a few taps on a keyboard and a few clicks of a mouse, to make investment decisions, make grants, and report on my efforts to the appropriate authorities and to the public at large.

    I want a national conference, sponsored by the nation's largest philanthropies and attended by its smallest, to examine how this vision might be realized.

    And I want the nation's wealthiest ten foundations to commit substantial sums over the next twenty years to the promise of this new democratic philanthropy.

    The people are to be given a place to stand and a lever long enough, and, together, we will move the earth.

    From this day forward, the legacy of Prometheus is to be the birthright of all who aspire to it.

    Wednesday, June 01, 2005

    Emmett floats the idea

    The transcript for the April 21, 2005 Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership Issues Forum "The Cost of Caution: Advocacy, Public Policy, and America's Foundations" is now available.

    I didn't get the chance to attend the event, but, before I talk about the thrust of the argument that seemed to have gone on, I was interested to see that Emmett Carson floated his $1-million floor at this presentation.

    His comments, at least, in the transcript, seem to come out of nowhere on page 18. It's such a non sequitur that the panelists don't respond until two pages later and promptly move on.

    Here's how the panelists respond:
    Bill Schambra: I think Emmett Carson’s proposal is a terrible idea, the notion of banning foundations under $1 million. If we are going to have a grass roots agenda in this country that does, in fact, cut across the political spectrum, it's going to come not from the large foundations that are entrenched in the technocratic agenda, but from the folks who have set up a very small foundation, who are moved by some very small, particular concern on some issue, who are focused on their locality. Those smaller foundations, I think, are the hope of the future.

    I think Emmett made a telling remark, that if you were to ban those foundations, it wouldn't affect the membership of the large philanthropic associations at all. This is part of that general process of eliminating amateurs by professionalizing and credentialing and raising the barrier to entry for new start-ups. I think this is happening in the foundation world. I think that the philanthropic associations are very likely to game the Senate in such a way that they actually manage to get restrictions that are more onerous for new struggling start up organizations of all sorts, and that is a dangerous thing.

    Emmett Carson: For those of you who are listening to what I am saying, let me be quite clear: These individuals can continue to give, continue to be effective, continue to have whatever values that they have, but there are 48,000 entities that don’t have annual reports, that don’t have any access to professional information, to ideas, to research - to a whole range of things. The structure of a foundation is very complicated, but it offers no inherent advantage to individual giving. There are other ways that donors can be just as effective, not have a tax return every year, not drain resources. The issue is the structure. It’s not the giving.

    Pablo Eisenberg: Emmett, I would feel a lot more comfortable about your suggestion if, in fact, there were a minimal payout requirement for those funds under community foundations and other financial institutions to make sure that the small donors actually pay out some of their money.

    I think Schambra's comments clinch the issue: "Those smaller foundations, I think, are the hope of the future." Carson's vision of philanthropy is threatened. It should be.

    Tuesday, May 31, 2005

    Do the research

    I got another one of those "that wasn't a very good study" comments last week. People are still complaining about the Georgetown study on trustee fees, a phenomenon I dealt with in this post.

    Geez. Will you people ever let this go?

    Apparently not.

    In a recent conversation about board compensation, statistics from the Council on Foundations and the Georgetown study were cited. The Georgetown study provoked the bad study remark despite the fact that you can't exactly say that the Council's numbers are much better. They're better, I suppose, but they're not perfect either. The Council only surveys its members. Respondents tend to be larger foundations who are more likely to pay higher trustee fees, artificially inflating the bounds of acceptability, and, from what I understand, the information given in the management surveys isn't double-checked against the organizations' 990's. (I'm not saying the Council's members can't be trusted. I'm just saying people make mistakes.) So you've got a small, unrepresentative sample and a questionable self-reporting methodology. Nonetheless, the Council's numbers pass with a nod, but Georgetown is mentioned in a huff.

    For the umpteenth time, it's not intended to be the definitive statement on trustee fees. It says so on page 4. What it is intended to do is draw attention to the fact that some people in the foundation world are paid incredible amounts of charitable dollars to do work that could just as easily be done by motivated, creative volunteers. And considering the effort that is expended by philanthropoids in attempting to dismiss its findings, I can say that it's certainly doing its job.

    What I'm attempting to understand is why no one will fund the research to replace it. I mean, if that research isn't the best, stop complaining about it, and give Ahn, Eisenberg, and Khamvongsa the money to do the right kind of study.

    Why aren't we funding the university centers to do the research? As it is, you're pretty much paying nonprofit infrastructure groups to do research, and these groups live and die by the information of which they can be the exclusive provider. Ask them to do a research study, and it's going to be very difficult convincing them to share information in the way that universities do.

    If the foundation world is serious about research, serious about doing scientific research in order to really examine itself in the face of so much scrutiny, it would do well to fund independent university research. There's an entire research apparatus we are simply not using and could be to greater ends. We're not going to make everybody happy, but the mode of thinking around here ought not to be "that's a bad study" but "here's a better one."

    An Ethical Dilemma

    Imagine you're a recent college graduate working at a relatively well-known nonprofit headed up by a very creative and charismatic CEO. The nonprofit is doing great things, making a difference in many people's lives. Funds are flowing in, and the nonprofit and its CEO are getting a fantastic amount of favorable press and public goodwill. In short, the nonprofit couldn't be more successful, and you're just thrilled to be a part of it all.

    Then, one day, you begin to notice inconsistencies in the finance department. You dismiss it at first as something you don't understand. It would seem your CEO is skimming money off the top. Impossible, you think, he'd never do something like that, but the thought stays with you. Eventually, a pattern emerges, and you and a like-minded co-worker confront him about it. He tells you that you have no right to tell him how to run his business. You respond that it's not really his business; it's a nonprofit. The conversation doesn't go much further, and you're both told to get out of his office. You arrive the next morning to find out that the nonprofit is restructuring, and your jobs have been eliminated.

    You consult a sibling who also happens to be a lawyer and find out that you could pursue this but at a great cost not only to you but to the nonprofit and to the cause it is a part of. You believe in the cause. You believe in the nonprofit, and, until recently, you believed in the CEO, too.

    Do you rat out this CEO even if it means that the ensuing scandal would shut the nonprofit down?

    My answer: absolutely - if for no other reason than the CEO is counting on your silence. He's counting on the fact that he can hide behind his supposed philanthropy. He's counting on your altruism and the altruism of thousands of others who are prepared to overlook his faults in the name of charity. He's counting on charity - and he doesn't deserve yours.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2005

    Free speech for the dumb

    The Parents Television Council, you know, the people responsible for 99.8% of complaints filed to the FCC in 2003, has called a hamburger ad featuring Paris Hilton "soft-core porn." Thanks to the Council's remarks, a commercial I might not otherwise have seen is playing everywhere.

    I've got to tell you. In the Council's defense, the ad is indecent. I've viewed it several times now, and upon the 342nd viewing you really do begin to see the crass indecency of it all.

    It's only 30 seconds long.

    Update: The LA Times agrees.

    So does this guy.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2005

    Leave it to the professionals

    Emmett D. Carson, CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation and chairman of the Council on Foundations, has "An Easy Way to Curb Foundation Abuses" in this week's Chronicle of Philanthropy: "require donors to contribute at least $1 million if they want to create a foundation." It's an op-ed so riddled with condescension and even contempt for smaller and family-run foundations that I think Minneapolis and the Council ought to seriously rethink their relationships with him. Instead of seeing recent regulatory and media scrutiny as an opportunity for needed self-examination, Carson sees it as an opportunity to self-servingly reinvent the sector by jettisoning the 70% of the sector he thinks simply isn't up to the task. Carson overlooks better solutions to industry woes, creates a small foundation straw man, and then attacks it with all the arrogance that grantees, small foundations, and infrastructure organizations have come to expect from philanthropoids like Carson.

    Carson conveniently overlooks the fact that there is a reason the IRS cannot oversee the vast charitable sector. Excise taxes paid by the nonprofit sector have become general revenue. The government has grown into this revenue stream, and, hence, any mention of putting more money toward IRS enforcement has been termed a "political non-starter," despite the fact that the money already exists for full enforcement and is taxed for that purpose. Carson overlooks the fact that any abuse that has been found has been found because somebody somewhere took a look at the Form 990's that these organizations fill out. The solution, then is to pay someone to look at those 990's, i.e., fully fund IRS enforcement. From the December 15, 2003 Nonprofit Times:
    "While the public's trust with our field depends on government oversight, we have practically no oversight," said Dorothy S. Ridings, president of the Council on Foundations, an organization that must balance demands for further scrutiny with the interests of its members. The excise tax that the IRS levies on excessive compensation was originally designed to fund enforcement of nonprofit foundation rules. Instead, the tax revenue has been routinely diverted to other government programs since its inception in 1969.

    "It's been an absolute farce to say that the excise tax has anything to do with oversight of the industry," Ridings said.

    Admittedly, this is an old source, but I cite it to demonstrate that Dot Ridings is aware of this even if Carson doesn't want to see it. The solution begins with greater oversight of the sector we have. It is interesting that Carson would rather reinvent the sector.

    Carson paints a startingly inaccurate portrait of small foundation work, proceeding by assertion rather on the evidence. I challenge Carson to produce serious evidence showing that, despite having only 5% of the wealth, the smaller foundations are responsible for the majority of foundation abuses. Carson claims:
    Philanthropies with $1-million or less in assets seldom have staff members, typically do not produce annual reports or grant-making guidelines, and usually offer no means by which grant seekers can contact them. What's more, most of those foundations do not join national or local professional associations so they do not often get exposed to training sessions and educational materials that would help them understand changes in laws governing nonprofit organizations and learn how well-respected, effective grant makers operate.

    Where to begin? Smaller philanthropies do typically have little or no staff; they have competent volunteers, sometimes highly trained businesspeople or lawyers by profession, sometimes simply people that care to make a difference. They're volunteers - the people that built the voluntary sector, and Carson should show more respect. He conveniently omits the fact that many of his vaunted big foundations aren't the greatest about regular annual reports or connecting with grantees, and they wouldn't consider themselves any less a foundation for opting not to publish an annual report. Carson's claims would be laughable if they weren't so gallingly self-serving. Carson doesn't need to trumpet the value of the Council by denigrating the contribution of hard-working, passionate volunteers who might not have the time or resources for the Council's annual conferences and the like. After seeing his op-ed, many foundations may have just found the reason why they avoided such places. He just told smaller grantmakers and the organizations that serve them, the Association of Small Foundations, the National Center for Family Philanthropy, and dozens of other infrastructure organizations, that they're all simply not doing a good enough job. Carson just told 70% of the nation's foundations to go to hell, that they don't know what it is to be a "well-respected, effective grantmaker."

    I'm not so sure the larger grantmakers do either, though. Remember the man who paid for his daughter's wedding with foundation assets? The Paul & Virginia Cabot Charitable Trust, The Bielfeldt Foundation, The Kimbell Art Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, The James Beard Foundation, foundations at the middle of the scandals, these weren't small foundations. Read this. Smaller foundations were not the target of so much of the media scrutiny of recent years. Again, I challenge Carson to provide serious evidence that asset size has anything to do with recent foundation abuses.

    True, creating a $1-million floor for foundations wouldn't prevent people from giving, but it would prevent smaller grantmakers from participating in foundation discourse, a discourse that is increasingly professional, bureaucratic, and jargon-laden. Small foundations don't have a place in our high-falutin' foundation discourse, says Carson, what with our collaborative convenings, our targeted partnerings, and our social venture leverage. You may give generously through that precious donor-advised fund of yours or indulge in checkbook philanthropy, but you will never be quite the grantmaker we are. The condescension is appalling. Pat the smaller grantmakers on the head, and send them off to bed. Leave philanthropy to the philanthropoids. I'm sorry but philanthropy is far too precious to be left to the likes of Carson.

    Carson wants to codify the difference between professionalized, organized, big money philanthropy and small-scale, volunteer philanthropy, allow the big foundations to retreat from the vitality and responsiveness that 50,000 new and different voices would provide. This is readily apparent at the end of Carson's piece where he demonstrates that experts say it's not worth it to create a foundation with less than $1 million. Instead of allowing people make their own philanthropic choices, Carson, knowing that there's no good reason to exclude smaller grantmakers, now attempts to say that they should exclude themselves. It's in your interests, Carson says, not to give as a foundation. The professionals say so, says Carson.

    It's akin to telling women or blacks they shouldn't be allowed to vote because it would just be too hard for them. They're not up to the privilege. If women and blacks were uneducated, that wasn't their fault; they were systematically denied educational opportunities. Similarly, if smaller foundations aren't educated grantmakers, as Carson maintains, it's because people like Emmett Carson, with their baseless preference for larger, professionalized institutions, have routinely excluded them from mainstream philanthropic discourse to the detriment of the sector.

    It boggles the mind that Carson is actually proud to restrict foundation status to the top 30% to the point of publishing this op-ed. Carson's $1-million floor would nothing but exacerbate claims that the foundation community is an isolated, elitist clique of well-to-do, arrogant, paternalistic technocrats - you know, like Carson. Carson ought to be wary of wanting to boot 70% of the foundation world. That 70% may respond in kind.

    Monday, May 23, 2005

    Clarification: Accountability/Responsibility

    If there is any inconsistency in my desire for a more democratic sector and my views on responsibility and accountability, it is in my discomfort with the coercion that I see as implied in notions of accountability.

    I'm all for a more democratic, responsible sector. I don't know that a more accountable sector would be the same thing, and, if I have to choose between them, I'll take democracy to accountability. In my view, accountability is having to answer to somebody else for one's own actions, and, to a great extent, I don't think one should have to answer for one's philanthropic choices. There's a difference between being responsible, the condition of having moral obligations, and being accountable, the condition of being held to those morals. If there is any muddying of the waters here, it's only because of the element of coercion I see in the push for greater accountability.

    Thursday, May 19, 2005

    Accountability and Legitimacy

    The next installment in the Dialogues on Civic Philanthropy occurs today in St. Paul and is entitled "Accountability: For what and to whom should philanthropy be responsible?"

    I think Peter Frumkin's analysis of accountability is dead-on. Expanding on his diagnosis of the philanthropic sector in Trouble in Foundationland, Frumkin argues that debates over accountability and effectivness obscure the real question of philanthropic legitimacy. Our preoccupation with effectiveness and accountability is merely a manifestation of our collective insecurity about our sector's legitimacy in a democratic society.

    How do we reconcile the vast amount of wealth allowed to accumulate tax-free in the hands of self-appointed stewards of a public trust with the egalitarian and democratic ethos of our society? How does one legitimize such a practice?

    Usually, legitimation requires some vision of the just society. Anybody up for demonstrating that philanthropy follows from John Rawls' "original position?"

    Thankfully, we have a vision of the just society, a democracy, and we might simply say that the more democratic a practice is, the more legitimate it is. We're looking for a more democratic philanthropy. Although Frumkin never says the word democracy, I think his second definition of philanthropic legitimacy is working at a vision of a more democratic sector:
    Philanthropic legitimacy can be defined as the just and fair exercise of philanthropic power. By this, I mean donors can claim to have met the test of legitimacy when they are perceived by the full range of relevant stakeholders around them as acting in a way that is just, fair, and free of caprice and ill-intent.
    Frumkin then goes on to claim that by engaging the issue of legitimacy, the sector will find: is impossible to be legitimate without being substantively accountable for their work. They will also soon discover that it is impossible to be substantively accountable without being able to demonstrate their effectiveness at achieving their own objectives and missions.
    That is where I disagree. I do think that a more democratic sector, a philanthropy "of the people, by the people, and for the people," would certainly be a more responsive, more responsible sector. That isn't the same thing as a more accountable sector.

    I'm of the frame of mind that the philanthropic sector is largely unaccountable, and this is as it should be. This doesn't mean that philanthropy doesn't have responsibilities. I think it does. This doesn't mean that an unaccountable philanthropy is undemocratic. In fact, I think the opposite. I think unaccountable philanthropy can actually serve democracy more than it harms it.

    I think the problems start when we start to appoint people who will hold philanthropy accountable for its philanthropic choices because, as much as democracy is about checking and balancing power, it is also about creating spaces in which we don't have to answer to anybody. Philanthropy ought to be one of those spaces as long as there are matters that are not up for a vote or up for sale. There ought to be a way to affect the political process, to gain control of the forces that affect your life and the lives of your fellow human beings, without having to effectively ask somebody else's permission first, and philanthropy is one of those ways.

    I don't want an accountable sector as much as I want a philanthropy that inspires, and I find very little inspiration in a sector that is so insecure about its place in a democratic society that it is willing to accept the chains of accountability in the hope that it will somehow be ennobled and made better by those chains. Prometheus wasn't more philanthropic because he was chained to a rock. Prometheus was chained to a rock because of his philanthropy.