Gifts of Magnificence

Gift Hub (Blogging Philanthropy from A Dumpster) is a favorite blog of mine. On “ Foundation Trustees as Stewards of the Public Interest” I left this comment:

Personally, I’d like to see society make a point of separating out Charity (giving to those of equal social standing) and Mercy (giving to those of lesser standing). Imagine if the IRS determined the status of your donations based upon your income and the organization’s clientelle. Flat taxes, graduated giving; now there’s a platform.

I received this reply from the blog’s author, Phil Cubeta (Morals Tutor to America’s Wealthiest Families):

Ben, interesting comment. Mercy implies maybe a differential in power. Charity implies maybe caritas or gifts made out of solidarity, in the sense that we are all children of God. Philanthropia from philia is redolent of Greek concepts of magnificence. The philanthropist would create or endow great public buildings or monuments or entertainments. Whether gifts to the poor or into things that help the poor should receive a bigger tax benefit, or be somehow required for foundations, is a big debate right now. The more rules and penalties though the less the rich will play. They have the option of opting out and keeping the money. How much philanthropy we have and how it is directed or shared are two different questions. I suspect we will have more if we leave givers free to be themselves, though we may deplore the self they are.

Unions and the media

I was pointed to Political Scientist Michael Parenti’s 7 categories of generalizations about the way the news media create anti-union messaging by this article analyzing the media’s portrayal of the Philadelphia public transit strike. I got really steamed about a month ago listening to a local interview/call-in show about Boston charter schools and the Teacher Union that revolved very strongly along these lines:

  • Portrayal of labors struggles as senseless, avoidable contests created by unions’ unwillingness to negotiate in good faith,
  • Focus on Company wage “offers” omitting or underplaying reference to takebacks, and employee grievances, making the workers appear irrational, greedy and self-destructive
  • No coverage given to management salaries, bonuses or compensation and how they are inconsistent with concessions demanded by workers
  • Emphasis on the impact rather than the causes of strikes, laying the blame for the strike totally on the union and detailing the damage the strike does to the economy and public weal.
  • Failure to consider the harm caused to the workers’ interests if they were to give up the strike
  • Unwillingness or inability to cover stories of union solidarity and mutual support
  • Portrayal of the government (including the courts and police) as a neutral arbiter upholding the public interests when it is rather protecting corporate properties and bodyguarding strike-breakers.

To that, I would add “Failure to recognize Union benefits/protections as an aspiration for all workers, not spoils for the few”. The interview I was listening to (and what got me steamed) kept dismissively coming back to “Why should unions demand protections from arbitrary and capricious management? No one else expects that.” Which made me keep saying back “Well why the fuck not?”

Also, just in general, I get annoyed when the union workers aren’t placed within the context of the community as a whole? What does your child’s education mean in the context of a society where their work will have no value?

Update: A comment by Jen shared in Google Reader:

I would add, the idea that worker protections encourage mediocrity because people are removed from the “competitiveness” (i.e. fear) that easy firing gives. Job security doesn’t cause lack of motivation; bad management does.

Poverty mythology

Two beautifully worded comments from Gift Hub on Wage Theft: the first because of its vulgar revelry; the second for its straightforwardness:


We know and believe because the likes of Reagan and Bush told us that if we religiously shop with the aim of indulging our most frivolous wishes, wealth will trickle down, down, down, fertilizing the subsoil, giving the healthy brown shrubs and tubers a shot at a day in the sun. Our sun.

and Gerry:

They would have to abandon the mythology that the poor deserve it and recognize that most people would be just fine if they system were just, which it isn’t.

Fairness would be a nice start.

The journalism landscape in a nutshell

This lede is the baseline from which I think any discussion of contemporary journalism should begin:

There have been various proposals to “save journalism” from the crisis brought on by digitalization. But by and large these ideas have less to do with meeting the information needs of a democratic society than with preserving the profit potential of existing media outlets.

The one change I would make is to put “crisis” also in quotation marks in order to show that the crisis-metaphor is just one frame pushed by incumbent media outlets. Another frame would be “new opportunities” or “focus shift” or “changing landscape”. The above is from “ Public Media and the Decommodification of News” published in FAIR’s (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) Extra!

Outside of my jurisdiction

A cable access TV producer is indicted on child pornography charges. The station pulls their show saying “it’s good sense”. An uninvolved station gives their point of view:

Sylvia McDaniel, executive director of Portland Community Media, which operates under the state government, said she cannot suspend a show unless lawbreaking occurs in the studio or within the context of the show.

“We manage the programs, not people’s personal lives,” McDaniel said, in a phone interview.

“We also go by their behavior in our facility,” she added. “Producing the show ‘Cannabis Common Sense’ doesn’t give them the right to stand in my parking lot and smoke dope.”

“My jurisdiction is what goes on my channels, not what someone does outside my jurisdiction,” McDaniel added. “Their personal lives are none of my business. I don’t pull a show if it has nothing to do with the show.”

I also appreciate how the article’s author contextualizes this quote from the station that pulled the show:

RVTV in general “allows free speech,” but, she said, it’s run by a public university in a small town and is “a lot more conservative in approach.”

In general, if you have to qualify speech, it isn’t free, but that’s just my opinion.

My nonprofit Facebook strategy and tactics

I was asked by a colleague how to increase the size of their organization’s Facebook Fan page—not that I would consider any page I manage to be an overwhelming success.

Googling around, I could only find technical advice (“install these apps”) and crappy nonexistent-advice (“You need to have a strategy.” duh, tell me what that strategy would be). So here’s the stream of consciousness around what I do:

  1. Figure out your goal for the page (why spend the time in the first place?). I’m using ours as vanity (look, we’re hip/popular) and also just another channel to push information out to. I’m stoked if someone leaves a comment (and I’ll reply to it), or better yet, posts something themselves (I allow non-admins to post—it’s somewhere in the settings)… but that’s not my goal right now, so I don’t spend to much time worrying that it isn’t happening.

  2. If your goal is like mine (#1), the main tactic I take is to try to be posting new things to the page as much as possible. The problem is that the few organizations’ pages I manage, there isn’t a lot of content generation: we don’t do a lot of communications or events. The way I get around this is trying to repost other events and news articles (I use Google Reader to aggregate a bunch of blogs, as well as anything that comes by email/listserv) that align with the mission and constituents/audience of the organization. For example, on our AmeriCorps programs page, I post articles about nonprofit culture, volunteerism, time management, living cheaply, etc.

  3. So now there is the matter of actually getting people to fan the page: I have the benefit of having some well-connected Friends who are sympathetic/interested in what I post, so they do help spread the word by reposting things. The main strategy I have though is to constantly mention the Facebook page in all external communications: I have an icon/badge prominently on our website; I put a “Follow us on Facebook” in our email eblast template; I try to make it part of our events (for example, I just hosted a conference and put in the booklet: “Follow our Facebook page for updates and discussion around the conference”)

  4. Don’t sweat it: Facebook is just another communications channel (at least for us), I don’t particularly worry that we have 4,000 people on our email mailing list, but only 150 of them are fans on Facebook. Our message is still getting out there. Facebook is unique since it allows people to easily re-post and spread among their social network, but it doesn’t matter how they are reading it so long as the message has reached the people you want to be reading it. Also, I think people get hung up on Facebok because it has a very public metric of success (“you have this many fans”) that your mailing list doesn’t.

Metaphor death

A well-worded comment by Kia to a Gift Hub post entitled Money Has Failed in its Role of Allocating Resources towards Human Survival? (my own, typo-prone comment is lower down in the thread)—also reposted on IMproPRieTies:

We are just now witnessing the collapse of the markets. We may also see the collapse of “the markets” in another sense, the markets as a metaphor for life. Metaphors are not merely ornaments: they are very strange. For instance, the moment you take for granted that a metaphor is the equivalent of the thing it describes or points to, is the moment when that metaphor is effectively dead. It’s worse than useless for thinking with. But usually people go on using such metaphors long after they’ve ceased to generate any new ideas–which is one of the things a metaphor is supposed to help us do. People will just keep walking on in the resulting conceptual daze, because to think about it is like looking at the end of the world. Some will invest heavily in re-animating the corpse and blame the demise on the usual suspects: the all-powerful and infinitely devious upstart poor and other outsiders. I mean, maybe the market was never supposed to become the dominant metaphor of the content of human livelihood; maybe that’s why it fails.

To add to metaphor, the moment you take a framework (or logic model, or even a well-worded description) as the entirety of your endeavor, you’re toast. I’ve been in planning classes where the student decries “My project doesn’t fit!” to which the teacher replies “It should”—without clarifying whether it is the proposal or the endeavor itself that must acquiesce to the confines of little numbered boxes.

Starvation begets starvation


An article that confirms my anecdotal experience: “ The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle” from the Stanford Social Innovation review:

A vicious cycle is leaving nonprofits so hungry for decent infrastructure that they can barely function as organizations—let alone serve their beneficiaries. The cycle starts with funders’ unrealistic expectations about how much running a nonprofit costs, and results in nonprofits’ misrepresenting their costs while skimping on vital systems—acts that feed funders’ skewed beliefs. To break the nonprofit starvation cycle, funders must take the lead.

That quote is from the brief, yet the last sentence is misleading. According to the article change starts at the board:

Nonprofits must then speak truth to power, sharing their real numbers with their boards and then engaging their boards’ support in communicating with funders. Case studies of organizations that have successfully invested in their own infrastructure have repeatedly noted the need for a shared agenda between the leadership team and the board.

And the article is chock full of fun, familiar anecdotes:

Not only do funders and donors have unrealistic expectations, but the nonprofit sector itself also promotes unhealthy overhead levels. “The 20 percent norm is perpetuated by funders, individuals, and nonprofits themselves,” says the CFO of one of the organizations we studied. “When we benchmarked our reported financials, we looked at others, [and] we realized that others misreport as well. One of our peer organizations allocates 70 percent of its finance director’s time to programs. That’s preposterous!”

From Mission Measurement by way of Entry Level Living’s Allison Jones. Illustration by David Plunkert (it’s included in the article).


Quotidian insights


I hate to repost ironic internet memes, but this from reddit touches upon pedagogy and (attempts at) representing other perspectives. From the comments:

“Write me a letter from the point of view of [you name it].” This is a typical mistake made by middle class teachers who don’t -really- know what the world looks like through the eyes of somebody from a different background. .

And more straightforward:

These sorts of assignments are bullshit anyway. The average letter anyone from any age would write would typically be banal and not cover significant historical aspects. The letter demanded by this situation would probably be full of family specific greetings and quotidian insights. I doubt a realistic letter would get good marks from the teacher though!

If they want an essay about a topic, they should just ask for one, rather than dress up the question in this way.

In case you’re curious, this is the translated text:

My life here is terrible. Work environment is not great and benefits are little. But don’t worry, everyday only about 10 people are seriously injured and I’m very careful. We opened a small shop, business isn’t bad. Although I don’t understand very much English, but I can still understand what white men say. Hopefully we can become successful, I will work hard and take care of myself.

Are you guys well? Miss you very much, hope to see you again .—

Other examples mentioned in the comments are “Write a journal entry from the point of view of an English explorer seeing Africans for the first time” and “Write one set in the present day about if Germany had won WW2 (and had invaded the UK in doing so).”