Just Because it’s Published, Does it Make a Book True?
By Tom Harvey
The Luke McGuinness Director of Nonprofit Professional Development
Recently, Ken Stern, the former CEO of National Public Radio (NPR), published a book titled With Charity Toward All: Why Charities are Failing and a Better Way to Give, which broadly criticizes nonprofit organizations for their overall lack of accountability. Essentially the book is an indictment of the community benefit sector, calling for more responsible donors.
In late March, the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy hosted a panel designed to reinforce or challenge the book’s analysis. I was invited to Washington D.C. to sit on this panel, and was joined by the book’s author, Ken Stern, and Sonal Shah, an economist who, until recently, headed up the White House Office of Social Innovation. Elizabeth Boris, the Center’s director, facilitated the panel discussion.
The audience consisted of approximately 120 people, and the Urban Institute also streamed the discussion live via its website.
Because I did not like the book, I took a mostly challenging position on the panel—something that triggered a positive response from listeners around the nation. I am encouraged that so many individuals took the time to thank me for my position and to further strengthen some points in the discussion.
Of course there is not enough room in this column for a thorough analysis of the book, but I can make three important points:
- The book rarely mentions nonprofit boards. I found this not only strange, but alarming. Boards are required by law to serve as guardians of nonprofit missions. How can a book on accountability disregard the organizational structure that should be most accountable?
- Early in the book, Mr. Stern categorically states that nonprofits must realize that the donors are their primary clients. Though donors are very important stakeholders in any charity organization, should they be given the status of the clients? Should mission be at the mercy of who pays for any given service? It is my experience that most social service programs, financed through government contracts that fail, often do so because of the lack of experiential understanding by the policy makers of the situation of those actually served by the program. If donors are to be the prime clients of charity organizations, who orchestrates the consensus through which the agency must act on the donors’ wishes? Or is it only the big donors that should have such power? Personally I find this a dangerous platitude.
- The book dedicates various chapters to poor-performing nonprofits. One chapter described the stream of failures of various humanitarian organizations providing the poorest parts of the world access to water through new wells. The book criticizes these efforts because they were so focused on digging the hole in the ground instead of the future maintenance of the wells. On one level, the criticism is justified to the extent that organizations raised expectations only to see neglect and failure. My criticism of the book’s analysis was its over-focus of the provider agency putting in the well and being responsible for its future maintenance without ever bringing into the accountability discussion the local community and its culture. If there were failures, surely the author must have researched how important it is to have the “clients” involved in the planning and maintenance of the new equipment.
My experience on the panel taught me a great deal. It certainly taught me that being involved for many years in a nonprofit reality, as Mr. Stern was, does not guarantee a person real knowledge of the sector and its culture. From my perspective, Stern’s book reveals a very for-profit approach to accountability. And its attention to the donor as the entry point for change may have some merit, but only if the donor has an ability to access the real issues which were, in my mind, not addressed in this book.
I share this personal story as a segue to these questions that I ask of the MNA constituency: You walk on both sides of this street. Your organizations need resources. Do you feel that your organization is accountable to its donors and what are some of the metrics you value in measuring this accountability? Do you freely donate to your own organization because you experience this accountability? And further, as you bring your MNA academic formation into your personal donor experience, has it affected how you determine your favorite charities, not just because of the passion you have for the cause, but because of which charities are most efficient and by what measures?
I would welcome some feedback on these few questions that have been provoked by one book with which I disagreed, but got me to learn a lot about how important it is for nonprofit providers to keep donors well informed about accountability, lest they follow the misinformed or publications that raise important issues in dangerously superficial ways.
The True Meaning of Philanthropy
By Marc Hardy, Ph.D.
Contrary to popular belief, the term philanthropy did not originate as a term to describe the process in which the wealthy share their riches with the less fortunate. Its first use was in the play Prometheus Bound by the Greek playwright Aeschylus some 2,500 years ago. The story tells the tale of the Greek god Zeus, who had grown tired of the humans he created and wanted to destroy them and start over. His plan? To take away their ability to produce fire, causing them to perish from cold and starvation.
The Greek titan Prometheus, however, loved the imperfect mortals and he enraged the gods by returning the fire to the humans, allowing them to survive. It also enabled them to create weapons, to hunt, and to develop tools that helped them create a better existence.
Disgusted by his compassion for such an imperfect race, the gods called Prometheus Philanthropos Tropos, a derogatory term that means “a lover of humans.” The gods also labeled his act of mercy on the flawed humans a philanthrôpía, from which the modern term philanthropy emerged.
Today, nonprofit organizations all around the world continue what Prometheus started — giving humankind the tools necessary to create a better life.
One of the most powerful forms of philanthropy — I would argue the most powerful form — is what I call personal encouragement philanthropy. Each of us can point to one or more people in our lives who supported us or believed in us enough to encourage us to make major positive decisions that helped us create a better life. It could have been a stranger, a teacher, a boss, a family member, a friend, a peer, a coworker, a member of the clergy, or anyone who touched our lives in a positive way. It might have been a recognition of one of our gifts, or an opportunity to shine, or simply a smile, or a hug or some inspiring words just when we needed them most. Like Prometheus, these people shared their fire with us and gave us the tools that helped us create a better life.
Those of us who have been so fortunate to be helped in such profound ways now have what Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift, calls a debt of gratitude. We have an obligation to enrich the lives of others, to engage in a re-gifting of the good we have been given. These gifts we receive from others are powerful acts of love--even more powerful than money--and they are the greatest, truest and purest expressions of philanthropy. The best part is anyone can give the gift of personal encouragement philanthropy to others. We don’t have to be wealthy to be a philanthropos tropos. Let’s start today to share our fire and give others this tool of encouragement to help them create a better future and a more civil and compassionate world.
Paying it Forward; the Art of Giving
By Betsy Quinn, MNA ‘12
“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Like many leaders in nonprofit institutions, I began my career with a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love. Working for over 20 years in the nonprofit sector as both a professional and a volunteer in the field of theatre for youth has been a true blessing. Whether teaching at an urban public middle school or at a private university, volunteering on the board of a national organization or on my church’s parish pastoral council, the work is motivated by my desire to pay it forward—to serve diverse youth and communities. Seeing the benefits of the performing arts for my students, especially those most in need, motivates me to do everything possible to bring these experiences to all young people.
Dr. King suggested that we don’t need a college degree to serve, and I agree. However, the Master of Nonprofit Administration degree I earned from the University of Notre Dame certainly improved my ability to serve more effectively. The MNA program’s motto, Servant Heart. Business Mind, perfectly illustrates my career path. All of my professional and volunteer experiences share a common thread. They are filled with passionate, talented artists and educators committed to the organizations’ missions and yet most struggle with various aspects of business. Their servant hearts are in the right places. Unfortunately, many, myself included, lacked the business knowledge and experience to inform decision making.
It has been incredibly frustrating witnessing the collapse of valuable arts and education organizations due to a lack of business expertise. Countless times I've heard “This is such a wonderful organization …why don’t more people know about it?” or “how can we improve internal communication?” and “how do we hold a volunteer board accountable?” My MNA education is helping me bring the knowledge and skills from the business world into the fields of arts and education to help answer these questions.
The valuable experiences I gained in classes were enhanced by the outstanding people connected with the MNA program. Being a third generation Domer, the notion of the Notre Dame family was familiar. Often used to describe the bond developed by ND undergraduates, the MNA program embodied this idea of family at the graduate level. In addition to the outstanding faculty and staff, I was part of a cohort of lifelong colleagues and friends. I feel truly blessed to be part of the Notre Dame family of those with Servant Hearts and Business Minds dedicated to paying it forward.
A Servant Heart Develops his Business Mind
By Mark Madrid
MNA Candidate, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Fellow
Since 2007, the University of Notre Dame’s “What Would You Fight For?” commercial series has featured the work, scholarly achievements, and global impact of Notre Dame faculty, students, and alumni. After watching these inspiring stories, it made me question myself: what would I fight for?
I fight for the next generation of Hispanic leadership. I fight to mentor ambitious Hispanic high school and college students who have big dreams and a deep commitment to education—the great equalizer.
Why this fight? I was in their shoes, and I remember this tough walk.
I grew up in a farming community where the cattle outnumber the people. For the long term, the small town was not for me. Ever since I earned my first blue ribbon at an art memory competition in the third grade, I realized the only way out of the town was by getting an education.
Although my family was full of love and a determined work ethic, it lacked in providing me with a good educational example. Neither of my parents advanced beyond the third grade. Yet, they had other gifts to share: My mother shared her undying love, and my street-smart father, who started his welding business with sketches on napkins, taught me about hard work. My parents and my sisters were my mentors.
Ultimately, I graduated Valedictorian from high school and entered the University of Texas at Austin.
During college, however, I lacked any kind of academic mentorship from my Latino peers. My college years were frenetic. My dorm had more inhabitants than my hometown. And Austin was full of the fear of the unknown and temptation. Still, I soldiered on, and eventually earned Endowed Presidential Scholar status at the university. After that, I was hired on Wall Street.
When facing the unrelenting and pressurized pace on Wall Street, once again I found myself searching for some kind of mentorship from my Latin professional peers. Although I graduated with Honors at UT-Austin and scored excellent reviews on Wall Street, my greatest setbacks were not addressed in an HR manual. I realized these life setbacks could have been averted with a personal connection to someone who could relate to me.
That’s why I made it my mission to fill that gap for future Latino students and professionals. In 2012 I launched a unique mentorship model that specializes in Hispanic leadership development through innovative and technological platforms. The curriculum includes LinkedIn training, online reputation management, and mentor matching for students at their collegiate destinations. Additionally, the program centers on forging digital networks to unite students from east coast to west coast, which will foster information sharing and peer-to-peer support.
I have ambitious goals and big dreams for this mentorship program (not yet a 501(c) (3)) Thanks to the skills I’m sharpening in the MNA program, I’m learning to dream bigger, to work smarter, and to leverage resources. Unquestionably, earning an MNA degree will be a game changer. At Notre Dame I am learning to serve and to lead more effectively, and the world will benefit.
A few weeks ago, as I was returning home from mentoring more than 50 students at YES Prep Public Schools, I called one of my best friends, Joe. We had a spirited discussion about the stark challenges of some of these students and about what we can do to help brighten their future. We talked about the surging demand for Hispanic male mentors and the low supply. We discussed what we could and should do to fill that void. Before we hung up, Joe asked me to give a speech to the Hispanic honor students at Texas A&M University–Kingsville. When I hung up with him, I was encouraged. This was one of those unforgettable calls--a call that really mattered.
The next day, Joe was murdered in his home.
Looking for light in this gloom, I hang on to that precious conversation that we had about walking the talk, giving back, and mentoring our future Hispanic leaders. As a tribute to my close friend, I continue the good fight to encourage those following in my footsteps. I have this unique opportunity and responsibility, and I will not let these students down.
To the University of Notre Dame, the Mendoza College of Business, the MNA program, faculty, administration, my fellow MNA students, and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, I thank you for empowering me to make a real difference with something close to my servant heart.