Thursday, 13 August 2009
- discontinue and do nothing
- carry on
- broaden the remit, and maybe therefore the interest
- discontinue and perhaps twitter instead
Anyway - I'm thinking....
Friday, 15 May 2009
Actually it’s ‘long’ about which I want to ruminate in this post. I realise that I’ve become fascinated by all those projects which track people over a long period of time. Nowadays, many of them are film-based; the much-copied 7-Up series, which is following a group of children from the age of 7 starting in 1964 (the ‘children’ are now in their early 50s) is the benchmark. The whole series so far, up to and including 49 Up, is available on DVD, and watching them back-to-back, rather than with a 7-year gap, is an engrossing and moving experience. Give it someone you love and then borrow it from them, or watch it with them (56 Up is expected in late 2011 or early 2012). Beware imitations – from the brief extracts I’ve seen, the BBC’s Child of Our Time, for example, doesn’t come close. Channel 4 has been running an interesting variation focusing on a group of children with special needs, who it has followed for 10 years – Born to Be Different is a dignified and, again, very moving series lacking the voyeuristic tendencies of so much of that Channel’s recent output (How To Look Good Naked [ans: wear some clothes], Embarrassing Bodies etc etc ad nauseam).
When I was at JRCT we funded something called HighScope, founded by Dr David Weikart who, Google tells me, has since been called to higher service. He was a very engaging and challenging fellow, as I recall, but the point of mentioning him here is that in 1962 he set up something called the Perry Preschool Project which, as his New York Times obituary (2003) states -
…took 123 low-income 3- and 4-year-olds and placed 58 in a preschool with highly trained, well-paid teachers who made weekly visits to parents. The rest received no extra attention. He [Weikart] then followed the children through life, regularly checking on them…The results have been consistently impressive. The former preschoolers were more likely to own homes and earn more than $2,000 a month, less likely to receive welfare or be arrested for crimes. Mothers were more often married… He found that $15,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars was spent on each child, while the savings to schools, welfare, prisons and potential crime victims exceeded $145,000. These results were duplicated in studies in North Carolina and Chicago, and the findings became a major element in the national discussion about Head Start...
Weikart studied these children for 40 years, and the learning has informed the nature of pre-school provision in the US and the UK. But all this is by way of background. I’ve been moved to put finger to key on this subject now having just read an amazing article in The Atlantic (available on line here ) which describes what has emerged from a 72-year (sic) study of 268 men who entered Harvard in the late 1930s. I cannot begin to summarise it; it is a most extraordinary study (official name: the Harvard Study of Adult Development; unofficially known as the Grant Study, after its founder, W.T.Grant), and the person who has been responsible for it for the past 42 years is himself a fascinating person. The learning, the understanding about what makes us tick, the insight into the important questions, about how to live, and - the title of the article - 'what makes us happy?',is phenomenal.
All of which presents a real challenge to the foundation world, with its continued obsession with three year funding. Weikart was constantly having to pursue new sources of funding for his work (which continues today – see here). As the Atlantic article makes clear, funding was also an issue for the Grant Study:
Most longitudinal studies die on the vine because funders expect results quickly. W. T. Grant was no exception. He held on for about a decade—allowing the staff to keep sending detailed annual questionnaires to the men, hold regular case conferences, and publish a flurry of papers and several books—before he stopped sending checks. By the late 1940s, the Rockefeller Foundation took an interest, funding a research anthropologist named Margaret Lantis, who visited every man she could track down (which was all but a few). But by the mid-1950s, the study was on life support.
We urgently need new models of foundation funding which provide a degree of assurance and encouragement for those embarked on long-term exercises, alongside the necessary mechanisms for accountability. If, despite market exigencies etc, endowed trusts continue to exist let some of them at least have the courage of their longevity – I long to see the announcement of the first 30 year grant… Meanwhile, if you read nothing else this week, do have a look at the Atlantic article. My guess is that at some point the good old Guardian will provide us with a shortened version, but you, being part of the small cultural elite which has the good taste to follow this blog, will surely want to read the whole thing (and - seriously - tell your friends; they will thank you for it).
Monday, 6 April 2009
Anyway, when people ask me these things, I tell them I don't know because there have been no dramatic grants programme closures as far as I know, and some trusts have been saying that it's business as usual. ACF is surveying the scene and it will be interesting to see the outcome. Problems have been more severe elsewhere in the English-speaking world, I gather. A correspondent from New Zealand tells me that two trusts there – including the biggest by far – have suspended grant making. And in the US, the combination of the crunch and Madoff has led to severe difficulties for some foundations apparently. Speaking the other day with a charity auditor, I got a sense that many foundations may be in denial and that the real effects will be felt once dividends reflect the crunch -- in other words, this crisis has a long tail.
All of which might usefully cause foundations to reflect, first, on whether they could usefully work with others begin to share overheads in order to get more bang for their buck and second, whether they have assets beyond money which they could usefully exploit to the benefit of their hard-pressed applicants. I don't hold out much hope for the first option as it seems to me that some foundations would rather go down screaming "we've got to stay independent!" than prosper in combination with others.
But the second possibility is surely not beyond imagining. Foundations have offices, networks, skills, and sometimes even tangible valuable assets like land. This, then, might be the moment for them to think about how they can sweat these assets for the ultimate benefit of those who have traditionally needed their grants.
A rather extreme example of this cropped up some months ago when I was privileged to listen in on a conversation between a leading social entrepreneur who is well-known for his creative thinking and, even more important, his ability to make things happen, and the denizens of a British foundation. Said foundation has a chunk of land and is not sure what to do with it. Someone had had the excellent idea of inviting the social entrepreneur to walk round the land and to suggest a way forward. He took one look at it and said "you could fit a lot of allotments in here". He went on to imagine a place to which children would flock in order to learn about growing and preparing food. There could be greenhouses in which tropical fruits might be grown -- and places where they could be used as ingredients of ice cream. There would be places to learn to cook. This would be a kind of national food centre - all very much in the sprit of St Jamie, and linking with ideas about 'education with production' which have been much discussed and tried in parts of the developing world.
I don't know whether the foundation concerned decided to go ahead on these lines or not -- I hope they did. Meanwhile, I'll carry on with our little patch; nothing tropical there -- just a few lettuces, courgettes and – so appropriate to this blog (I told you there were connections) -- some rhubarb.
Thursday, 12 March 2009
Another birthday, another boxed set...thankfully, because a carefully chosen one is an excellent gift (if you haven't started to plough your way through The West Wing, The Wire etc, well, there are much worse ways to waste your life...). My first comedic venture into the boxed set world is Arrested Development, in which, to my delight, there is a character called Lindsay Fünke, a member of a dysfunctional and wealthy family, who gets into charity, but lacks consistency or commitment (another week, another cause...). The very first episode shows her declining a canapé at a party, saying she's absolutely stuffed, and above her head is a banner – Stop the Hunger. Another party is in aid of HOOP, an anti-circumcision charity (HOOP, in case you haven't worked it out, stands for Hands Off Our Penises). In a later episode she says – “I care deeply for nature”. To which her brother points out that “You're wearing ostrich-skin boots”. Lindsay’s response: “Well, I don't care about ostriches”. Lindsay has also spoken out against cattle ranching and fish farming, and was on the committee to improve school lunches with more meat and fish.
All this gives an excellent excuse to quote yet again Mordecai Richler’s book, Barney’s Version, in which Duddy Kravitz, a rich and successful hustler, yearns for social respectability. In pursuit of it, he has a brainwave – he’s looking to start a foundation in aid of some disease or other. Problem is, most of the big ones have gone. As he says –
.. it’s a tough call. Don’t tell me. I know. Multiple sclerosis has already been nabbed. So has cancer. Parkinson’s. Alzheimer’s. Liver and heart diseases. Arthritis. You name it, it’s gone. So what I need is some disease still out there, something sexy I could start a charity for, and appoint the governor general, or some other prick, honorary patron …… Polio was terrific. Something kids get tugs at the heartstrings. People are suckers for it.
Now, the eponymous hero – Barney – eventually suggests Crohn’s Disease, an unpleasant disease affecting a significant number of people. He explains it to Duddy –
It leads to gas, diarrhoea, rectal bleeding, fever, weight loss. You suffer from it you could have fifteen bowel movements a day
Who responds –
Oh, great! Wonderful!…. I say, how would you like to be a patron for a charity for farters? Mr. Trudeau, this is DK speaking, and I’ve got just the thing to improve your image. How would you like to join the board of a charity my wife is organising for people who shit day and night? Hey there everybody, you are invited to my wife’s annual Diarrhoea Ball. Listen, for my wife it has to have some class. I want you to come up with a winner by nine o’clock tomorrow morning….
And then there’s Renu Mehta and the Fortune Forum. Oh, but I forgot, that’s real.
Sunday, 22 February 2009
OK, I lied. And I’m sorry if anyone wasted time following those dummy links (the Guardian one is for real, and the article to which it links is, in my view, spot-on). But you get my point.
To be fair, Philanthropy UK – and a real link is coming up – does at least seek to cover the controversies in its quarterly newsletter but unless I've missed something, even P-UK is one-way traffic. So why isn't all that stuff above true? What kind of insecurity is it that makes UK philanthropy afraid of real debate? This isn't just a matter of responding to the zeitgeist. By saying, in effect, “we don't know it all and we value the views and ideas of others”, the field would also be doing just a little about the unequal power relationship between grant seekers and grant makers. I’m not sure whether they do this kind of thing better in the USA – I surfed a bit but with no great discoveries. Hey, we could be first!
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Monday, 19 January 2009
First, Frost/Nixon, which we saw followed by a live Q&A by satellite (well, you can’t expect these busy people to come all the way to York, for heaven’s sake) with the writer, Peter Morgan, and Michael Sheen, who features in a lead role in most of Morgan’s oeuvre (irrelevant fact: Sheen's dad is a semi-professional Jack Nicholson lookalike). I haven’t seen the play, and someone who’s seen and liked both tells me that there is some good stuff in the play which isn't in the film – nevertheless, when, in the film, Frost asks Nixon “And the American people?”, you sit there waiting for Nixon to acknowledge the extent of his crime in one of the most tense silences I’ve known in the cinema. The film reignites an old debate about the permissible limits of fiction in the context of historical events – one of the key episodes in the film never happened. It took a question from an audience member to elicit this from Peter Morgan – which emphasised the foolishness of the interlocutor, Jason Solomons, an Observer film critic, in dominating the questions himself and only allowing a few minutes for the ordinary punters to have a go. Oh, I almost forgot - Peter Morgan dropped in the slightly amusing fact that the Broadway production of the play was called 'Nixon/Frost', because no-one in the US can recall who Frost was.
To Slumdog Millionaire: it’s very violent in parts, and has a visual scatological bit near the beginning which had the whole audience groaning out loud - definitely one to see with a crowd in the cinema. I gather that some in the Indian film business don't like the film, because unlike the generality of Bollywood films, it doesn’t try to sanitise the reality of life on the streets in Mumbai. Nevertheless, there’s a wonderful Bollywood ending over the titles – someone sitting in front of me tried to get up as soon as the first title appeared; he sat down again very quickly.
If you go to see Slumdog having read on the side of a London bus (those that aren’t advising you of the probable non-existence of an omnipotent deity, that is) that it’s a ‘feel good movie’, you may be in for a shock. Particularly if – like me - the last feel good movie you saw was Mamma Mia. Slumdog is to Mamma Mia as a bike is to a Rolls Royce. Both will get you there, and leave you pleased at having accomplished the journey. But you will feel much more battered by the elements at the end of the bike journey, yet also more profoundly satisfied at your achievement. They also have something in common – both stories are ludicrously improbable, but I doubt that anyone who sees them will care about that. The songs are better in Mamma Mia, even if they have to be shoe horned uncomfortably into the story (and if those takes were the best they could get from Piers Brosnan by way of a singing voice, then can we please be spared the ones on the cutting room floor, if they have such things in this digital age?). My daughter gave us the Mamma Mia DVD for Xmas, knowing that her mother had much enjoyed it on a girly trip to the cinema. This meant that I could watch it in the privacy of our home. (I am a devoted Abba fan. If the original recordings pall after a bit, try mezzo soprano Ann Sofie von Otter singing Like an Angel Passing Through My Room. Have a Kleenex to hand).
Films are much more fun than philanthropy; discuss.
Sunday, 4 January 2009
Monday, 15 December 2008
It’s time for a public inquiry into the role and purpose of endowed grant making trusts. There – I’ve said it, and feel better for having done so.
While everybody's been going on about the importance of charities and public benefit, the focus has been on organisations which appear to serve the interests of the privileged and yet receive the tax benefits of charitable status (the obvious example being the laughingly named ‘public’ schools). As I’ve written here before, the absence of any specific regulatory regime which focuses on the trusts means that they are regulated just like any other charity. Despite the fact that they don't raise money from the public, the law treats them as if they did – and its main concern is that the public aren't ripped off. The main purpose of the foundations is to give money away, but in practice, the only interest the law has in how this is done is that the money is spent on things which are legally charitable. We need at the very least a public debate about the role of foundations. In these cash-strapped times we need to decide why exactly we give them tax privileges -- why we agree, as a body politic, that you and I should play a little more tax in order that they should pay none, on their income at least.
Let's have a heated debate. Why hasn't there been one already? The reason for that, I think, is clear. Almost any non-statutory organisation with a capacity to initiate such a debate is likely to be in part dependent on income from trust grants. It takes courage to start something which might look as if you are biting the hand which fees you, or might feed you in the future. The organisation which could initiate such a debate and could announce that is going to look at endowed grant-making foundations as a special category, is of course the Charity Commission. While it would be nice to think that the foundations themselves might initiate such a debate, perhaps through the Association of Charitable Foundations, I am sceptical about whether this would ever happen, however, not because ACF isn't an excellent body (it is, albeit with a small percentage of the 8000-odd UK foundations in membership), but because - with notable exceptions - foundations have demonstrated a lamentable inability to work together on anything. That's one of the issues that such a public debate might explore -- to what extent it is still appropriate for the intentions of founders long dead to be used as an excuse for determinately ploughing one's own furrow despite the changing scale and nature of social problems?
How might the debate start? I think it needs a focus -- a commission of inquiry would be a good start, made up of people of independent mind, some with knowledge of the foundation sector and perhaps some without it but with the capability of gaining it quickly. And, yes, I would be free to serve, even if it means yet fewer posts to this blog.
Thursday, 6 November 2008
But, hey, nobody likes a whinger at a time like this. Maybe the truly amazing events of this week will inspire UK foundations in ways as yet unimagined - it may take a little time. As for me, I'm still finding it difficult to adjust to the reality of President-Elect Obama; ever since - just after the first UK bank collapse - Jeremy Hardy asked the News Quiz audience "Listen - if there's anyone out there who seriously thinks the USA will elect a black man to the presidency, I'd like to meet you, as I've got some Northern Rock shares I'd like to sell you...", I've convinced myself that it couldn't happen (a conviction aided by the man from Pittsburgh with whom I had breakfast - see earlier post). And, astonishingly, unbelievably, wonderfully, it has.
Monday, 20 October 2008
Aaaargh! This is so screamingly wrong that I don't know where to begin. Calm down, Steven, take a deep breath. OK; people are poor because of a social and economic system which allows some people to be disgustingly rich. Charity from such people helps some of those poor people to change their circumstances a bit (though whether academy schools have that effect is to say the least debatable) but does nothing to change the system which gave rise to their need for charity in the first place. Money-raising which happens through such bloated and tasteless methods – I mean, Prince! - serves to remind everyone involved that some people are rich, and some are poor. Martin Brookes gives a nod in the direction of social justice by stating that ‘Philanthropy is not an excuse for inequality or unfair taxes’ (my emphasis); he’s right – philanthropy of the kind criticised by Toynbee and Walker reinforces inequality. And I don't see why we should shut up about it in case it scares the poor dears off giving any more -as Martin Brookes would apparently wish us to do. When Arpad Busson spends big bucks on arguing for a more progressive taxation system, then he will have my respect. NPC says that among other things, it’s concerned about ‘understanding the root causes of societal problems’. Based on Martin Brookes’ article, it seems to be more concerned about the flow of philanthropic money, regardless of how it’s raised, and regardless of what effect it has on social injustice. Like everything in this little sub-region of the blogosphere, this thought is startlingly unoriginal; to quote Joseph Rowntree, yet again: Charity as ordinarily practised, the charity of endowment, the charity of emotion, the charity which takes the place of justice, creates much of the misery which it relieves, but does not relieve all the misery it creates.
Now, nurse, please take me to a darkened room. I need to lie down.
Monday, 6 October 2008
Thursday, 25 September 2008
Saturday, 20 September 2008
Saturday, 26 July 2008
I've just been at a meeting of the International Human Rights Funders Group in a hot and sticky
Rather like those novels which have the same episode described from different perspectives (this is a great example) peoples' perceptions of how change came about can vary enormously. I have very sharp memories of an organisation set up around 1990/91 and am clear – had thought I was clear - about how it began. Till the evaluator rang, and told me how she thought, or had been told, it began. Which was totally different from what I believed (and actually still believe). And I was there at the time! Can my memory really be so dodgy? (rhetorical question; no hurtful comments needed). I'm sure that there are PhDs about this kind of issue, but for the moment, at a more prosaic level, it seems to me to highlight the need for funders to keep good records, not just with an eye to the auditors and the Charity Commission, but with an eye to history.
So: here's my idea – every organisation, including of course grant-making trusts, should appoint someone on its staff to be its history champion. This should be an enthusiast – someone who cares about history. They would, as it were, be licensed to ask awkward questions about what's being kept where, whether records are clear enough for future generations to understand what really happened, whether a story has been told and captured. As evaluators will tell you, just keeping minutes of meetings isn't much help; you need to be able to see the wood (the full story) rather than the trees (the minutes). I can hear both readers of this blog yelling at their screens – hasn't he heard of knowledge management? (and I must say, mother, that I'm surprised you have). Well, yes, I have, actually; but this isn't about managing knowledge for contemporary use; it’s about making sure that posterity has a fair chance of finding out what really happened.
And I know I'm right about that project, so there.
[This blog will now be doing whatever blogs do when they go on holiday. But there's an even better one to keep you entertained in the meanwhile, which you can find here. I will resume in the autumn unless I get a lot of encouragement/bribes not to.]
Sunday, 29 June 2008
I had breakfast with a man from
For social justice philanthropoids, this kind of thing reminds us of the importance of attitudes, and of what becomes respectable in polite society. I'm not sure whether somewhere in the universities there are bright people who understand how these things change and change for good. When I studied law at
There are some ironies here - Harper’s Ferry is the site of an 1859 raid by John Brown on an armoury, in order to use the weapons to liberate slaves (he was caught and hanged in neighbouring Charles Town, which is why his body lies a moulderin’ etc, though I guess it would be by now anyway). And it’s the
Monday, 9 June 2008
There will be great celebration in the land to mark the publication of the new version of CC11. (No one reading this blog will need telling that this is the Charity Commission for
Tuesday, 27 May 2008
Monday, 26 May 2008
The New Yorker is a wonderful magazine -- the best. Anyone disagree with that? No, I thought not. Barely a week goes by without me being excited or moved or challenged by something in it. This week, it was all three, in a remarkable - and beautifully written - account of a church-based day centre for homeless people in
But it is its funding which was the challenging bit. After all, the very phrase ‘soup kitchen’ symbolises everything that’s wrong about old-style philanthropy. My mentor in this world is (of course) Joseph Rowntree. In December 1904, he used the example of the
I’ve bought into that approach to philanthropy in a big way. I distinguish between individual heartfelt responses to need, and institutional foundation responses. It's one thing to dip into your pocket when somebody waves a tin outside Sainsbury's on a Saturday morning, or to write a cheque after you've been moved to tears by images of suffering on television. But it’s quite another when you have the opportunity to sit and reflect, to look at written
But that’s not how it looks from the other end of the process. Frazier, writing about the funding of the soup kitchen, says of the foundations -
It would be very interesting to have Frazier debate the issue openly with someone from one of those foundations. We (I’m not permanently associated with a foundation at present, but I feel part of the foundation community) ought to be willing to open these issues up for discussion, and the power relationship being what it is, if we don’t do it, no-one else will. I’m struck by how few opportunities there are for this kind of discussion – most UK foundations have websites, but very few use them in any bi-directional way; it’s all about ‘these are our policies, this is how to apply; take it or leave it, and we certainly don’t want to know what you out there think about us’. Frazier’s candour is unusual, and should make us think hard – not least about why we have to read this stuff in the New Yorker, as distinct from hearing it as part of our day-to-day business.