Tuesday, August 26, 2008

SEA Chapters

I recently took on the role of chairing the Social Enterprise Alliance, the main grassroots group representing social enterprises in the U.S. and Canada. One of our new strategies to respond to the increasing demand for social enterprise knowledge is to encourage chapters to form. The initial chapters have just been starting this year. Our first chapter was in St. Louis, and our second one in Baltimore, and more are forming all the time. I know that a group is starting here in the San Francisco bay area, and I’m looking forward to joining it. You can contact SEA’s chapters and organizing groups on the SEA Chapter page.

Kris Prendergast just told me that the second meeting of the Chicago chapter formation group was attended by more than 100 people! I’m delighted to hear there’s so much energy around social enterprise in my hometown (I grew up in the Chicago suburbs).

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Austrian Mountain Top

I love my digital camera and taking lots of pictures. However, most times that means I'm not in the picture. Neil Soiffer of Design Sciences took this nice picture of me on the top of the mountain for the ICCHP conference's Mountain Attack on July 12th, 2008.

Jim sitting with an ICCHP umbrella, mountains in the background
Of course, I had forgotten to bring a jacket, so I used a handy conference umbrella during a brief rain on the mountain top.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fiscal Sponsorship Resources

Setting up as a nonprofit is not easy. Starting a for-profit in California took me one or two weeks, and I think it's still that fast. But, setting up a nonprofit and getting 501(c)(3) status can take a year or more and cost ten or twenty thousand dollars (unless you get pro bono legal help).

Many folks doing starting up nonprofit work might be better off finding a fiscal sponsor. This is a qualified nonprofit (i.e., has charitable status) that will steward the new program and take care of being a nonprofit and filing the annual returns. In exchange for a fee to cover their costs, donations are fully tax deductible.

Many folks ask us to be a fiscal sponsor for their social tech projects, but we've decided it would be a distraction from our core work, plus we're not experts in supporting other projects.

In the San Francisco area, the Tides Center is best known for offering fiscal sponsorship. I've heard it costs roughly 9% of donations, but that's not authoritative. They offer a range of services for their fee.

I also know a tech project that has used the FJC Fiscal Sponsorship Program, based in New York. I just talked to one of their founding philanthropists. He noted their fees are low, but they don't offer all of the services of Tides.

So, if you're getting started with something, and want to see if it has the option of really getting off the ground as a nonprofit, but you don't have millions of dollars (yet!), consider starting with a fiscal sponsor. You'll save money and aggravation. Be sure to secure the ability to spin off as your own 501(c)(3) when the timing is right.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Booksharian Heroes Hit 40,000

Bookshare.org just hit a milestone by reaching 40,000 accessible books in our collection. This is always a cause for celebration by our team, recognizing the incredible amount of work involved in bringing each book to our Bookshare.org members by our volunteers and collection development staff.

Reading our volunteer email listserv this morning, I came across lyrics to a song about our volunteer community. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and recognize the heroic nature of volunteer service! Thanks to volunteer Lissi for writing this.

Volunteering is a fascinating, fulfilling blessing resulting in my reading wonderful books, learning new things and getting to know people I enjoy, care about and admire. I wrote this parody of Paul Overstreet's song, "Heroes," with all Booksharians in mind.

Booksharian Heroes

He opens up his scanner
In the hours before dawn
So he can finish up this book
Before the day is gone.

He optimizes settings
He holds the book down tight
Scannoes out and page breaks in
The whole book must be right.

You know heroes come in every shape and size,
Making special sacrifices for others in their lives.
No one gives them prizes,
The world don't know their names,
But in someone's eyes they're heroes just the same.

She Turns on her computer.
She'll work extra hard today.
Someone wants to read this book,
They need it right away.

She reads the pages word by word.
She doesn't stop for breaks.
She spell checks and double checks,
And fixes the mistakes.

We know heroes come in every shape and size,
Making special sacrifices for others in their lives.
No one gives them prizes,
The world don't know their names,
But in someone's eyes they're heroes just the same

You sit down to read e mail.
You've just joined a new list.
You still don't know just how it's done.
You're trying to get the gist.

You're starting to get answers
For questions that you send
And the person who's been helping you
Has now become your friend..

Remember heroes come in every shape and size,
Making special sacrifices for others in their lives.
No one gives them prizes,
The world don't know their names,
But in someone's eyes they're heroes just the same.

I can't say I know all of you
But still it's safe to say
Someone out there's read your books
With gratitude today.

They're reading your book avidly
Excusing your mistakes.
There is no doubt about it,
Cause you've got all it takes.

Bookshare heroes come in every shape and size,
Making special sacrifices for others in their lives.
No one gives them prizes,
The world don't know their names,
But in someone's eyes they're heroes just the same.

I'm talking about heroes.
Extraordinary Heroes.
Booksharian Heroes!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Still more debate on Just Another Emperor

Michael Edwards continues the debate with a fresh comment, but says it's his last post because everything he says I dismiss as spin. That's too bad, because Michael is starting to actually engage with some of the arguments I'm making, and avoids the most objectionable rhetorical techniques that I keep pointing out.

It's true that I have a serious problem with the claims made by Just Another Emperor, and with the rhetorical techniques used. I point out that that these techniques are weak in quite a number of ways. His subtitle on Just Another Emperor is "the Myths and Realities of Philanthrocapitalism." My thesis is that his pamphlet (as he describes it) is long on myth and short on reality.

I'd summarize his pamphlet as building its case as follows:
- "Philanthrocapitalsm is a movement is flawed in both its proposed means and its promised ends"
- A key means is social enterprise (social entrepreneurship)
- Philanthrocapitalists and social entrepreneurs are all about injecting business thinking and approaches to solving social problems, and effectively ignored social justice and advocacy issues
- This doesn't work, is fatally flawed, etc.
- Therefore, we need drastic policy reforms to solve this problem

So, on to the first point in the latest comment. Edwards challenged me to provide any evidence that "the new elite philanthropists are more likely to give globally and to social sector causes and leaders drawn from disadvantaged communities." I did so, by demonstrating that the three leading social entrepreneurship groups are majority focused globally rather than domestically in wealthy countries, and fund leaders drawn from disadvantaged communities. So, in his comment, Edwards wants a comprehensive study of the "giving patterns of the two groups" (philanthrocapitalists and the non-philanthrocapitalists?). So, his challenge to provide any evidence being met, now shifts into a request for a comprehensive study.

One of the other problems I had with the pamphlet was "Not He, Not She, it’s the Philanthrocapitalist Behind the Tree!" Edwards criticizes the philanthrocapitalists as a general movement, and then says generally nice things about specific ones. So, it's hard to figure out who is being criticized.

So, I built my argument around the social entrepreneurs, groups and philanthrocapitalists mentioned in the pamphlet. If the case is philanthrocapitalists inject too much business thinking into the social sector by backing social entrepreneurs, and then I show the incredibly progressive and diverse nature of the three largest social entrepreneur networks, then who are the "bad social entrepreneurs" and who are the "bad philanthrocapitalists?" If Edwards can't show who they are and that they represent most of the activity of these groups, then his case is unproven. Criticizing anonymous straw-men is easy, criticizing actual leaders is hard. Where's the myth and the reality in the two cases being made by Edwards and me?

My goal in critiquing Edwards' pamphlet, as I stated:
My goal in this critique is not to prove the opposite set of facts conclusively. It is to point out weaknesses in the case being made so that the conclusions seem less foregone than the author would represent. As a matter of personal opinion, I think the fact set points in the opposite direction. I believe that social entrepreneurship and philanthrocapitalism are a powerful force for empowering disadvantaged communities and improving civil society.

Edwards continues by claiming that he doesn't call anyone a tax evader: quoting from his pamphlet:
Corporate tax evasion is one of the dirtiest business secrets and an “Achilles heel” of the philanthrocapitalist claim to pursue the social good, so pay your taxes instead of sheltering your profits in havens by the beach.

Gentle reader, if you were a philanthrocapitalist and read the foregoing passage, you might just take it a personal attack. Especially if it were labeled as the Achilles Heel of your philanthropy. Now Edwards tells us that he's talking about corporate tax evasion that costs developing countries $385 billion per year. The link between the philanthrocapitalists he names and developing country corporate tax evasion seems pretty tenuous to me.

If a senior person from the Ford Foundation (disavowing as Michael does, that this work is supported by Ford) makes a package of policy recommendations, people take the recommendations seriously. Regulation of nonprofits globally is an important issue, and I'm concerned that someone make actually adopt this package of reforms, making some of the "voluntary" reforms compulsory. I also question a reform package that seems to single out certain social organizations. Why single out social enterprises as needing board and accountability reform? Why not require all nonprofit organizations to do so? Then the argument will shift from demolishing straw man philanthrocapitalists and social entrepreneurs to deciding whether these reforms make sense for the sector in general. I'm sure the folks at Independent Sector (the leading association in the U.S. concerned with the nonprofit sector) would have reactions to the recommendations in that case.

My objections to Just Another Emperor are mainly the denigration of philanthrocapitalists and social entrepreneurs, a group of people who I believe strongly do more pound for pound, dollar for dollar for society than government and traditional philanthropy (in this case, I'm referring to traditional charity-focused philanthropy, not the foundations founded by past generations of philanthrocapitalists like Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, MacArthur, etc.). If Michael wants to reform all foundations and nonprofit groups, that's a different debate. But, I think he's truly failed to make the case that philanthrocapitalists and social entrepreneurs are the place to start.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

More debate on Just Another Emperor

Thanks to Michael Edwards, author of Just Another Emperor, for investing the time to comment on my last blog post. I'm excited about the chance to continue to make my case that Just Another Emperor utilizes spin techniques rather than balanced research in its quest to make the case for its policy recommendations. Michael's post provides ample opportunity to make my points more clearly.

For those tracking the progress of this debate, I would say that Michael and I have a similar view of the other's arguments: distorted, misrepresented and ignored seem to sum it up. In addition, we're in agreement that those interested in the issues being discussed would benefit from reading Michael's book and evaluating the strengths of our two arguments. I think we also agree that:
we should certainly increase funding for work that addresses the root causes of social injustice, strengthen foundation learning and accountability, give “beneficiaries” a greater stake in governance and strategy, and have more humility in the way we approach our work.

So far, so good. But, then we start to part ways.

1. Denying the existence or plausibility of easily discovered evidence.
Jim states that “the new elite philanthropists are more likely to give globally and to social sector causes and leaders drawn from disadvantaged communities”, an astonishing statement for which I can find no evidence at all. If you have some Jim, please post it on your blog so that we can all read and discuss it in a spirit of open and democratic debate.

Delighted to do so, Michael. Look at the spin technique being used here. It's not just that Michael Edwards disagrees with me, it's that he can find "no evidence at all." Be careful when someone throws around an absolute like this. Of course, in my critique, I was very specific about this issue, but Edwards doesn't respond to my specific points. It's easier for him to deny that this evidence exists. But, it's easy to find.

So, let's do the research. It's possible to glean from the three websites of the three top groups that identify social entrepreneurs, all three of which are mentioned in Edwards' book. Since Edwards has found "no evidence at all," one must assume that he hasn't done that research, which means that he hasn't looked at the grantee lists of these three groups. Of course, one of my critiques of Edwards' work is that he ignores evidence that doesn't agree with his arguments.

So, let's start with the granddaddy group, Ashoka, beloved of Google (quotes from Google on their web page), Skoll and so on. Where are the Ashoka fellows? Easy enough to use Ashoka’s handy-dandy search engine at http://www.ashoka.org/fellows:
Africa: 236
Asia: 547
Europe: 190
Middle East & North Africa: 34
North America: 232
South America: 476
Global: 10
Even if we throw all of global into North America and Europe, and not worrying about the fact that the majority of North American Ashoka fellows are actually in Mexico(!), we get 432 for North American and Europe vs. 1293 for the rest of the world. So, I think my case that Ashoka Fellows are far more likely to be working on global issues (rather than American issues) and be people of color is better established than Edwards’ claim.

Let’s move on to Schwab and Skoll, the more elite social entrepreneur groups (elite, because a significant number of these folks were Ashoka Fellows five or more years ago). Schwab also has a nifty search engine for finding out where and what their Fellows do. I did split the Americas into U.S. and Canada and Latin America by inspection of country of the entrepreneur.
Africa: 13
Asia: 34
Europe: 29
Middle East: 5
United States & Canada: 24
Rest of the Americas: 33
Australia: 2
So, Europe, U.S., Canada and Australia represent 55 to 85 groups from the rest of the world. And, many of the groups from Europe, U.S. and Australia do most of their work in the rest of the world.

And, finally, Skoll. Skoll has the fewest social entrepreneurs, but Skoll is pretty generous with its award-winners. Oh, by the way, their support is multi-year and general unrestricted grants, just like Ashoka (these are key recommendations of Edwards’ book, with the implication that philanthrocapitalists don’t do this already). They don’t have a search engine, so I counted up the social entrepreneurs by where they are doing most of their work:
Africa: 6
Asia: 13
Europe: 0
Middle East: 1
United States & Canada: 7
Rest of the Americas: 7
Global: 16
So, in terms of areas of concentration, we have 7 in the U.S. and Canada vs. 43 in the rest of the world. Unlike Ashoka and Schwab, where the location of the work is highly correlated with the origins of the social entrepreneur, Skoll’s grantees are not majority led by people of color: I estimate more like 40%.

Edwards criticizes the philanthrocapitalists for their support of social entrepreneurs. Yet, the three leading social entrepreneur organizations support groups that are clearly dominated by groups that work outside the rich countries of North America and Europe, and are majority-led by social entrepreneurs drawn from the communities they serve.

“[A]n astonishing statement for which I can find no evidence at all.” Fascinating. Took me less than an hour to find a pile of evidence, using groups and philanthrocapitalists cited in Edwards’ book. Perhaps my suggestion that this is less of the comprehensive, authoritative analysis than represented is not as outlandish and improbable as suggested by the author.

2. The Ad Hominem Abusive attack, redux.
Ad hominem attacks on one's opponent are a tried-and-true strategy for people who have a case that is weak. (From the online version of the American Heritage Dictionary).
One of the spin techniques I cite Edwards as using is the ad hominem attack. I list five different attacks made on the personal character of philanthropists, including that they are tax evaders. So, it should come as no surprise that instead of countering my substantive points, Edwards goes on a personal attack. Apparently, my case is made in ways that “no right-thinking person would support.” So, I have to be either insane or immoral to disagree with Mr. Edwards. I’m unimpressed with the rigor of this argument.

3. I didn’t say that (did I)?
In my pamphlet I recommend that we should not attempt to legislate for reforms in philanthropy
Quoting from Just Another Emperor:
Pass legislation to protect the public interest in schemes for “embedded giving” (in which a proportion of the price of goods and services is donated to social causes), the use of charitable trusts, and other forms of business involvement in philanthropy.

No foundation or social enterprise should receive tax exemption unless its board is fully representative of the communities it claims to serve.
Commission independent impact evaluations for any tax exempt activity above a certain size, and publish the results. Require all foundations and social enterprises above a certain size to compile a publicly available summary of all evaluations every five years, and to solicit feedback from grantees and beneficiaries, and independent experts in the field.

Sorry if I mistook the call for passing legislation as an attempt to legislate reform. To be strictly accurate, Edwards starts his policy recommendations with a call for voluntary compliance but then started mixing in these calls for legislation, requirements (voluntary requirements?) and regulatory change. Once you start fixing the excesses of those philanthrocapitalists, it’s easy to get carried away!

To conclude, there is a real need to debate the future of philanthropy. However, it’s too important to base those discussions on weak arguments and the use of spin techniques such as ad hominem attacks. Let's stick to evidence-based discussions.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A critique of Just Another Emperor

The recent book, Just Another Emperor, is getting a lot of attention in philanthropic circles these days. It slams the use of business thinking and approaches in philanthropy, and makes some drastic policy recommendations to fix elite philanthropy by those dubbed philanthrocapitalists. The term comes from Matthew Bishop of the Economist, whose book Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, is coming out next month.

I really don't like Just Another Emperor, and it's because of the spin techniques used to attempt to make the case for the policy changes it advocates. I couldn't contain myself and wrote a lengthy seven part critique on the Global Philanthropy Forum's Discussion Forum on the topic. If you checkout the link, my comments start near the bottom. I'm attaching my conclusion below.

If you read the critique, you can tell this got me going. I'm working on writing this up as an essay (with editing) rather than a series of blog posts.

A Philanthrocapitalist’s Critique of a Critique of Philanthrocapitalism

Part Seven and Conclusion

The Emperor is Better Dressed than You Think

The goal of Just Another Emperor was to make the case for reform of elite philanthropy, the giving of the new generation of philanthrocapitalists. The goal of this critique was to cast significant doubt on these conclusions, by illustrating the spin techniques utilized to reframe and distort the debate. By complimenting individual philanthrocapitalists and social entrepreneurs while denigrating the accomplishments of both communities, the piece sets up straw men to demolish. However, these straw men are not representative and the case falls apart on contact with reality. When Just Another Emperor tells you something is so, there is a very real chance that the opposite is predominant in the real world of philanthropy and social entrepreneurship.

Note what this critique does not say. It does not say that social enterprise is not a vital part of social sector reform: it absolutely is. It does not say that market forces will solve all social issues: they will not and cannot. It doesn’t directly discuss corporate social responsibility, other than to discourage policy outcomes that would make the social sector more dependent on corporations for funding, which today in the U.S. they are not.

This critique does make the strong case that activism and advocacy are not separable from social entrepreneurship, they are foundational to a field whose defining single point of commonality is a commitment to social mission. Social enterprise uses market forces primarily to serve disadvantaged communities through creating jobs and opportunity, not through squeezing profits out of them. It does make the case that the real world philanthrocapitalists invest in far more than social enterprise, and are far more progressive in terms of funding empowerment, funding globally and funding communities of color than traditional charity, foreign aid and government funding.

The policy recommendations in Just Another Emperor seek to ensure that no good deed goes unpunished. While some of them are similar to other recommendations made in the field, the Emperor’s Tax requirement to redistribute 60% of foundation funding to areas specified by the author is a prescription that will kill the patient. Voluntary giving will wither in the face of this compulsion regime. In the United States, we give partial tax breaks to those who give generously: a de facto match in tax dollars for charitable giving. This match does not make up for the Emperor’s Tax, which will discourage giving that will trigger these onerous provisions.

In conclusion, Just Another Emperor fails to make its case. By using the techniques of spin and public relations, it tries to establish a fact set that doesn’t resemble the actual field. It recommends some policy changes that would be more likely to kill its target of elite philanthropy than to reform it, especially given that the new elite philanthropists are more likely to give globally and to social sector causes and leaders drawn from disadvantaged communities. I’m sure that these fields can be improved, but Just Another Emperor is too fundamentally flawed to be the tool for the job.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Bernie Newcomb article

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation just published a very nice article, Leveling the Field, about one of our key Bookshare.org supporters, Bernie Newcomb. Bernie was VP Engineering and co-founder at eTrade. Amazingly enough, eTrade started in the same building where Benetech is currently located (under its original name of Trade Plus). Bernie grew up as a visually impaired kid and Oregon and rejected the low expectations of the then-education institutions and went to college and on to become an engineer and successful entrepreneur.

Bernie is very low key, and I'm glad the Foundation encouraged him to go on the record with why he does what he does. He's a great role model for students with disabilities, as well as successful tech entrepreneurs!

Friday, August 01, 2008

A Romance on Three Legs

I've had the pleasure of knowing Katie Hafner, New York Times reporter and author, for at least five years. She generally writes on tech topics, so I was interested to see her latest book on the famous pianist Glenn Gould, A Romance on Three Legs.

As a geek, it feels good to see some of the oddities of tech people translated into the music world. Gould was a real character: maybe even stranger than my Caltech classmates. But, brilliant of course.

A significant character in the book is the blind piano tuner, Verne Edquist. I had no guess that reading my first Hafner piece on music I'd be getting a window on what it was like to be a visually impaired kid growing up in the prairie during the Depression. So, it's a book about unusual people and technology (in this case, a unique Steinway that Glenn Gould loves and Verne tunes).

I'm enjoying the book a lot and look forward to adding it to Bookshare.org after my wife reads it (actually, I bought it for her because she's the concert pianist in our family!).