Thursday, January 24, 2008

Making sense (or trying to)

Here is what today's news brought:
  • Economic stimulus package in the U.S. - - $600 check is in the mail for American taxpayers.
  • Additions to the list of private universities recalculating their own rules for financial aid and deploying a percentage of their endowments to provide tuition discounts and grants to lower and middle income families.
  • News from Switzerland that Bill Gates is calling for companies to deploy their human talent to solve global social problems. This merits a new term - Creative Capitalism*
  • The U.S. Senate inquiries into endowment practices continue to demonstrate the long-recognized trend - when the economy tanks, legislators/regulators look for nonprofit reform.
  • This time, unexpectedly enough, even the kings of capital are calling for more/new/different regulation - here is George Soros on the need for new oversight of world financial markets.
  • A French trader bets and loses $7 BB of his bank's money before anyone notices - ooops.
  • The New York Times asks if Americans should reconsider tax preferences on philanthropy and floats some "trial balloons":
    • "Perhaps the government should demand a role in charities’ allocation of resources in exchange for the tax deduction. Or maybe the deduction should go altogether."
  • Nonprofit advocates and supporters get organized and ask candidates for the U.S. Presidency a series of questions about their stances on the sector.
How do you make sense of this kind of news? Here are some possibilities I've been thinking about:
  1. "In times of recession, war, and vast income/wealth inequality major nonprofit organizations - which are part of the "public problem solving" sector - will get more scrutiny because both the needs are greater and the rest of the sector is struggling?"
  2. "The regulators should regulate, the nonprofits should meet scrutiny, and the titans of commerce can say anything they want - at the end of the day their job is to provide jobs and economic growth."
  3. "Increasing regulatory scrutiny over nonprofits - even those that (collectively) control 100s of billions of endowed dollars - is less politically risky than taking on multi-billion dollar corporations or ending multi-billion dollar military spending."
  4. [Your analysis here]
Any of these options might fit, as might blends of them, and other I didn't think of. Then there is always the next question: why does any of it matter?

Here are three reasons I think the questions matter -
"While the corporate leaders gather in Davos and offer up solutions and strategies, and the political leadership does the same, where is the collective voice of the nonprofit or philanthropic sector on any of these issues?"

One also might ask: "Is all regulation reactionary or is anyone offering up new ideas about how to think across these issues?"

And then there is this: "In our information age, post-industrial global economy do these traditional roles really still hold?" Does the public sector regulate, private sector fund, and nonprofit sector advocate and act? And, if this is true, what happened to all the talk about blending, blurring and fourth sectors? Does that only hold during boom times? What will bust times bring to these sectoral roles? Can we get change if we play the same roles?
What do you think? How do you make sense of what is happening?

* I have another question about Gates but it is on a whole different topic than the rest of the post. I'll put it here as a placeholder - If the founder and leader of the leading company in an industry announced they were shifting gears and were about to devote more time to that industry than ever before, don't you think there would be some kind of visible/tangible/reported on "buzz" among his/her peers at other companies? Yet, we're only five months away from Bill Gates taking a full-time job in philanthropy (where his foundation is largest in terms of assets), and there is nary a peep from peers or others. What is that all about? Why not frame a whole new set of philanthropy-wide discussions about how to leverage his participation? Welcome him into the game and toss out some ideas about what his "human resources" bring to the table?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Nary a peep"? Haven't you seen Gates Keepers?

I has a lot of peeping.

Bills Gate