Bain Capital Marketing for Nonprofits and the Rich in Sheep’s Clothing

New Orleans     The headline in the New York Times caught by eye, saying “The Pitfalls of Giving Big but Thinking Small” with a subtitle that was even more interesting to me: “Donating Large Amounts to Social Change Groups Can Be Complicated, but it Isn’t Impossible.”  Wow, I work for a social change group.  I could really be helpful in answering this question, if someone is really asking.   With a global footprint and mission as big as America and as broad as the world, “giving big” and “large amounts” both sound a bit like music to my ear.

What’s up?  Where does the line start?

The foundation of this presumptive “news” story was a report by something called Bridgespan Group, which is only described as a “philanthropic consulting firm.”  One of its founders is quoted saying, “…if you wanted to put $1.8 billion to work to drive social change, how would do it?  It’s hard.”  Really, who knew?  Well, according to Bridgespan this is a vexing problem for the ultrawealthy, defined as those few who have more than a half-billion bucks of wealth.   Tom Tierney, the Bridgespaner, also claims that, “There is by all indications a sign of intent by the super wealthy to increase their giving to social change…but we haven’t invested in the pathways to let them to this in a productive way.”  Hmmm, so you say.  What’s going on here?

Bridgespan turns out to be the nonprofit offspring of Bain Capital.  Tierney turns out to have formally been the managing director of Bain.  Bain is famous to most of us little people as the platform for Mitt Romney and numerous others who ply the lucrative practice of corporate consulting.  Bridgespan became the stepbrother once removed after Bain did several studies discovering how much money was in the nonprofit sector and realized its brand didn’t lead well to mining this rich vein, so building a bridge span (get it?) to Bain would do the trick.

So, what does Bain in sheep’s clothing recommend in order to allegedly move money   from the hands of the superrich to what they want to refer to as social change?  According to the article they think the trick is “the creation of a ‘community foundation for America’ that would be able to accept large bequests and donations and then find small nonprofit groups that need funding.”

            Funny thing? Been there, done that!  In 1976, Drummond Pike founded the Tides Foundation and its family of organizations in San Francisco to do exactly that, and it has done so for over 40 years quite well thank you, as an organization with revenue over $100 million and assets over that level as well.  The Tides operation is regularly ranked near the top of the largest nonprofits in the country by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Bain and Bridgespan are based in Boston, so maybe they are so old school and business-bound that they don’t think of something way over in California as truly American?  No, that’s not it, is it?  This report seems to be a little more than a marketing piece for Bridgespan and Bain with a cover story as a research document in hopes that someone among these supposedly social change besotted superrich folks will read it and, say, hey, great idea, Bridgespan, why don’t you get on the stick and create this national community foundation for America?.  They have made the case that this is oh so hard that the superrich can’t find the “pathway,” which means I guess that they don’t know how to call or fly to San Francisco and visit with Tides, so Bridgespan can do it all for them and collect their 20%.

Call or email me if you need the address for Tides, it’s still at the Presidio in San Francisco.  Or, better, send me the money directly, and we’re good to go!

One last question that’s a headscratcher to me?  Why did the New York Times run this thinly veiled puff piece for Bridgespan and Bain without it saying “Advertisement” at the top like the other ads?

 

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Crowdsourcing versus Philanthropy

nextgov-medium New Orleans      In the United States, this is supposedly the season for giving.  Traditionally that has meant that retail establishments go wild trying to seduce all of us into local stores, big malls, mail order deliveries, and, increasingly, online shopping.  On the hope for a generosity “rub off,” the season has also become the time when direct mail appeals outnumber holiday greeting cards for many of us, and, as work slows down and people take vacations for the holidays, our email in-boxes are more stuffed with appeals for support than our stockings ever were.   Many of us do what we can, both every day, when we “give at the office” so to speak through our daily labor, and in trying to throw a few dollars here and there to groups we keep on our personal lists.

            In the spirit of the season, The New York Times ran an op-ed from Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation.  Despite all reports and evidence to the contrary that most of philanthropy has become extremely directed and transactional, Walker went old school, and spoke to the better side of philanthropy’s nature, saying:

We, as foundations and individuals, should fund people, their ideas and organizations that are capable of addressing deep-rooted injustice. We should ensure that the voices of those most affected by injustice — women, racial minorities, the poor, religious and ethnic minorities and L.G.B.T. individuals — help decide where and what philanthropy puts money behind, not in simply receiving whatever philanthropy decides to give them.  

Honestly, I’m not sure how many foundations and philanthropists still walk that walk, including the Ford Foundation, but at least Walker has not forgotten how to talk the right talk, and that’s something to be thankful for anyway!

            Besides the rich and their institutions become increasingly transactional, I also have the feeling that neoliberalism of a sort has also infected “giving” with the explosion of “crowdsourcing.”  Not able to depend on philanthropy or the rich and pretend any longer that they will carry the weight their tax exemptions allow them or that banks make smaller loans anymore, crowdsourcing is essentially a transfer of many funding prospects to friends, family, and fellow travelers, much like our social services safety net as well.  The Wall Street Journal recently trumpeted the fact that the microfinancing and lending service, Kiva, in trying to develop a more effective business model in the USA, has added a crowdsourcing requirement so that prospective borrowers would prove they have “skin in the game” before getting a loan.  They also claim that with friends and family on the hook, the payment rate is 92%.

            This may be the giving season, and as Ford’s Walker says, we need to “fund people, ideas and organizations,” but with the infection of neoliberalism in all facets of modern life and social fabric, part of the message continues to be that it’s not about justice, as Walker argues, but too much about “just us.”

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