Tag Archives: social change

Change is Messy

Little Rock       One takeaway from the memorials to civil rights leader and organizer, Congressman John Lewis, has been the repeated invocation of the violence that was the handmaiden of the struggle.  Martin Luther King, Jr. preached nonviolence to anyone who would listen, and, tactically, that became the norm and how the movement is remembered, despite Rap Brown’s famous quote that “violence is as American as apple pie,” and the iconic pictures of the Black Panthers, armed to the teeth.  Only some people listened.  The near death beatdown administered to Lewis – and many others – on the Pettis Bridge is a vivid reminder of the prices paid in blood for rights that existed only on paper.

Making change is messy.  It’s not pretty.  It’s not silky smooth, it’s sandpaper rough.  What’s the old saying?  “Laws are like sausages.  Better not to see them being made.”  The quotation is often attributed to Germany’s Otto Von Bismarck, the famous chancellor.  Others date the expression to the mid-19th century.  It doesn’t matter when it was first uttered, it’s as true today as it was then.  Part of the what makes this a chaotic process is that when changing laws are driven by external forces, like all of us, outside the halls of government it is often a case of the immovable object versus the irresistible force.

We have to do what it takes to make change.  Force is involved, whether iron-fisted or pattycake.

Susan Schiff, a historian writing for the New York Times offered a great reminder of how the winners often – and with help – whitewash the blood and thunder out of the process of change.  She writes,

In the history books… we generally sanitize the violence that preceded the Declaration. Even before de Tocqueville, it had been preferable to subscribe to his account of the Revolution, a contest that “contracted no alliance with the turbulent passions of anarchy” and that proceeded “by a love of order and law.”  De Tocqueville gave Boston a pass. Well before the 1760s, imperial officials were run out of town. Effigies hung from trees and fueled bonfires. Townspeople broke windows and hurled stones. They tarred and feathered. They smeared the homes of their enemies in dung. In 1765, amid the Stamp Act protests, a “lawless rabble” dismantled most of Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Georgian mansion in a matter of hours…Called to account for the vandalism, patriot leaders like Samuel Adams denounced the destruction…. On the one hand, a people’s rights were under siege. Looking ahead to future generations, Adams labored to define what John Lewis would two centuries later term “good trouble.” If the Bostonians remained silent, Adams warned, they assented to their losses.

At ACORN we always used to say if we had a dollar for everyone who ever said that they agreed with our demands, but they opposed our tactics, we would have been swimming in money.  I’m not arguing the ends justify the means, because that is never the case, but I am arguing that the means achieve the ends.  It’s not for everybody, but we are obligated to do what works by whatever means necessary.


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?