Friday, August 20, 2010

Managing Fate

Throughout my life, I’ve been guided by the words of many. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about Warren Buffett’s op-ed in Fortune, coming off of the heels of the Giving Pledge announcement. In the piece, titled “My Philanthropic Pledge” he discusses the main reason behind his vast wealth: Luck.

He writes:
My luck was accentuated by my living in a market system that sometimes produces distorted results, though overall it serves our country well. I've worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions. In short, fate's distribution of long straws is wildly capricious.
If you haven’t read the op-ed yet, do. It’s probably the best rationale for philanthropy and giving back that I have read. As I continue on in the nonprofit sector towards the broader goal of social change, I think it’s important to take a step back and think about why I am doing what I am doing—why we are doing what we are doing.

To steal from Buffett’s imagery, I am motivated by fate’s capricious nature. I agree that our market system is generally the best way to serve the most, but it does produce distorted results. Market failures allow some to come out far ahead of others for no real substantial reasons. Philanthropy helps repair those failures and allows the system to run as smoothly as possible.

Some people (meaning, me) would say that philanthropy is the most important part of a true capitalist society. Funding social service organizations helps mitigate the inherent flaws in our system while still working within that system. It attempts to make capitalism function as perfectly as possible to leave no one behind.

Some people (meaning, not me) have argued against the Giving Pledge, saying that it is undemocratic or it will cost the government too much money in foregone taxes and ultimately stifle social services. I think these arguments are silly and do not recognize that nonprofits are probably some of the most adaptable and responsive organizations working to improve the lives of people in this country and others. But I also think these detractors from the Giving Pledge—and probably some cosigners on the pledge themselves—miss an important point about what they are talking about.

As I see it, the Pledge—and to extend it out a little further, all of philanthropy—is about social change, righting wrongs, dealing with market efficiencies, a redistribution of wealth, whatever jargon and talking points you want to use. But what is important to remember is that there is no set way to accomplish these end goals. There is no unification of approach or strategy on how to get where we need to go. There isn’t even an agreement on if philanthropy is the best way to accomplish sweeping social change, as the rise of corporate social responsibility and for-profit social enterprises have shown. If you spend a little time exploring the nonprofit conference circuit (which I just recently have started to do), you’ll see that there’s a lot going on and a lot of disagreement.

So, I’d like to use this blog’s space in the ether from now on to explore those disagreements and those changes as I explore them myself. I am young, if you did not know that already, and I have a lot of exploring to do. I would love to know more about your explorations and I would be honored if you listened to mine.

I hope that, through these documentations, the approaches and strategies to that end goal—managing fate—can become a little clearer.

Disclaimer: The postings on this site are my own and do not represent the positions, strategies or opinions of Venture Philanthropy Partners

No comments:

Post a Comment