Monday, May 01, 2006

Venture Philanthropy (paca)

So I wrote something about my own weight loss and below this, if people are interested in such fare. On a different topic:

I was browsing the Amazon listings for Jane Jacobs' books, spurred to think about her due to her recent passing. The main book I remember is Systems of Survival and one of the reviews has the best synopsis of the premise. I have put an excerpt here:

"This is a most insightful book, in which the author convincingly expounds her thesis that the world uses two systems of ethics as systems for the survival of mankind: the commercial system, and the guardian system.

The commercial class lives by production and exchange, primarily by means of honest, binding contracts and voluntary agreements, and where initiative, inventiveness and efficiency are prized, along with industriousness, thrift and investment.

The guardian class is prevalent in governments, benevolent trusts, charity organizations, universities and schools, military and police. They shun trading and exchange, and live by taking, in the form of taxes and donations, and sometimes expropriation. They are dispensers of the good things, in the form of grants and largesse. Guardians issue commands and expect them obeyed, with courage if necessary, which they in turn are subject to themselves, for a hierarchical command structure is honored. And they use force and deception where necessary to accomplish objectives.

The greatest sin, and the cause of all corruption, according to Ms. Jacobs, is when the two systems are merged in one organization. I have read several books on ethics, but this is the first that points out that there are two systems in operation in society. And it explains so much that has been a puzzle for me."

This got me thinking back to 2002-2003, when I was the President of this local community theater in Spring Hill (it was tiny, don't be impressed. It means that I showed up a lot.) I wasn't a great president. I was mediocre but decent until the day little B was born. Then I pretty much never showed up again.

One of the ongoing concerns for the Arts Center was the location. We could never afford rent for the most part and spent our time in the old school woodshop that was loaned to us. It was basically abandoned. We kept trying to raise money to get some sort of home. One possibility that was presented was to buy the Old School itelf. It was a run down place but fairly large. The key was that to make it work, we would have had to rent out rooms to businesses, maybe have some apartments in it. Basically, it would have been a non-profit theater company that was also a business.

I could never decide if this was a good idea or not. I really like the self-sufficiency of it. I did some reading and discovered the concept of Venture Philanthropy. Here are some links:

Venture Philanhropy Partners
Center for Venture Philanthropy
Kirsch Foundation
An article about philanthropy in the arts

The basic gist of venture philanthropy is that the donors are heavily active in the organizations they sponsor, and not in the sense that they serve mashed potatos behind the counter. They act like Silicon Valley venture capitalists, helping establish the growth patterns, the business plan, the marketing, etc. for the non-profit. They also continuously measure the success of the organization. Is it actually accomplishing something? And it has to be something you can measure in some way. In a nutshell, you run a philanthropy like a business.

I am very sympathetic to the idea. Particularly in the sense that you have objectives you try to meet and you have long range plans to meet those objectives. I like the idea of throwing everything and the kitchen sink at a problem for a short time, solving it so that the affected people don't need your help anymore, and then getting out. But, at the same time, if Jacobs, above, is right, this seems to be a classic blending of the commercial and guardian systems, which should be doomed for failure. Any thoughts?

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