Parting is sweet sorrow, Internet version

The Nonprofiteer is off to New England for a couple of reunions and some contemplative gazing at the Atlantic.  She’ll also try to work out an implementation strategy for her latest innovative idea, Tush Positioning Software.  "TPS: for nonprofits and funders who couldn’t find their asses with both hands."

Publication will resume Monday, August 27.  Enjoy the break!

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6 Responses to “Parting is sweet sorrow, Internet version”

  1. Sam Davis Says:

    A comment posted here for lack of a better blog entry to respond to.

    The Nonprofiteer seems curiously anti-capitalist, given that nonprofits survive and thrive largely due to large and medium size contributions by successful business people.

    But, part of that may be that Americans are generally confused about capitalism these days, it must be admitted, and rightly so.

    For instance, many of us believe that government-subsidized defense industries, agricultural products firms,and other rent-seeking corporations and professionals are “capitalists.”

    Actually, these entities have nothing to do with the true free market, where one offers his or her products and services in competition with others, succeeding or failing totally on his or her own.

    In the free market, labor is a service or commodity exchanged at a rate dictated by the market. Higher skills are inevitably rewarded with higher pay. It may be that part of the problem for many employed in the nonprofit world today, particularly fundraisers, lies in the fact that our “market” is skewed tremendously by heavily subsidized government programs, not to mention a bevy of government-grant-recipient nonprofits. Their very existence tends to devalue the importance of fundraisers at levels below CEO and COO.

    This skewing is not unusual; it happens in myriad ways in myriad businesses because of government interference in the market, whether that interference is done through licensing laws, subsidies, targeted regulation, targeted taxes, etc.

    Capitalism, as defined by Hayek, Mises and others, is a positive force for reduction of poverty and spreading the benefits of technology and culture. Corporate statism, as practiced in America and many other liberal democracies, is a handicap to human progress. Among those handicapped are nonprofits, through loss of potential resources and through other disabilities imposed, including the one cited.

  2. Nonprofiteer Says:

    I’m not anti-capitalist–I just recognize that it’s a system with winners and losers, and I believe it’s the function of democratic government to ameliorate the hardships inflicted on the losers.

  3. Russ Burke Says:

    Great Blog! And, yes, there are always winners and losers, but the emergent social venture movement seeks to address that outcome by employing the capacity of winnners to serve those in need and tread lightly.

    Our company, Mission Research, makers of GiftWorks fundraising software, lives this philosophy. We say “Our Mission is to Support your Mission” and we act in that manner. Check out our website to understand how deep that commitment goes. http://www.missionresearch.com

    But here’s the point: We’ve created a non-commercial website, Sustainable Nonprofit, to engage the nonprofit and consultant community in a discussion of issues, problems and best practices that effect nonprofit sustainability. Please visit http://www.sustainablenonprofit.org and let me know what you think. Feel free to weigh-in if you like.

    And please keep up the good work here!

  4. Sam Davis Says:

    Responding to the Nonprofiteer’s August 22 comment, “I believe it’s the function of democratic government to ameliorate the hardships inflicted on the losers.”

    That’s where the problem comes in. Whoever happens to be in control of the elected legislatures define who should benefit at the expense of everyone else. A quick scan of federal programs reveals that quite a few “non-losers” (large defense contractors, wealthy agricultural interests, various other special interests) are at the federal trough.

    While this might marginally change if, for instance, there were both a Democrat-controlled Congress and a Democrat in the White House, it would not change very much. Most of the “non-losers” now receiving largess would continue doing so. Undoubtedly, quite a few new “non-losers” would be added.

    The federal government now functions as “social services agency of last resort,” but the board of directors consists of 535 individuals who are not picked based on their demonstrated passion and concern for others, and who do not base their votes in Congress on those considerations. The federal government is gigantic, with 15 million civilian employees, much too large to be effectively managed, especially by 535 egomaniacs each with their own agenda. The resulting waste, bureaucratic oppression and incompentency are unavoidable.

    Handing the power and resources to this Byzantine organization and asking it to serve as “social services agency of last resort” or even efficiently give the funds to outside groups to do good things flies in the face of common sense.

    More to the point, 50 or more years of experience shows that the federal government cannot perform these functions, and that they ought to be left to the states and to private actors, with a proportionate decrease in federal taxation to free up the resources to do so.

    Beyond that, the general culture of empowering the federal government to do all the good things for “losers” and, as it turns out, well-connected “non-losers,” also empowers and encourages it to engage in endless, costly, inhumane foreign adventures, the latest example of which is the Iraq War. The neoconservative mentality that brought on the war springs from the very same fundamental idea – which progressivists drilled into our national culture starting in pre-FDR days – that government can “make things better.” In this case, the neoconservatives were, and remain, convinced that our federal government can “make things better” and “promote democracy” all across the globe.

    It seems likely to me that many liberals or progressives have never thought about the logical consequences of their basic principle of using government to “make things better” and “help the losers,” although there have been opportunities to do so.

    It is no coincidence that the same American politicians who, over the last half century or more, have launched large scale government social programs have also participated in launching wars and otherwise meddling in the affairs of other countries with what has to be described as an imperialist foreign policy.
    The same politicians who have claimed to be creating a safety net for “losers” have regularly voted billions to build bombs and military hardware, for this country and its allies. The same politicians who increase entitlements, for favored groups, regularly also increase subsidies to favored industries (agriculture leaps to mind) that artificially increase the prices American consumers pay for any number of food items.

    If our government were run by a committee of saints – highly unlikely, it has never happened in human history – I might go along with the premise of government as social service agency of last resort – maybe.

    Meantime, my conviction is that government needs to be scaled back. That has not happened, by the way, under Bush and the neoconservatives, in case anyone is thinking “we tried that.” That didn’t even happen under Reagan. Quite the contrary, the feds got more numerous and more intrusive.

    With power and resources returned to states and private nonprofit organizations, effective, efficient and humane decisions, close to the points of need, can be made. The very best decision makers, in my opinion, are nonprofits since with state governments many, if all, of the same problems arise as with the feds.

    My belief is that it is not advisable, ethically or in practice, to hand over the social-human services function to government. I also believe that the last century bears out this belief.

  5. Scruggs Says:

    Sam, in principle I agree with most of what you say. Centralization has gone too far, which has made regulatory capture far too easy, and the prospect of saintly governance is remote. Humane decisions at the points of need would be far superior.

    The big rub is that the militarized and socialized interventionist strategies perform a role that cannot be reduced short of a dramatic and quite likely violent revolution in the way we manage our affairs. The general government outlay as a percentage of GDP averages about 37% in the U.S. — an enormously powerful tool, that won’t be surrendered easily, and even with governance that borders on insane it has a stabilizing effect. I can’t speak for the Nonprofiteer, but I think these considerations form the dilemma that makes progressives and liberals effectively very conservative. The devolution process from the current state, within the statist context, yields most readily to further timocratic entrenchment — more corporate statism — and creeping marginalization of the demos.

    The non-profits are in a hell of bind. The timocratic consensus is that they should shoulder the eleemosynary burdens created by the timocratic consensus. If they pursue advocacy too vigorously against that, they can easily lose what special status they have and become unable to do anything at all. In addition, the non-profits take on a welfare role for the members of the elite who need sinecures. The interpenetration is next to impossible to unwind. Even with the best will in the world, what they can do is highly circumscribed.

  6. Nonprofiteer Says:

    I don’t know that 50 (or, for that matter, 70) years of government intervention has proved its futility–perhaps you should ask the people whose lights were turned on by the Tennessee Valley Authority, or the ones whose children performed better in school because of Head Start, or the ones able to buy groceries every month thanks to Food Stamps, or simply the ones who go to public schools, drive on public roads and are protected by public police and fire departments. The fact that there are unintended beneficiaries of government largesse demonstrates not that government offers no benefit but precisely the opposite–that government benefits are so valuable they’re worth cheating for. When bribery (a/k/a campaign finance by corporations) is no longer legal, private parties will stop being able to slop at the public trough.

    As for Mr. (Ms.?) Scruggs’ comment, I’ll admit to understanding only about one word out of four: “timocratic”? To the extent I grasp the substance, though, I dispute the premises: if the governments of Illinois and California, with their inability to adopt budgets, are anything to go by, localized decision-making is both stupider and more corrupt than the centralized kind. And the “militarized” interventions of which you speak–while I oppose the current war–are the basic function of national governments; see the Constitution, as Adam Smithian a political document as you’re likely to find.

    As for the nonprofit bind with respect to advocacy, it’s much less tight than many charities believe. Refrain from endorsing a candidate or lobbying on a particular piece of legislation currently under consideration and you can say anything you want. This is a lesson the Right has learned very well, with its interlocking web of operating nonprofits, think tanks and public relations firms; now the “Left”–that is, people who believe in helping other people through elected government–needs to learn the same thing.

    And yes, things will be different when there’s a legislature and a White House controlled by the Democratic Party. (I’m not familiar with the “Democrat” party; is it something new? Is there a “Republic” party out there somewhere, too?) There will be less robbing from the poor to give to the rich, and more vice-versa. I’m proud to stand with the Robin Hoods of the world.

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