Friday, May 30, 2014

Give It Away

As I have often discussed the role and importance of philanthropy, I have questioned the impetus behind the gift. For many it is a pet project and an opportunity to pursue an avocation using tax free dollars to pursue an agenda that is less about bettering the quality of life and more about bettering the life of the philanthropist, in other words political giving and influence.

But there are those who give and give generously and we all do in some way or another, be it time, be it in Church donations, participating in charity runs or just a can of food or a dollar to a beggar it is something and something is better than nothing.

But in our new venture philanthropy world, nothing ventured means nothing gains. And to those who donate they need metrics to demonstrate where the money went, its dollar to donuts ratios or whatever else demands and expectations they place on the recipients. Then of course its qualitatively assessed and in turn quantitatively assessed if that return on the dollar was worth it. Its the quants but instead of financial returns for banks its hedge fund returns.

Nothing wrong with actually measuring and monitoring where the money went, how it was spent and was it spent wisely. That is what Accountants do and any charity foundation or organization should have appropriate financial documents available to any donor wishing to see where their tax free dollars are being spent. That is actually kinda the law.

So this past week has been a rather interesting tailspin of events with regards to the very subject of philanthropy.

First was Bill Gates announcement that his foundation was slowing down the pace of its giving. There has always been an interesting dilemma about the world's richest man and the world's richest charity and what they were doing with the money. There have been many queries, articles and in turn some commendations and some condemnations about the Gates Foundations giving. I have written about it and others have so do your homework and your reading via the way most do - Google. (just a little fun there bingsters)

I am not sure why the slowdown as once again the mysterious and in turn professional asshole like Gates will not be spilling the tea, the beans or the truth anytime soon and I am sure it has to do with what I call "simple payback" I think the metrics found that it was neither simple nor paid back. And that whole tax exemption thing might have been catching up to his investments vs donations. Whoops! He should just do PAC's those are immediate gratification, buy a Politician and you definitely own him/her, but not in that illegal 14th Amendment way.

Then we have the new Facebook Gates in training, Zuckerberg who has now suddenly decided to donate to his own backyard the Palo Alto School District. Funny that comes on the hind quarters of the recent articles decrying his Newark School donations of a few years ago with much fanfare to now Senator Cory "I love Social Media" Booker and Oprah. That was so bizarre and amusing to those who watched it why wasn't anyone surprised to find out that was a big check in every way that went in every direction but to whom was intended - students. Shocking, I know!

And lastly the entire charade of Race To The Top grants that are bestowed upon schools in districts that are in desperate needs of funds. The STEM grants, the FU grants, the whatever the fad is grants for the moment. Little oversight and accounting is also given these and these are taxpayer monies. I keep hearing about how Government regulation is killing the economy and destroying our lives. Well the only regulation and enforcement I see is Law Enforcement. From arresting 9 year olds and putting them and their families, aka "wage earners" vs "job creators" (which everyone is a job creator just a secondary one vs primary one by spending money) in the slammer that is one industry that is definitely job creating.

I have seen and experienced schools that were designated award winners and received grants from all kinds of organizations to the Government and very little of it I have seen or experienced where it went. We have primary schools that no longer have full time librarians unless the PTSA covers them. We have little art, music or even decent PE and health education. And this is during the supposed Let's Move agenda by our First Lady, whom castigated the House for their new dietary school lunch plans. Neglecting to mention how that plan was easily co-opted by the food industry. Well politics is money and money is the business of politics.

Top heavy administration however to ensure that schools are running not properly or well just running is the imperative. Every week I receive an email announcing another position being created or filled by someone new to the district or some former employee returning to head a committee or two to do something that will never see the light of day. Meanwhile in the actual schools there are kids who can't read. 20 children in a Kindergarten class with no Instructional Aide, nor full time music teacher or PE (they are rotated daily) and no art and only one recess, but we need more Administration, more computers and fewer boots on the ground. Its' the defense complex in Education.

And that brings me to the last new frontier, the elimination of the Recovery School District in New Orleans. This city survived Katrina but the corruption, the ineptitude of its leaders and an overall disdain for the poors finally killed the one thing that was the doorway to equality (in theory not application - that is a Teacher concept right there) - Public Education.

If you think this is just another one off and won't happen to you or your town, get real. I suspect the next is Philadelphia. The closing of schools and the turnover in management, Federal overtaking of a district, Department of Justice investigations are all signs of a district not worth fighting for. So welcome the hedge funds, the new facilitator of Education in America.

They will use whatever metrics, data reconciling and more importantly privacy violations they need to segregate and in turn isolate those whom can be taught and those who won't be. From the schoolyard to the prison yard will be a simple matter of data tracking. Gee Edward Snowden could come back and set that up. Spy y'all as they say in Nawlans!

ETA: After I wrote this I opened the New York Times Business Section and found the article below about classes being offered in how to be a Philanthropist. How is this class paid for - by a Philanthropist. String section not optional and neither is the hypocrisy part.

To Get an A in Philanthropy Class, Give Away $50,000
May 29, 2014

EVANSTON, Ill. — Vinay Sridharan must make it through microeconomic theory and the writings of Proust before the end of his senior year at Northwestern in June. But in one course, the final project is far less abstract: give away $50,000.

It is also far more difficult than it may seem.

This course in philanthropy, endowed with a grant from a Texas hedge fund manager, requires students to find and investigate nonprofit organizations and, if they stand up to scrutiny, give them a portion of the five-figure cash pot.

“I didn’t realize they had real money to give,” said Margaret Haywood, the director of work force development at the Inspiration Corporation, a Chicago charity that received $25,000 from the Northwestern students last year.

The workshop — and others like it that have sprung up in the last few years at a dozen universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and Yale — offers a real-world experience of philanthropy that is rare in the cloistered halls of academia, and which otherwise is reserved for institutions and the affluent. Many students have embraced the challenge, viewing the courses as preparation for work in the nonprofit sector or even as training to one day become wealthy philanthropists themselves.

Mr. Sridharan, a 22-year-old math major at Northwestern who will join the hedge fund AQR Capital Management this summer, said he had learned how much legwork philanthropy involves. “When I give in the future, I’ll do things like visit the organization, speak with people involved, before actually giving my money,” he said.

Michael Sherman, 21, a fresh graduate of Yale bound for a job at Capital One, also said he hoped to be able to give away some of the money he earned. Investigating potential grant recipients, he said, showed him “how many organizations either don’t do as well as they think they do, or don’t do as well as they say they do.”

Some students are seeking an up-close view of the gears of philanthropy. Adrienne Le, a recent Yale graduate who intends to work with nongovernmental organizations and took the course alongside Mr. Sherman, said she wanted “to see how big-time donors look at N.G.O.s.” She added, however, that the course made her “a little bit uncomfortable.”

“At this point, we should not be encouraging students to learn how to give monetarily,” Ms. Le, 22, said. “Why should we presume that we will be extremely wealthy in the future? We really should be encouraging students to be the creative people who will be doing good work on the ground.”

It is no coincidence that these courses, which first appeared at three universities in 2011, have proliferated across elite institutions. Their wealthy backer, Geoffrey P. Raynor, the 46-year-old founder of the hedge fund Q Investments in Fort Worth, is on a mission to sprinkle his foundation’s cash across a widening tract of academia, spreading his own provocative views in the process.

The support of Mr. Raynor, who says he views philanthropy as “practical philosophy,” has provided an additional — and, at times, awkward — education in the modern-day realities of giving. Like many philanthropic gifts, Mr. Raynor’s grants have a number of strings attached, including a request that universities set aside two hours for him to speak with the students.

On a visit to Stanford’s course last week, Mr. Raynor said that “there is no moral high ground” in philanthropy and proposed that doing good deeds is a largely selfish act, suggesting even that Mother Teresa acted out of self-interest, according to people who were present. Students pushed back and questioned Mr. Raynor about how he made his money.

When one student pressed Mr. Raynor to reveal information about his hedge fund’s investments, he remarked that the student was “trying to find out whether the ends justify the means,” and declined to provide the information. When the student continued to challenge him, insisting that a “moral high ground” does exist, Mr. Raynor became silent for around 10 seconds.

“I think he’s used to having classes be really deferential,” said Bruce Sievers, the Stanford lecturer who teaches the course.

Mr. Raynor said in an interview that he did not actually believe Mother Teresa acted out of self-interest but was proposing that idea to spur a discussion about altruism. His hedge fund, which shares an office with his foundation, Once Upon a Time, managed roughly $1.75 billion as of last September, of which $727 million came from the firm’s partners, and invests in areas including aircraft leasing, private equity and distressed assets, according to its website.

“It is all about making ethical choices about how to do good,” Mr. Raynor said, explaining his views on philanthropy. “There is only one seat on the lifeboat. Who do you save?”

Mr. Raynor, who grew up in New York and parlayed a talent for computer programming into a job on Wall Street while still in high school, has long had an interest in philosophy, majoring in the subject at Princeton. When he went to work after college for the billionaire Bass brothers, who made their money in oil, and when he opened his hedge fund in 1994, his philosophical ambitions were delayed.

Now, however, he can indulge that passion, taking advantage of the soapbox that his classroom visits provide.

On a visit to Yale in 2012, he challenged the structure of the course, in which groups of students sought to reach agreements on particular charities to support, according to the instructor, Maxim Thorne, a former high-ranking official with the N.A.A.C.P. “He did say that he thought it was arrogant for the students to try to convince each other of their views,” Mr. Thorne said. “As you can imagine, the students had a lot of debate about who was actually being arrogant in that process.”

When Mr. Raynor went to Princeton soon after, he “gave a more or less formal lecture for an hour,” said Stanley N. Katz, the Princeton professor who teaches the course. “I assumed that someone giving money like this would be interested in what the students thought. But he didn’t appear to be.”

Mr. Raynor’s relationship with Princeton, though it is his alma mater, ended last year, after Mr. Raynor insisted on new terms for the grant agreement. Saying the courses should become “self-sustaining,” the Once Upon a Time Foundation lowered its grants to $50,000 from a maximum of $100,000, and said it would encourage the students to help raise up to $50,000 of additional cash. As an incentive, the foundation offered to give the universities themselves double what the classes raised.

Other universities signed on to the new terms — and, in Yale’s case, incorporated the fund-raising aspect into the course — but Princeton balked. The philanthropy workshop “was not intended as a course to teach students how to participate in fund-raising,” Martin A. Mbugua, a Princeton spokesman, said in an email. “When the foundation required a change of terms in this manner, that would have changed the primary intent of the course, thus the university’s decision.”

As a parting gift, Mr. Raynor bestowed $25,000 on the Princeton class last fall. But the course will continue in future years with support from another donor, Terrence Meck, the president of the Palette Fund, who was inspired after visiting Yale’s course to finance Princeton’s version with $150,000 for three terms.

At Northwestern last week, the class heard from students who had taken the course a year earlier. One visitor, Christopher Gilligan, a junior, was critical of the Inspiration Corporation, the charity that got a big chunk of the money last year, saying that a grant report the organization had prepared “doesn’t fully explain what they did with our money over the past year.”

The stakes were high: The Inspiration Corporation happened to be on the shortlist of organizations being considered by this year’s class. Shannon K. Stewart, the executive director of the group, which offers job training and other services to the homeless, said she would encourage any students who were dissatisfied with the report to get in touch with questions. But some students were troubled by Mr. Gilligan’s concerns.

“Some say they thought it was easy to give away money,” said Penelope L. Peterson, the dean of the school of education and social policy at Northwestern and an instructor of the course. “Until they take this class. Then they realize how hard it is.”

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