Peter Buffett wrote a powerful editorial for the New York Times earlier this week with the provocative title, “The Charitable-Industrial Complex.”
Buffett, in addition to being Warren Buffett’s son, is a musician and a very nice guy. I had some professional dealings with him a few years ago and found him to be intelligent, gracious, talented, and, like his dad seems to be, completely unpretentious.
His editorial encourages people who consider themselves philanthropists to think about the systemic issues that cause the need for the rise in non-profits to begin with, as opposed to simply giving and feeling that such an action helps “level the playing field.” Throwing money at a problem to assuage one's own guilt is never going to make the problem go away.
There two paragraphs are thought-provoking in their look at the much bigger picture:
"As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life."
He also goes on to lambast the “return on investment” that many of us who give are looking for and how that’s not the best model for measuring success. Interestingly, I just finished Homeboy Industries founder Father Greg Boyle’s book, “Tattoos On The Heart,” about his work. He devotes a full chapter on this notion that requiring a non-profit to measure up to some quantifiable yardstick, often arbitrarily picked, is a quick way to ensure its failure (this is very different from expecting non-profits to be run in a professional and efficient manner, which is mandatory).
I don’t agree with all of Buffett’s assertions. Thank God rich people feel the need to give back. I don't necessarily question their motives because the money spends just the same no matter what they are. Plus, I really believe that Liberty Hill Foundation, the non-profit for which I’m on the board of directors, has greatly improved the lives of some of the people we fight for through our support of community organizations fighting for social and environmental justice and, therefore, are helping them to "live a joyful and fulfilled life." But maybe I’m just feeling defensive.
Ultimately I agree wholeheartedly with this sentence: “I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism.” There are many of us who believe you can have both.
Buffett and his wife, Jennifer, oversee the NoVo Foundation, which was started with a $1 billion donation. The Foundation’s focus is on empowering girls and women through ending violence, advancing education (or “social and emotional learning,” as it is stated on the NoVo website, and investing in local sustainable economies.
NoVo doesn’t accept donations, but I want to highlight some of its programs: NoVo partners with Nike on The Girl Effect, a wonderful program, as well as funds a subsection of NoVo called Move To End Violence.
Today, I’m giving to Global Fund For Women, which works with grassroots organizations, who “identify and fund solutions for issues surrounding violence against women” all over the world, according to its website. Its mission is to support the communities according to need, not as proscribed by some agenda, which Buffett also tackles.
July 28: Global Fund for Women
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