Another satire, this time about the lofty heights of the foundation world

Mentioned some satires previously. Here is another. Check out ‘The Gathering’: A Philanthropic Satire, from the Chronicle of Philanthropy reportedly written by someone familiar with the airy world of nonstop high-level meetings at the top of the foundation world.

“Wilson”, the foundation’s CEO, attends non-stop meetings on the conference circuit to talk with the same people he talked to at the last meeting and listen to the same presentations he heard before. As everyone gathers the night before you see:

Hugs and handshakes and air kisses filled the lobby as people saw each for the first time in several days and laughed about being at the next big coming- together of great thinkers.

The bar itself was filled with a tangle of the younger professionals in the field, drinking bottles of Rolling Rock and glasses of chardonnay. All decked out in their best conference outfits, the men wore sharp suits, new haircuts, and polished shoes, and the women wore professionally short skirts and professionally high heels, all flirting as much as networking, looking for their next dates as much as their next jobs.

As he surveyed the scene, he saw dozens of people he knew, including some he’d been with just the day before in Chicago. 

The author paints humorous views suggesting parts of the foundation world are living oh-so-nicely having to stoically endure all those seats in the front of the plane with private dinners while staying at nicer hotels away from the masses at the main conference.

Why the stoic endurance? Because friends and family just don’t understand how hard it is to end poverty while working this jet-set rat-race.

And the funding? Choose the fun projects you like. You don’t even have to read those dreary proposals:

Being in the enviable position of funder, Wilson didn’t actually do the work of poverty alleviation or crunch the data or spend time in impoverished communities. He didn’t even evaluate proposals that came to him and decide which ones to support, since his foundation had stopped accepting proposals two years ago.

As a proponent of what is called strategic philanthropy, the foundation he directed supported organizations he had previous relationships with, individuals whose work he was familiar with, and, most important, those who agreed with his perspective.

Accountability for thee but not for me.  The author paints a subtle picture of an accountability void as the main feature of Wilson’s job. For others? Not so:

He considered himself and his foundation full partners in the work it supported and was unapologetic about his demands for metrics and deliverables, his desire to dictate which consultants and advisers would be involved in the work, and his insistence that the foundation get extensive public credit for the work it financed. 

One mandatory rule for the position was the very low threshold to spend a bit of money:

The legal requirements to give away at least 5 percent of the foundation’s assets each year were easy enough to meet…

Especially easy since an office near his home in DC in addition to his main office at headquarters in frigid Duluth counted against that mere 5% requirement.

There are lots of entertaining criticisms.

  • Going to conferences as an excuse to have private dinners at new, fancy restaurants. 
  • Sighing at the rigorous demands of travel as you have the airline hold your plane so you can get to your first class seat when it is convenient. 
  • A group of highly paid staffers whose skill is attending conferences. 
  • Seeing the same people over and over, week after week. 
  • Looking at the schedule and realizing you’ve heard all the presentations before. 

That’s all very funny.

After the chuckles, look deeper.

There are severe accusations hidden amongst the throw-away jokes. What else does the author see in the foundation world?

  • Successful elimination of any dissenting voices (no presenters who have disagreeing perspectives, not accepting new proposals, making sure the grantees are people who always agree with you).
  • Always demanding metrics for others but never straining any muscle to change the world yourself.
  • Looking at the 5% distribution as a maximum requirement to be gamed in order to protect your job.
  • An entire system using piles of dead people’s money for self-perpetuation instead of solving problems.
  • Contempt for the masses of unwashed people who just aren’t as good or bright or worthy as you.
  • A well refined, elitist entitlement attitude.
  • Complete void of accountability.

Just to be clear, those are the accusations the author has built into his/her article. That’s my perception of the author’s criticisms.

Check out the full post.

I don’t know anything about the world described in the satirical article. That world is beyond anything I’ve seen or will ever enter into.

I don’t know whether this is on-the-mark or completely made up. Whether it is an ax-grinding or valid caricature. Whether it is a composite or has a specific target in mind.

Doubtful we will see much discussion on the topic, but this opens up another area for consideration of how the nonprofit world runs itself.


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