I saw a little paragraph in the sports section today that said, in essence, , ” The players union has discovered that at least 22 teams require players to make donations. . “
The Dodgers signed Manny Ramirez to a $45 million contract and he then donated $1 million to the Dodgers Dream Foundation. At the signinf, the owner of the Dodgers said, “every future Dodger” would make a donation.”
The players union took umbrage at their overpaid players being required to give to causes. I began this post to mock the players union for this stance. In a time of such great need, with baseball players continuing to make enormous salaries, it doesn’t seem too much to ask that they give back in proportionate amounts.
A publicist friend of mine who worked with a lot of famous actors and athletes would lament that they were often the cheapest givers she knew. They often didn’t follow up on their pledges, skipped out on events and didn’t give nearly as much as they could have if they were generous people.
It was in concert with what I’ve been thinking for weeks now that there don’t seem to be any grown ups left on Wall Street. Isn’t anyone at Goldman Sachs or AIG or whoever else is left concerned about putting the country as a whole back on track — or are they only interested in their own bonuses? None of the smartest guys in the room will take “only” six figures, not the seven they think they deserve, to fix the system that they broke?So, that’s where I started. And then I read a terrific op-ed by Jean Strouse this morning about J.P. Morgan’s contribution to the country in the recession of 1907.
But then I stopped my ranting for a second and remembered to get back to basics. The rants against ball players, starlets and AIG is so very easy to do, it’s coffee shop harangues that really don’t add up to anything but the fact that “those guys” have done us wrong. But isn’t that the same conversation that we had for years about “those guys” meaning the government and politicians that kept getting elected and not listening to us and taking us down the wrong pathways drunk on big, fat campaign contributions?
Finally, last year, with the add of social media, we figured out how to do it differently. We figured out that each one of us could contribute a little time and money, we could each connect to our own social network to create one huge one and elect a president who is trying to do the right thing for the good of the country over the long haul.
Now, we know full well that the corner office doesn’t really exist any more, and we can’t wait for the smartest guys to bail out my local community. With so many people suffering in the economic downturn, with so many organizations, like symphonies and food banks, facing such hard times, we should be focused on doing what we do best; a lot of people contributing in small ways that adds up to a big difference.
And then I looked in the mirror, not a good idea on a Monday morning, but I looked anyway. Am I doing the best I can for the causes and communities that I care about? I am on several boards; my synagogue, One Web Day, Hope for Henry. We give a significant amount of money to our synagogue both in dues and in contributions throughout the year, we have given to Hope for Henry, but not enough, and I have never written a check to One Web Day.
Through many board experiences over the years, I have come to really dislike being on boards. It seemed like the pinnacle of success when I was younger. Sitting around the big boy table and making decisions about where and how to spend money, to generate ideas for the cause, generally being the decider. Then I sat on a few and llearned that nothing much happens on boards except for the repeated request for board members to write a check or ask others to write a check. Most of the major decisions have already been made by paid staff and the chair, the structures don’t allow for real participation by nonboard members in governing issues, and the same problems just keep getting passed from meeting to meeting, year after year. [Note: I don't feel this way about my current boards otherwise I wouldn't still be on them.]
As David Renz has smartly observed, “boards are a structure, governance is a function.” The function has changed, the structure hasn’t.
I use my professional time to encourage others to give and have really enjoyed creating efforts like the GiveList with my friend, Marnie Webb. GiveList was a great opportunity to showcase ways that people can contribute to causes without writing a check. It was fun, it was a great opportunity to try out networked activism mainly through Twitter and it didn’t require any fundraising.
Here’s my confession. I didn’t actually do anything on the GiveList. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve been relying too heavily on my work to substitute for making meaningful personal contributions that could positively affect people’s lives in my community. Perhaps I feel too great a need to separate out what I do professionally; research, write and pontificate on social change using social media, from my personal life before it all feels too much like work. Or maybe I’ve spent too much time evaluating efforts and have developed an vaneer of cynicism that comes from finding out that far fewer programs have as great an affect as we hope they do. Or, maybe, sadly, that’s all just an excuse for not being as charitable as I should be.
The 80:20 rule definitely applies to philanthropic giving and volunteering. It may even be 90:10, meaning that only 10% of us are really doing heavy lifting and 90% are watching. Does my work count as part of the 10%? Perhaps. But I have the means and know-how to be doing much more than I am right now. I live in a very wealthy county that still has tens of thousands of people hungery and thousnads homeless every day.
I’m going to try to start today to stop spending so much time worrying about what the smartest guys in the room aren’t doing to help the rest of us, and start doing more locally to help one person at a time. I’m going to start by talking to my kids about it over dinner tonight about how we can contribute locally to help people who are less fortunate than we are. Unless I’m too busy yelling at them for poking one another, or not doing their homework, or using a vulgar work, and in that case I’ll do it tomorrow — but I’m going to do it!