Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why We Do What We Do

As I finished my last post, thinking about the various models for accountability monitoring of charity sector, including some forms of government regulatory schemes, I thought that it might be important for me to reflect on my own experience and assumptions, as well as the basis for ICFO's basic philosophy regarding the monitoring of charity accountability.  I was reminded of a talk that Ken Berger, the CEO of Charity Navigator, gave some time ago, and posted on his blog in August, 2010.

Do you ever reflect on what it is that drives you to be involved with the third sector?  Either as a contributor or donor, volunteer or charity leader, charity monitor or evaluator?

All of which got me thinking about the importance of being up front here about my biases and motivations for doing what I am doing, as a donor to charities,  as a member of a number of governing boards of charities, and as someone who has been involved in charity monitoring for over 30 years.

Ken Berger was speaking at a philanthropy camp in New York, and the substance of his speech can be found at http://vimeo.com/14123869. While much of his speech addressed the work of Charity Navigator in the US, what I found more interesting was his brief autobiographical discussion that kicked off his talk.  He spoke of how he became involved in charity work.  Well, here is my journey.

I was raised in the nonprofit sector.  My parents were missionaries in Guatemala with what was then known as the Central American Mission, now CAM International.  We traveled to Managua, Nicaragua sailing on a United Fruit Company ship from New Orleans, Louisiana, by way of Havana, Cuba, through the Panama Canal, and up the Pacific Coast to Managua.  Originally based in Nicaragua, our family moved to Guatemala in 1943, where my father was a professor at a Guatemalan seminary.  He later founded a cultural radio station, Radio Cultural TGN, TGNA, and was its first executive director.

The recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East have brought back memories of my childhood.  Shortly after arriving in Guatemala, we were caught up in the middle of protests and a revolution in which attempts were made to overthrow the government of Generalismo Jorge Ubico.

My memory, such as it is, of that time, was of a peaceful and almost prosperous nation.  Early in the 20th Century, around 1901, the U.S. United Fruit Company, became a major force in Guatemala.  During the dictatorship of General Ubico in the 1930s, foreign investments flowed into Guatemala, with special favors granted to the United Fruit Company by General Ubico.  As a result, the United Fruit Company poured investments into Guatemala, bought the controlling shares of the railroad, electric utility, and telegraph, while also gaining control of more than 40 percent of Guatemala's best land.

But first, a little context.  It has been said that one cannot really understand the history and politics of Guatemala without knowing something of the United Fruit Company.  Indeed, the history of banana growing in Central America is closely tied to the history of politics in that region from the 1880s through the 1970s.

In 1901, the Guatemalan government hired the United Fruit Company to manage the country's postal service and in 1913, the United Fruit Company created the Tropical Radio and Telegraph Company.  By the 1930s, the United Fruit Company had absorbed more than 20 rival firms and became the largest employer in Guatemala.  However, with its control of vast tracks of land and its domination of regional transportation networks through its railways throughout Central America and its great fleet of steamships, it was able to maintain its market dominance and control the distribution of bananas and banana producing land.  In order to do this, it often required government concessions, which meant the firm had to be politically involved in the region, even though it was an American company.  It was through its heavy-handed involvement with governments in Central America, which often were or became corrupt, that the term, "Banana Republic," became the term to recognize the presence of a "servile dictatorship."

One thing I remember, however, was that the road system in Guatemala was not at all well-developed.  Indeed, there were vast areas of Guatemala which were not accessible by automobile or bus because of the absence of roads.  Because the United Fruit Company allowed vast tracts of lands it owed to remain uncultivated, it discouraged the governments in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America from building highways, which would lessen the profitable transportation monopoly of the railroads under the company's control.

Admittedly, my memory of that time may not be the best, especially when my interpretation of events and my understanding of what I was experiencing was through the eyes of a young boy.  On reflection, I thought of General Ubico as something of a benevolent dictator, assuming of course, that I knew what that meant.

I remember a basically happy time, where the streets and parks were safe, where my mother shopped freely in the central open market, where there seemed a measure of freedom, at least in the eyes and imagination of a young boy, and where religious communities, primarily Roman Catholic and Protestant flourished.  It was also a time when justice was swift.  When thieves and petty criminals were caught and arrested, tried and convicted in the space of a few days, and then summarily executed by police rifle squads.  This had an effect on the crime rates in Guatemala City and potential problems of recidivism.  The executions were always announced in the newspapers and on the radio, and carried out at the wall surrounding the National Central Cemetery not far from where we lived.  Church bells rang out as the sound of the gun fire was unmistakable in announcing to the citizens of Guatemala City just what was happening down at the National Cemetery.

But as I later learned as an adult, the record was not that clear.  By way of background, in the 1890s, during the U.S. implementation of the Monroe Doctrine in Latin America, European colonial powers were expelled and U.S. hegemony over the resources and labor in Latin America was expanded.  The dictators ruling Guatemala during the late 19th century and early 20th century were accommodating to the U.S. business and political interests.

It was during the 1930s, that General Ubico came to power with U.S. support, and according to some reports, instituted one of the most brutally repressive governments in the region.  According to these reports, he created a network of spies and informants.  Political opponents were tortured and put to death.  A staunch anti-communist, he consistently sided with the wealthy landowners and urban elites in disputes with the peasantry.

Nevertheless, Ubico remained close to the United States, informing the U.S. Minister at the time of the Munich crisis in 1938, that "Guatemala will follow the policy of the United States as long as it is not Communistic."  When President Franklin Roosevelt successfully ran for and was elected to a third term, contrary to the two-term tradition in the United States, General Ubico and his supporters were encouraged, seeing that the U.S. had placed "the man above tradition," and believed that this was also a good reason to keep General Ubico in office for an additional extended period.

His repressive policies and arrogant manner eventually led to a widespread popular insurrection which was led by middle class intellectuals, professionals, and young junior officers in the Guatemalan army.  In 1944, a group of dissident military officers, students, and liberal professionals, the so-called "October Revolutionaries," empowered by revolutions in Venezuela, Cuba, and El Salvador, overthrew the dictatorship of General Ubico.

I remember this because much of the fighting in the streets of Guatemala City took place right outside our urban apartment building.  Indeed, shots were fired that penetrated our apartment and caused some minor damage.  Our building was quite close to the main army fortress, Fort Matamoros, where much of the fighting was taking place.  The final action in this coup leading to the unseating of General Ubico was led by two young officers, Jacobo Arbenz and Francisco Javier Arana.  Arbenz and Arana then stepped aside making way for a general election and what was called "Ten Years of Spring."  Juan Jose Arevalo, a university philosophy professor and popular democratic socialist, was elected and held the presidency until 1951 when he was term limited and stepped down.  He was be followed by the election of Colonel Jacobo Arbenz, one of those two young officers, in 1950 and his his inauguration in 1951.

Jacobo Arbenz was the son of a Swiss German pharmacist who immigrated to Guatemala in 1901.  His family was quite wealthy and upper class.  Arbenz had wanted to be an economist or engineer, but when the family business went bankrupt, he could not afford to go to the university.  His father subsequently committed suicide.  Nevertheless, young Arbenz won a scholarship to the Escuela Politecnica, the Guatemalan military academy, which was several blocks from our home.  He entered as a cadet.  After graduating, he was posted in several military assignments, ultimately returning to the Escuela Politecnica as a professor teaching military subjects, history, and physics.  It was during this time that he met Maria Vilanova, the daughter of a wealthy landowner from El Salvador.  They were married .  It was through her that he was exposed to Marxism.  She had received a copy of The Communist Manifesto, and left a copy for him to read.  They discussed it as Jacobo Arbenz began to read more works by Marx, Lenin, and Stalin.  By, the late 1940s, he was regularly interacting with a group of Guatemalan communist leaders and thinkers.

The election of Jacobo Arbenz as president in 1950 accelerated the process of social and economic change in Guatemala which had been started by his predecessor, Juan Jose Arevalo.  The centerpiece of Jacobo Arbenz's program was a June 1952 agrarian reform law which allowed the taking or expropriation of 1.5 million acres of unused agricultural land from approximately 100 owners of large tracks of land and giving this land to rural workers.  As part of this arrangement, the United Fruit Company lost approximately 250,000 manzanas (or just under 500,000 acres) out of 350,000 manzanas (or a little less than 700,000 acres) that it owned in Guatemala.  Although the United Fruit Company was compensated, the compensation was regarded by the company as inadequate.  According to the decree, this land had to be taken and distributed to peasant communities and the local natives for agricultural purposes.  The company fought the land expropriation and the proffered compensation on the basis that the valuation of the land was estimated to be about 20 times higher than offered by the government.  The United States supported the United Fruit Company in its dispute with the government of Jacobo Arbenz.

Nevertheless, Jacobo Arbenz sought to end the domination of the United Fruit Company and other U.S. companies, primarily those in the public utility and transportation sectors.  He claimed that he would adopt policies for nationalistic economic development if necessary, and that all foreign investment would be subject to Guatemalan laws.  He further claimed that Guatemala was not prepared to make an exception for the United States.

However, it was not just his agrarian reforms that got him in trouble with the United States.  President Arbenz eventually forced moderate representatives out of the leading positions in his government and replaced them with communist party leaders.  In 1952 the Guatemalan Party of Labor was legalized, and communists subsequently gained considerable minority influence over important peasant organizations and unions.  There had been a radicalization in the major government parties.  The Communist Party was never the center of the communist movement in Guatemala until Jacobo Arbenz came to power.  However, when he came to power, he extended political freedom to the communists allowing them to participate in politics.

In 1952, U.S. President Truman authorized the first CIA effort to overthrow Arbenz, a CIA collaboration with Nicaraguan dictator Anastacio Somoza.  According to CIA documents released in the late 1990s following their declassification, the CIA directed covert operations aimed at removing the government of Arbenz from power in Guatemala.  The agency drew up a list of some 58 individuals for assassination, exile, imprisonment, and otherwise removal from office.  In the end, the plans were abandoned and no Arbenz government officials were assassinated.  The names of targeted individuals have been deleted from the released documents, and so it is unclear whether or not there were any assassinations of any of the individuals listed..

In 1953, President Eisenhower authorized the continuation of this plan against Colonel Arbenz and his government.  The takeover of the United Fruit Company (subsequently renamed and known today as Chiquita) and the proliferation of labor and agricultural laws were instrumental factors in the White House decision to continue the plans to overthrow the government of Guatemala.  However, the policy was also rationalized in terms of anti-communism and the need to respond to the threat that might lead to Guatemala's withdrawal from the capitalistic politico-economic orbit.  While there is no evidence that America viewed what was going on in Guatemala as a specific threat against the United States, Arbenz's "drift toward Communism" had become an established fact of policy-makers.  As one writer described it:

In Guatemala Communism has achieved its strongest position in Latin America, and is now well advanced on a program which threatens important American commercial enterprises in that country and may affect the stability of neighboring governments.  Continuation of the present trend in Guatemala would ultimately endanger the unity of the Western Hemisphere against Soviet aggression, and the security of our strategic position in the Caribbean, including the Panama Canal.

According to some historians, Arbenz's land reform was designed by the Communist Party and was ruled unconstitutional by the Guatemalan Supreme Court, after which Arbenz purged the Court.  His regime openly praised Stalin and relied on communists for key decisions.  He was alleged to have killed hundreds of his opponents.  Arbenz also purged the military brass of officers who were thought to support Francisco Javier Arana, President Arevalo's chief of the armed forces, and a possible opponent of Arbenz.  One of those officers was Colonel Carlos Castilla Armas.  Colonel Armas retired from the Army and was subsequently exiled to Honduras.

Throughout the early 1950s, primarily in 1953-1954, there was a campaign of propaganda against Jacobo Arbenz.  The US Information Agency (USIA) placed unattributed articles in foreign newspapers labeling Guatemalan officials as communists.  Additionally, the USIA distributed 100,000 copies of a pamphlet, "Chronology of Communism in Guatemala" throughout the Western Hemisphere.  A radio station, La Voz de la Liberacion (The Voice of Liberation), was set up in Miami but claimed to be operating deep in the Guatemalan jungle, broadcasting a mixture of popular music, humor, and anti-government propaganda.  Local Guatemalan newspapers also carried on a propaganda campaign against the president.

In the early 1950s, the Roman Catholic press in the United States, following the lead of secular journalists, became convinced that there was a Moscow-directed plot to take over Guatemala, and that it had succeeded and was spreading throughout Central America.  Popular Catholic periodicals were turning their attention to Jacobo Arbenz and Central America generally, warning readers of the dangers of the supposed communist regime of Jacobo Arbenz.  When he was subsequently overthrown, the Catholic press praised his downfall and predicted cooperation between Guatemalan authorities and the Church. with support by the U.S. government, and the onset of democracy.

Following a March 1954 meeting of Foreign Ministers in Caracas, Venezuela, the CIA received its "marching orders" to plan and train an invasion force of Guatemalan exiles to overthrow the Arbenz regime.  Washington's assessment of the situation in Guatemala seemed confirmed when Guatemala received a shipment of weapons from Czechoslovakia in May 1954 at its port, Puerto Barrios, on the northeast Atlantic coast of Guatemala.

During a state visit by Nicaraguan president, Anastasio Somoza, to the U.S. in the early 1950s, he informed the U.S. of Colonel Castillo Armas and his small army of rebels.  President Somoza believed that with proper financial support from the United States and from the Dominican Republic dictator, Rafael Trujillo, he and Colonel Armas could depose President Arbenz.


The decision was made to support Colonel Armas and his ragtag army of rebels.  Colonel Armas's history is wrapped up in Guatemalan history of this time.  He was from a poor family, abandoned by his father and raised by his mother.  He attended and graduated from the Escuela Politechnica, the National Guatemalan Military Academy and participated in the coupe that resulted in the overthrow of General Ubico.  He was later appointed the superintendent of Escuela Politechnica, a supporter of Colonel Juan Jose Arana.  During a coupe attempt, he was wounded and arrested, and subsequently escaped to Honduras.

On 18 June 1954, Colonel Armas's forces crossed the border from Honduras into Guatemala.  Before dawn, CIA P-47 fighter planes bombed the Guatemalan Pacific port city, San Jose.  The invading army was 480 strong and invaded along the border of Guatemala with Honduras and El Salvador at five key points.  This gave the impression of a major force and with this kind of disbursement, reduced the chance of the entire force being routed in a single engagement.  During the invasion, radio broadcasts transmitted false reporting of huge forces joining the local populace in a popular revolution.

Aircraft dropped a few bombs here and there during the invasion on the 18th of June.  Also during this period, aircraft were flying over the capital, Guatemala City dropping leaflets of propaganda.  However, on subsequent raids on the capital, the P-47 aircraft bombed and strafed several targets effectively demoralizing government leaders.

Our home was a few blocks from the Guatemalan military headquarters, the Escuela Politechnica, the headquarters and stables of the Guatemalan Army Cavalry, and the transmitter building for the government radio station, TGW.  Although much of the fighting took place in the city center around the national palace, considerable fighting took place in our neighborhood because of the location of the military installations and national radio station.  Because of its location, our home suffered some minor damage due to the shooting in the neighborhood.

The CIA P-47 airplanes became known as "Sulfatos," the Guatemalan word for laxative, because of the alleged effect their appearance had upon Arbenz and his officials.

There was one mistake that was made by the CIA, however.  On 24 June, a P-47 swooped down over Guatemala City strafing gasoline stations and in the process of its strafing runs, knocked out a radio station.  It was not, as luck would have it, the government radio station, TGW, which was the intended target and near our house.  Rather, it was TGNA, the protestant missionary radio station founded and operated by my father.  Our new family car was heavily damaged by the bullets from the aircraft's 50 mm machine guns, and the studio and transmitter facilities, as well as towers, were badly damaged.

At the sound of the roar of the P-47 conducting the raid, my father and his staff of studio personnel and transmitter engineers stepped outside the respective buildings just in time to see the dive strafing runs of the aircraft.  My father and his colleagues dove to the ground to avoid being targets, only to have their bodies surrounded by bullets from the plane's machine guns.

On 27 June, with most of his cabinet ministers having resigned and having fled to various embassies, consulates, and other countries, President Arbenz took to the airwaves to announce his resignation from the presidency, leaving his friend, Colonel Carlos Enrique Dias, then chief of the Guatemalan armed forces, as head of the government.  Colonel Dias, whose nickname was Pollo Triste (Sad Chicken), went on the air and announced that:

The struggle against the mercenary invaders of Guatemala will not abate.  Colonel Arbenz has done what he thought was his duty.  I shall carry on.
Initially, Arbenz fled to the Mexican Embassy, seeking refuge there, and was subsequently given safe passage to Mexico.  He stayed in Mexico for a short while, and then moved with his family to Switzerland.  However, the Swiss government did not allow him to stay there, unless he gave up his Guatemalan citizenship.  He refused to do so, and then moved to Paris initially, and then to Prague.  The Czech officials were uncomfortable with his stay there because they were afraid that he would demand the government to repay him for the poor quality of the arms which Czechoslovakia had sold him shortly before the 1954 coupe and revolution.  He then moved with his family to Moscow, and finally was allowed to move to Uruguay in 1957.  In 1960, Fidel Castro invited him to come to Cuba, and he remained there until 1965, when he returned to Mexico following the suicide of his daughter.  Arbenz died on 27 January 1971, and his remains were later returned to Guatemala on 19 October 1995 to a hero's welcome for burial in the National Central Cemetery following a ceremony in the National Palace.

In the meantime, On the 28th of June, Jerry DeLarm, one of the pilots with the CIA, bombed Guatemala City again.  DeLarm was a native of San Francisco, California, known for his barnstorming adventurous flying around Central America.  Initially flying for Colonel Arbenz, doing sky-writing and broadcasting, when he was not paid for his work as promised, and suspecting that Arbenz was a communist, he started flying for Colonel Armas.  This time, he hit his target, the right one, the government radio station, TGW, knocking it off the air, and then dropped two bombs on the major army fortress, Fort Matamoros.

President Arbenz's friend and successor, Carlos Enrique Diaz, was deposed two days after he assumed the presidency as head of a military junta, by a military coup led by Colonel Elfego Monzon, who established a military junta.

Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas was invited to join the junta, which he did and on 3 July 1954, he returned to Guatemala City to a huge welcome, and succeeded Colonel Monzon as the leader of the junta on the 8th of July 1954.  On 1 September, the remaining members of the junta resigned, and Armas was formally declared president.  Although my family stayed in Guatemala, I left for the United States to continue my education around that time.

Throughout the latter half of the 1940s and early half of the 1950s, I attended a small boarding school in the Guatemalan highlands in the town of Huehuetenango.  Initially, the only roads were small and difficult roads through Quiche or through Quetzaltenango that required 10 to 12 hours to drive to Huehuetenango through difficult and mountainous terrain and so we traveled there by airplane from Guatemala City, a 45 minute flight.  After I left Guatemala in 1954, with the construction of the Pan American Highway, it was possible to make the trip in about four hours.

Situated in the center of Mayan culture, and close to the ancient Mayan pre-Columbian capital of Zaculeu, we experienced the beauty of the land, the abject poverty that was present every where in that area, and the nature of accountable charity.  So little had changed in over 100 years.  The languages, of that area of Guatemala, still existing from ancient Mayan times, were Mam, K'iche', and Q'anjob'al.

The boarding school was a place in which 20-30 boys and girls from missionary families throughout Central America came for their elementary schooling.  The students all became part of the local Huehuetenango.  We participated in the cultural, civic, commercial, and religious life of the community.  However, for most of us, it meant that we were away from our homes and families, and unable to see our parents during the almost 10-month school year.

Yet, it was basically a happy and fulfilling life.  We contributed to the community through our charitable services and through regular practices and disciplines taught to us by our parents and the teachers at the school.  We regularly visited sites of historical and cultural significance, giving us appreciation for the ancient cultures and practices of the Indian nations that made up Guatemala, and in particular, during the pre-Columbian period.

Zaculeu, is a pre-Columbian Maya archeological site in the highlands of western Guatemala, just a little less that four kilometers outside the city of Huehuetenango.  Its occupation dates back to the Early Classic period (AD 250-600) of Mesoamerican history.  It was later the capital of the Postclassical Mam kingdom, and later conquered by the K'iche' Kingdom of Q'umarkaj.  In AD 1525, the city was attacked by the Spanish during a siege that lasted several months.

There are a number of these ancient cities consisting of nothing more than the ruins covered with mounds of dirt.  One such ancient capital, is Iximche', located near the town of Tecpan and not far from Huehuetenango.  Like Zaculeu, it was built on an isolated bluff surrounded and protected by ravines.  It was one of the K'iche' Mayan capitals until it was conquered by the Spanish with the help of the Kaqchikel Indians in the early  1500s.

These ancient cities of the Mayans were pretty much the same, unexcavated mounds of dirt, containing temple-pyramids and government palaces grouped around a series of plazas, and a ballcourt for the playing of the Mesoamerican ballgame.  Zaculeu  was no different, and abandoned in 1525, around the same time as the others were abandoned.  However, in the late 1940s during my elementary school years, the United Fruit Company excavated and restored it, essentially by clearing the mounds away and covering the pyramids, ballpark, and plazas with concrete.


Now, why is any of this important?  Well, maybe it isn't really important because it is so much ancient history and so personal to my history.  But, it also fills in some of the cracks that have informed me in connection with what I believe and how I have become involved in the third sector.

The first is the recognition that I was raised in a Christian family that devoted itself to its religious calling and service to others.  As a result, it was in that family that I learned what was important to life and the meaning of calling and stewardship.  I don't mean to suggest that these are simply religious terms, which clearly they are.  But rather, that there is a difference between being called to serve to poor and others in need, as opposed to being driven to be successful; that my talents, experiences, time, and material resources are held in trust to that end; that my interest is only that of being a steward.  Stewardship not only involves what I do with my resources, talents, experiences and time, but how I am accountable for what I do and to whom do I owe that accountability.

Secondly, the one lesson I learned well from my parents, their colleagues, and my personal experiences and history, was that whenever I am in a country other than my own, I am a guest in that country.  This has several effects, some of which may be contrary to many of the INGOs that are participating in the INGO Charter.  That does not mean that I discount the importance of what organizations, like Amnesty International, Greenpeace, CIVICUS World Alliance, Earthrights International, Transparency International, and similar groups do.  But, that just is not where I am right now.

I am reminded of what I wrote in one of my posts on Haiti last year, that Haiti is really not able to progress and be an effective self-governing country because of the large NGO sector there, almost acting in a parallel sort of fashion doing the things the government should be doing.  My father always respected the host country government, and dealt professionally and courteously with most of the individuals identified in this post.  My family was in Guatemala to serve the people of Guatemala, not to advance some political or socio-economic agenda.  He did not spend a lot of time being concerned about some effectiveness or impact evaluation of his work.  He was okay with letting the United Fruit Company worry about that.

A third lesson I learned was that governments deserve a certain sense of skepticism, both with respect to what they can deliver in terms of social services and good government, and in how they can regulate all sectors of national life.  This is not to say that I am anti-government in any way.  However, as one who has worked for the United States government for almost 50 years, but who also spent his formative years in Guatemala, I have learned that governments, no matter where they are located and at what level they operate, are not able to provide for all the needs of all of the people, and still allow a decent level of personal freedom and personal responsibility.  I also understand that through legal and regulatory regimes, and the exercise of executive powers, civil society organizations may be restricted in what they can do, either through registration processes or regulatory enforcement mechanisms, and that charities will often owe their existence to governmental decisions.

A fourth thing I learned that wherever I am, any effectiveness in my service through charity takes place in the context of relationships.  That involves learning about the history, culture, and traditions of the people with whom I work and to whom I offer assistance.  In foreign countries to my own, that involves learning the language, meeting and knowing the people and their interests and needs.  As a child, my playing with the indigenous children my age tended to inform my beliefs and motivations when dealing with people and their needs.  My father brought into his circle of advisers, including as member of the boards of several organizations he led, national Guatemalan leaders, technicians, and specialists.  Not because it was required by law at that time.  Rather, he wanted the relationship and advice of those who knew the country, its history, its people, and wanted to be a part of the mission of his organization.  My father not only loved his work, he most of all loved the Guatemalans.  Proud as we were to be Americans, we understood that America did not have all the answers.

As an illustration, I joined my mother and father, and sister and brother-in-law in a trip to Guatemala many years ago for the 40th anniversary celebration of the radio station my father founded.  As we were having breakfast in the guest apartment one morning, a Guatemalan Indian woman came to the door with a basket of Guatemalan tamales.  She had worked with or for my parents in the late 1940s, and had left her village early that morning, long before sunrise to walk miles and then to take an early morning bus to Guatemala City on the chance she might see our family.  We sat around the table eating those wonderful tamales she had made with such care catching up on 50 years of personal history.

Ten years later, or 11 years ago, my brother and I went to Guatemala to take part in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Radio Cultural TGN, TGNA.  I had been in the offices in the studio building when one of the staff members approached me to tell me of an elderly woman that was waiting for me in the crowd of several thousand.  I went out to see who might be looking for me, and found a woman, then in her mid-90s, waiting patiently on a park bench for the chance to see me.  She had left her home in Huehuetenango that morning around 4:00 to travel by bus to the Capital.  She knew my father and mother had died, but thought I might be there to represent the family on this important anniversary event.  She really had no way of knowing whether that would be the case.  But, for the next two days, she did not leave my side during the programs at the radio station or in the Olympic Stadium.  She was just one of the many people my parents served.

The fifth lesson I learned as a boy was the importance of accountability.  In those days, and to a lesser extent today, most missionary societies in Europe and the United States required their missionary workers to raise their financial support as they went out around the world; to Africa, India, China and other parts of Asia, and Central and South America.  We now call this deputized fundraising.  I guess to be clear about the nature of this effort and make sure that there was no misunderstanding by the government concerning compliance with its tax laws.  Funds were raised from organizations, churches, individuals, etc., by those individuals preparing to go out into missionary service, with the donations made directly to the mission society, from which salaries and expenses and project costs would be covered.

I remember evenings as my father sat down with his typewriter writing personal thank you letters and reports of his work to those who had made donations to the mission society for my parents' support.  He did this for almost 60 years, right up to shortly before he died.  During his return trips to the U.S., he would make every conceivable effort to visit those people, organizations, and churches that had made donations to his work.  My father and mother believed that their work represented a team effort, and that they were the point of the spear, whereas those donating the funds were every bit as important to the success, however it was defined, of the work they were doing.

My parents never bought into the modern maxim that big is good, that bigger is better, and that biggest is best.

Rather than be concerned about how someone defined success, or how their successes, however defined, were adequately perceived by others, they simply sought to be faithful in all they did, whether it was in their work in Guatemala and later around the world, or in how they maintained their communication with those donors that made it all possible.

Old fashion, isn't it?  But this was the environment in which I grew into adulthood, and these are some of the things that shape my thinking, even today.  I suspect that there are other things that I learned in life concerning the sector, but these are a few that came to mind as I was reflecting on my life and writing down these few thoughts.

By the way, I do still love Guatemala and the Guatemalan people.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Civil Society and Monitoring Models

My friend, Chris Zealley, a long-time participant in the third sector as a charity trustee and monitor of that sector, has corresponded with me this past week, mainly in regard to the Charity Commission in Britain.  In a message to Adri Kemps, Secretary General of the International Committee on Fundraising Organizations (ICFO) and Director of Centraal Bureau Fondsenwerving (CBF) in Amsterdam, and me, Chris raised an interesting question: Do the British need a Charity Commission, and if so, do they need the one they have?  He addresses this question in an article he wrote for Third Sector, a weekly charity sector magazine in Britain at the suggestion of its editor, Stephen Cook.

In his editorial on 24 January 2011, Editor Stephen Cook wrote:

Charity Working at the Heart of Society, a policy document from the Charity Commission in 2005, announced that the regulator was intending to take a broader role as a promoter and champion, enabling charities to maximize their impact and encouraging innovation and effectiveness.
* * *
When the commission's policy was revised the following year, the phrase "championing the work of the sector" was replaced by "championing the public interest in charity."  The dissenters were mollified, but have never been entirely satisfied with the widened role of the watchdog.
The purpose of this historical detour is to put in context the response of the umbrellas and representatives have made to the commission's recent consultation about how it should make the ₤8 million cuts to its budget over the next four years. Not to put too fine a point on it, they have treated this as an opportunity to get the commission back in its box.
Their message, broadly speaking, is that the commission should concentrate on maintaining a high standard of regulation and leave it to them to offer advice and guidance to charities.  The unspoken implication is that a slimmed-down commission should relinquish any remaining claim to the "champion" role.
In his message to Adri and me, Chris suggested that there were two main grounds in which ICFO could enter the discussion on a broader and international basis.  The first was the functions carried out by the UK Charity Commission, and how these functions were handled in other countries.  The second was that in the context of the debate regarding the Charity Commission in the UK, ICFO might address how accreditation schemes operating under the ICFO standards, or similar standards, are common in other countries, such as in Europe, Canada, and the US.

While it is my intention to address these two issues in forthcoming posts, what caught my eye in Chris' message to us was his statement that "The main argument must now be to link Accreditation with the huge demand for funds that has fallen on charities through the government financial pressures on people, business and charities, of which many of the latter have been receiving large government funding, now being dramatically reduced."

In our further exchange, Chris and I seemed to narrow part of this issue down to what I think raises an essential question that I think tends to bring confusion to the entire subject of civil society and the nature and role of civil society organizations which I addressed in my earlier post, Government, Civil Society, Charity, and Public Benefit, on 22 November 2009, and my earlier post on Alexis de Tocqueville and Civil Society.  Chris wrote me that the opportunity for new ideas and for reconsideration of old ideas that had been rejected regarding accreditation or monitoring schemes seemed to be opening up in Britain "because a swathe of UK charities have been sustaining their bulging overheads with grants and contracts from Government departments."  To which I responded, "If a charitable organization receives a substantial portion of its income from the government through grants and contract programs, is it really a charitable organization that is part of civil society, or is it just another arm of the government engaged in some form of social welfare on behalf on the government?"

As this discussion between Chris and me was going on, President Barack Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on 3 February 2011 in which he said:

     Now sometimes faith groups can do the work of caring for the least of these on their own; sometimes they need a partner, whether it's in business or government.  And that's why my administration has taken a fresh look at the way we organize with faith groups, the way we work with faith groups through our Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
     And through that office, we're expanding the way faith groups can partner with our government.  We're helping them feed more kids who otherwise would go hungry.  We're helping fatherhood groups get dads the support they need to be there for their children.  We're working with non-profits to improve the lives of people around the world.  And we're doing it in ways that are aligned with our constitutional principles.  And in this work, we intend to expand it in the days ahead, rooted in the notions of partnership and justice and the imperatives to help the poor.
     Of course, there are some needs that require more resources than faith groups have at their disposal,  There's only so much a church can do to help families in need  -- all those who need help making a mortgage payment or avoiding foreclosure, or making sure their child can go to college.  There's only so much a nonprofit can do to help a community rebuild in the wake of a disaster.  There's only so much the private sector will do to help folks who are desperately sick get the care they need.  And that is why I continue to believe that in a caring and just society, government must have a role to play; that our values, our love and our charity must find expression not just in our families, not just in our places of worship, but also in our government and in our politics.
 Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama appointed the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.   The President asked the Council to focus its attention on making recommendations in the following priority areas:

  • Economic Recovery and Domestic Poverty
  • Environment and Climate Change
  • Fatherhood and Healthy Families
  • Global Poverty and Development
  • Interreligious Cooperation
  • Reform of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

While it is my hope to address this report in future posts in a way that may be of interest to the international community that follows this blog,  my point here is that one of the assumptions in this report appears to support my concern that if the charity receives significant public funding from governments, it ceases to be a charity, public benefit civil society organization and simply become an arm of the government engaged in some form of social welfare on behalf of the government.

In the section of Economic Recovery and Domestic Poverty in the report of the Council, the Council recommended that the government ease the burden on nonprofit social service agencies by removing barriers to service programs such as matching fund requirements, burdensome reporting and regulations, and slow payments and disbursement.  In explaining the background for one of its recommendations here, the Council wrote:

The non-profit sector employs over 9.4 million workers and 4.7 million full-time volunteers nationally.  This constitutes roughly 11 percent of the American workforce.  With this many employees, it is critical that the federal government provide an adequate response to keep these entities financially secure and functioning.  In recent years, non-profit agencies have had to raise more and more unrestricted private dollars to meet the match requirements, administrative fees, and licensing and permit fees.  Another way to characterize this is that while non-profits are tax exempt, they are paying a "tax" to accept and administer government funds.
Non-profit agencies that operate programs in partnership with federal and state governments continue to experience dramatic cost increases to run these partnerships.  In the wake of current economic downturn, these escalating costs make it difficult to continue current services and extremely challenging to take advantage of funding opportunities.  Many government contracts are structured with the assumption that small non-profits will be able to identify local resources to cover and support the administration of these partnership in an increasingly unstable economic climate.
In our exchange, Chris wrote of a charitable organization in the UK in which the government had cut over 70 percent of its funding.  So, there was a "renewed dependence on old-fashioned Donors [that was ] going to be very suddenly realised!"

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, electronic update of 6 February 2011 noted that despite the fact that more than 50 billionaires announced last year that they would devote at least half of their wealth to charity, few made big gifts in 2010.  Donors and nonprofit officials feared that the economy would slide back into recession and uncertainty about the tax rule would result in a reduction of major giving.  While older donors making large gifts gave to colleges and universities, younger wealthy donors were giving to medical care, human rights, social entrepreneurship, and efforts to improve public schools.  Thus, for example, Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, at age 26, pledged $100 million to help overhaul the Newark, New Jersey (U.S.A.) public school system.  The eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam, both 43, gave $61.5 million, mostly to their philanthropies, which support social entrepreneurship, human rights, and other causes.  However, Whitney Tilson, a 44-year old hedge-fund manager said that he expected the face of big giving to change with his generation, and noted that:

I can think of no less needy charity than Harvard.  I have to struggle to think of anyone in my age group who has given big money to a traditional charity.
While it is true that alumni tend to give to, and support their alma maters, it is difficult to think of Harvard University as a particularly needy charity with its almost $3.5 billion income for fiscal year 2008, with an endowment valued at $27.6 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, with real estate holdings of 4,979 acres, and with more than 323,000 living alumni in the U.S. and in some 203 other countries.

Of course, what is so confusing about this is that we really are not sure what a traditional charity is, especially when the lines between a government socio-economic-political purpose, responsibility, and funding, and the the goals and nature of public benefit charity are blurred. 

As I wrote in my 22 November 2009 post, Government, Civil Society, Charity, and Public Benefit, civil society reflects the complex set of a dense network of civil associations that are said to promote stability and effectiveness of the democratic polity through the associations of citizens' "habits of the heart."  So, we think of civil society as that part of the public square set apart from the State and the market, that is, apart from the political sector and the commercial and business sector.  If nonprofit, public benefit organizations are fulfilling a public function as arms of the government, and are funded in some significant measure by government entities, they are bound by the legal and regulatory schemes set forth by the government, accountable to the government with respect to the use of the monies furnished by the government through grants and contracts, and largely deprived of those charitable impulses of individuals banded together to meet certain defined needs.  Of course, any charitable organization will be bound by legal and regulatory requirements set forth by the government, but the nature and consequences of this legal and regulatory scheme may be more intrusive in the case of a charitable organization which receives funds from the government.

When the lines are blurred between the role of government in society and the traditionally understood functions of charity or civil society organizations, as they are now in many parts of the world, the motivations for civic participation, including the giving of donations and the volunteering of services, are quite different than the motivations for paying one's taxes and participating vicariously as a citizen through some anonymous government bureaucracy to alleviate the hardships of human existence.  It also distances and separates individuals from those in need, or from the general welfare of society, and thus tends to reduce or destroy any sense of community in which we all have a part in alleviating suffering and improving the human condition.  Perhaps, we don't even feel any responsibility toward our fellow human beings, assuming that if there is a need, it is the government's responsibility to address that need.


video

As I watched this video clip, I could not help but wonder how our  values, our love and our charity must find expression not just in our families, not just in our places of worship, but also in our government and in our politics.

Nevertheless, this then leads to the questions posed by Chris Zealley as to the efficacy of the model presented by the Charity Commission in the UK as a non-Ministerial Government Department with certain regulatory powers, and the model for accreditation similar to that followed by the national monitoring agencies that are member of ICFO.  This will be the subject of future posts.