Archive for September, 2012

City of New Orleans

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

I’ve been busy blogging on RE: Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations’ website. Here’s a recap of my posts from the community foundations conference last week:

Non-Superstitious Use of Data: The Missing Link between Your Business Model and Your Revenue Model”

Another Kind of Grantee? Entrepreneurs and Journalists as Change Agents”

How Two Community Foundations Balance Head and Heart while Navigating the Path to Impact”

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Little Lies

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

One of my more recent vinyl acquisitions is Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits. That is two quality sides of music, I tell you what. “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies….”

I’m reminded of that line as I barrel through the homestretch of the fourth volume of Robert A. Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson. He’s just assumed the Presidency in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination, and is consolidating power. Caro talks about how he used the cultivation of an image and “all the political arts” to secure his new position at a time of great uncertainty.

That got me thinking – what are the political arts, and which of them can and should foundations use (more)?

  • Cultivating an image
  • Building consensus
  • Building a coalition
  • Articulating a message
  • Counting and securing votes
  • Winning passage of a policy
  • Winning an election

Seems like a lot of these foundations are free to do, the restriction on lobbying aside. Why use the political arts? To wield power. To secure it, and to wield it in pursuit of…well….

The interesting thing about the Johnson biography so far is how Caro deals with the motivation behind Johnson’s leadership on civil rights. When he was “Master of the Senate,” as the previous volume (which I haven’t read) is titled, Johnson in 1957 secured passage of the first civil-rights legislation since Reconstruction – nearly 100 years later. It took someone from the South, skilled in all of the political arts, to make that happen. What were his motives? Why risk that much? Because he genuinely believed it, or for the ego boost of doing the impossible?

It’s sort of both. But what it took was someone that looked and talked and acted like those he was trying to persuade to make it happen. And yes, protests on the outside. But that inside player is key.

And that’s where foundations can play more of a role in applying the “softer” political arts, the ones not tied to specific policies or elections. The invaluable Albert Ruesga is getting at this in a recent post about doing cultural work, beyond policy papers.

Because foundations are not generally seen as actors on the public stage, when they emerge, they can do so in a nonpartisan way (if they choose), and have the potential to help persuade those, like Harry Byrd, the head of the Congressional committee who was blocking (in effect) Johnson’s 1964 civil rights bill, who need someone that looks and talks and acts like them to apply all of the political arts to get them to see the light.

When the definitive account of how Obama secured the Affordable Care Act eventually gets written (and it’ll need to be once it’s implemented), I’ll be interested to lay it alongside Caro’s account of how Johnson secured civil-rights acts in 1957 and 1964. And yes, he didn’t do it alone, but there’s a piece that he did uniquely, applying his genius in the political arts.

Foundation CEOs don’t all need to be Lyndon Johnson (and given what’s bound to happen in the eventual fifth volume of the biography, where it all goes to hell with Vietnam, we wouldn’t want them to be), but they could learn something from that garrulous Texan about the full range of tools potentially at their disposal.

School’s [Not] Out

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Well! I didn’t expect to take a summer break from blogging, but there you go, I’m back.

I’ll be speaking at the Council on Foundations community foundations conference next Monday the 10th, 4:30-6:00pm, on “Mapping Foundation Operations to Mission” with my TCC Group colleague Peter York. Come check us out if you’re at the conference.

And now, back to regular weekly blogging….