Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rooney Appointed: White Smoke Rises

Patrick Rooney has been named head of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. With colleague Melissa Brown and Center staff Giving USA - the most complete compendium on giving in the US - is coopered together each year and as everyone in the field knows it is the resource. Nothing else comes close.

Giving USA Foundation is the publisher and sales arm but the research and writing is done in Indianapolis. The announcement said after a "nationwide search" Patrick was named. I was not surprised but when Patrick and I had breakfast in New York a few months ago he assured me he was not a shoo-in. This I did not believe.

Patrick is of course an economist but he does not speak in tongues and he is definitely not morose - two hallmarks of the discipline. Not only does he explain abstract stuff in an interesting way he is cool to be with unlike say Ben Bernanke. Can you imagine?

Patrick's anointment and the attendant white smoke from Indiana comes just a few weeks before the 2009 edition of Giving USA will appear, no accident of timing I'm sure. As I'm no longer Foundation chair I don't get a sneak peak at the data and I haven't a clue. But that there will be a decline in absolute inflation-adjusted dollars in the total giving handle seems foregone. Duh. So Patrick will have plenty of media attention as he labors to turn crap into ice cream. That should keep him busy for awhile.

Next year's Giving USA might show even more horrendous data. The free fall and economic collapse didn't hit big until the last quarter of 2008. So the data for 2008 will not reflect the full damage; 2009's data will. But what might otherwise ameliorate that bad news is that since the end of March a powerful market rally and other budding signs of recovery - more new housing starts, stabilizing retail sales and a decreasing rate of increase in unemployment rates - are key markers. It does seem that the last quarter of 08 and the first quarter of 09 marked the slough of our despond. ("Powerful rally" means I am again opening my investment statements without a standby ventilator).

So Patrick:

Harper's Index for May reported almost $12 trillion of value has been lost so far by American individuals and families in this meltdown. Isn't that almost as much as the so-called intergenerational "wealth transfer"of which we heard so much during the bull markets? I always wondered if that was just lipstick on a pig because I never understood the assumptions. Is it time to re-calculate or just "fugeddaaboutit?" Okay the wealth was transferred. When I asked another social scientist about it a few months ago he said the model didn't consider the greed factor.

But fund raisers do.

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