Saturday, November 20, 2010


ORAM MATTERS focuses on nonprofits, philanthropy and related topics and generally we avoid personal screeds and rants. This blog is a mix of personal and professional because like many of you I am a frequent flier - a road warrior - mainly for work.

I fly out of American at JFK mostly and am pretty much an expert in getting through security without hassle - unless I get stuck behind a family that has gotten into the priority access lane. Until now. Full body X-ray scanners are becoming ubiquitous along with the full-body pat-down (I had a Flair pen in my shirt pocket. Don't ask).

The object of terrorism is first and foremost to intimidate and frighten the civilian population; that is exactly what the Bush and Obama administrations have countenanced. Do you know of a single instance in which a TSA inspection interdicted anything other than your mouthwash and nail clippers? Meanwhile the cargo holds get a pass 98% of the time.

TSA is a huge p.r. boondoggle. Fifty billion dollars or so and counting but I do not feel a whit safer. The invasive X-ray machines should be withdrawn. Up to now inspections have been intrusive, even silly, but tolerable. Now we have crossed a line and without judicial review absolutely compromised Americans' freedom of travel.

Whether the X-ray machines violate 4th Amendment search and seizure the courts will have to decide. I've read that the courts are deferential to the executive branch in these matters so I hold out little hope. Meanwhile we are being bombarded with - according to the government - "microscopic" amounts of X-ray. In my view no one should be exposed to any amount of radiation unless it is absolutely necessary as a health or diagnostic aid.

It is barely possible that public outrage will prevail. TSA has already exempted pilots from the full body scanners; flight attendants are probably next. I don't know if the expediter services that you pay for (and that have not really caught on thanks be) will make any difference. I doubt it.

I hope this image makes you angry and disgusted It's not from J-Date.

If so may I suggest you get to one of the sites that are stirring the pot on this and join in the fight:

Thursday, November 18, 2010


In the 1970s Dr Muhammad Yunus, who went on to win the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, pioneered in lending very small amounts of money to the very poor and near poor to Bangladeshi villagers enabling them to start small businesses. For example someone would borrow money for a cell phone and then rent out calling time to others. At first interest was modest and repayment was near 100%. Dr. Yunus learned early on that women were more reliable borrowers than men.

This kind of endeavor is known as "contract failure" in academic circles - translated it means nonprofit activity arises when the incentive for profit is either too risky, too scarce or otherwise inadequate to attract investment and return in a for-profit enterprise.

About a decade or so this idea - at least in micro-lending - was turned on its head when banks and other capital aggregators realized they could actually make money lending to the poor if they charged higher interest than a nonprofit investor. And so they did. In India, as today's New York Times and other publications reported, extortionate interest rates have forced poor borrowers to replicate - i.e., borrow from second and third companies to pay interest to the first: a Ponzi scheme in reverse.

All of which brings me to this: in the last half decade a new corporate hybrid has developed. It combines a for profit motive with a greater good (nonprofit) mission. In other words oil and water. I think it may have been Woody Allen who said "when the lion lays down with the lamb the lamb doesn't sleep much." Put otherwise greed trumps need.

In my view the challenge for the hybrid company is to be able to pull this off actually make money and do good. The competition private business has brought to nonprofit micro-lending has essentially compromised an idealistic motive. As today's (Toronto) Globe and Mail wrote on November 12th "A debate is raging between those like Dr. Yunus, who say the sector should remain non-profit with its focus fixed firmly on the very poorest of the poor (those living on less than $1 a day), and entrepreneurs who favour a faster-expanding, for-profit approach backed by investors who want to do good – and see returns."

A related Globe and Mail chart shows what big business this is:

154.8 million Total number of microloan clients around the world as of the end of 2007

13.5 million Microloan clients in 1997

106.6 million Microloan recipients living on less than $1 a day in 2007

533 million Number of people affected by microloans worldwide, when family members are included, as of 2007

1,893 Number of microfinance institutions worldwide last year

$65-billion (U.S.) Size of gross microloan portfolio globally last year

98.95% Repayment rate among borrowers at, the world's first personal microlending website

$381.32 Average loan size at Kiva.

26% Average interest rate for a microloan (though some in Mexico have hit 90 per cent)

(Sources: Microcredit Summit Campaign; Microfinance Information Exchange,, CGAP.)

KIVA by the way is an outstanding vehicle for micro-lending. No it can't compete with predatory lenders

Friday, November 12, 2010


On November 11th The New York Times published its annual Giving section; this morning Giving USA Foundation presented the Gurin Forum a timely conjunction. The forum is an endowed program, established twenty plus years ago by the late Maury Gurin one of the country's best fund development consultants, a mentor of mine, an idea machine and a curmudgeon.

This morning's program focused on "The Giving Count -- The Numbers: What Do They Measure? What Do They Mean? Why Do They Matter?" The idea of an open dialog on a subject of common interest to a specific audience is simple enough. But this had never been done in this way for a mostly non-academic audience. Given that 160 people - professional nonprofiteers, philanthropoids, major donors, data researchers and others showed up indicates we touched a nerve (and nearly ran out of Danish).

On behalf of the foundation and the forum I organized and led this event so am responsible for inadvertently failing to invite, among others, Charity Navigator and The Foundation Center, major data compilers for which I apologize and will correct at another opportunity. This collaborative discussion was impelled by the fact that there is a lot of research under way and a lot of data out there, worked on by an array of sources, each working from its own perspective. It's a dog's breakfast so the idea here was to have a cohort of researchers describe their work, tell us what it means, what it measures and why it matters.

There were two panels: the first was facilitated by Stacy Palmer editor in chief of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Patrick Rooney, PhD executive director Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University; Bob Ottenhoff president & CEO Guidestar USA, Inc.; and Paul Light, PhD Paulette Goddard professor of public service New York University.

The second, facilitated by Ruth McCambridge Ruth McCambridge, editor in chief of Nonprofit Quarterly, facilitated the second panel. that included Charles “Chuck” Longfield chief scientist Blackbaud, Inc.; Ann Kaplan director, voluntary support of education survey Council for Aid to Education; and John Havens, PhD Senior Research Associate & Senior Associate Director Center on Wealth & Philanthropy, Boston College.

An audio of the proceedings has been posted to Also available are presenters' PowerPoints.

This could have been a real snooze but because two participants John Havens and Patrick Rooney essentially disagree on each others' methodology. They mixed it up in the donnish fashion expected of academics but proved anew that the death of a drama is the lack of a villain.