Wednesday, August 10, 2011

If your head is in the sand your butt is in the air ...

In Congress a minority of the inmates have taken over the asylum. Bird-brained, born again tax cutters have paralyzed political discourse and are leading the privatization of poverty (punish the poor)and socialization of wealth (protect the rich); the House speaker, a waxen figure with a great bottled tan, occasionally movable arms, golf clubs and limited powers of speech warily fronts for the House Whip, an opportunist who has discovered the first law of politics: stand in the center of every photo op and you can't be cropped out.

In the Senate the Democratic leader is given to Magoo-like utterances. The House Minority Leader has stayed too long and saddest of all Professor President has lost his mojo. Mr. Obama and his advisers err in believing his base will respond because every alternative is worse. I'm not 100% sure the base will agree. Mr. Obama has said he'd rather be a good one-term president, rather than a mediocre two-term president. He may well be the former if he does not send a jobs bill up to the Hill as soon as Congress is back and then fight for it, win or lose, up or down, in every nook and cranny of the land - with passion, force and tears if necessary. Next to jobs he needs to address the housing mess head on: the foreclosures that are depressing the housing market could and should be converted to rentals forthwith.

Some voters get the stock market or the euro. But everyone understands a job and a place to live. In my view there will be little frontal success in attacking social security or health care.The equally bipartisan "Super Committee" will seize up just as Congress has and the "automatic" cuts across the board will end up in the courts of special interest. Among the strongest lobby in congress is the sundowner vote and the dimmest wit in the Cave of the Winds has felt its power.

Instability and a sense of dread are not harbingers of what's good for philanthropy or much else. But even now, with abounding national uncertainty, dysfunctional national government, a fractured political system and apparently ongoing market volatility I am still very much optimistic over the long term. Markets rebound and we are by far the richest most stable and most privileged country in the world even if this is not likely to be a comeback year for the fundraisers. But ...

In my view it's not just money that's hobbling nonprofits - though that is an obvious issue of profound concern - rather there is a real crisis of leadership at the governance level. Of all the criticisms I could level at a board -- failure to fund raise, failure to hold management accountable, failure to bring in new blood and the rest of it -- courage has deserted the boardroom. Everyone looks good on the downhill. But races are won on the uphill.

Risk assessment is a factor in any enterprise. In the best of times many nonprofits seem inherently risk averse. Over the years I have used this model many times to help clients think about risk as they contemplate one course of action or another:




A board must be prudent in the stewardship of a nonprofit.Prudence yes, paralysis no.