Friday, November 27, 2015

Self Governance

Our family traditions continue to evolve.  We (my siblings, our spouses and SOs) no longer exchange gifts between adults at Christmas.

Rather, the assets that would have been sunk into another "thing" go into a jug and the money is donated to a charity.

Mom and Dad made the call regarding where the money went when we first started doing this.  Now they are stepping back and letting us figure out how to manage it.

Siblings plus spouses plus significant others runs to fifteen or sixteen depending on who is counting.  It is an axiom of decision-making that group that are much bigger than seven quickly lock-up.  There is potential for bruised feelings.

Never enough resources

Picking the charity(s) that will receive my family's largesse is is self governance writ small.  There are always more worthy charities than there are resources.  A tempest in a teacup, so to speak.  That makes it easy to study.

Some families donate significant amounts of money already.  Others do not.  Some are well-to-do.  Others are less so.  Some stakeholders are "feelers".  Others are "thinkers".  Some are swayed by "cool" and "new".  Others are more impressed with a proven track record.  Some want to follow through and continue to fund earlier recipients while others want to spread it around.  Some want to fund local projects where they can see the impact while others note that a dollar goes much further oversees.

One approach that is being discussed is a "portfolio" approach. 

For example, some of money might be earmarked for a "high leverage" charity(s) where the recipient is most likely not local and some of the money might be earmarked for local charities.

Examples of "high leverage" charities

My youngest brother suggested both of these charities.

Uniform subsidies:
Public education is free in certain Central American countries but the parents must pay for a uniform.  The uniform costs $15 a year.  That is beyond the means of many parents so their children either do not start school or must drop out.   There are charities that subsidize the price of those uniforms. 

A $10 donations pays for 2/3 of the annual cost of the uniform.  That allows the parents to still have an investment in their child's education (which is great for their study habits).  Where else can a donor "buy" a year of education for $10???  That is leverage.

Heifer International is probably the most visible example of this kind of charity.  The donor provide start-up capital for a small business.  It might be fifty, fertile chicken eggs, it might be the cost of an oven for braking bread or a small factory for making water filters.  The expectation is that the recipient will pay the money forward to help other fledgling business owners get started.

This is similar to my dad's plan to get the oldest kid through college and then recycle the funds as the oldest kid paid it back.  Those dollars were then used to pay for the younger kids as they started incurring college tuition.  Each dollar educated multiple kids.

Kids in crisis:
Mrs ERJ is fond of Covenant House, a charity that attempts to connect with naive, run-away teenagers in big cities before they get sucked into prostitution and drug dependency.  This is "high leverage" because the assistance is very focused and targets at a very brief time window.

Examples of Local charities

One shortcoming of the "high leverage" charities is that the benefit (and potential mis-use) occur out of our sight.  Local charities pair well with the need for those who want to see tangible results.

Food kitchens and food banks are solid choices,  especially if any of the family serves in one.

Homes/shelters for those seeking respite from domestic abuse are good choices (although those locations are often shielded from men).

Folks like Old Man Johnson are an option.

One year we funded a couple who walked around local grocery stores and handed out $20 bills to shoppers they perceived as "needy".

Another year we funded a local family who experienced a horrific traffic accident shortly before the holidays.

The self governance involves negotiating the structures and "processes" to guide the decisions.  There must also be agreement on how binding the process shall be.  Should it be a line painted on the ground, should it be solid guardrails or should it be something in between.  It should have sufficient flexibility to accommodate a wide range of people.  It should have a sufficient amount of "starch" to ensure that the less vocal, the quieter ones and the thoughtful shall be heard. 

In the end, everybody needs to feel ownership in the franchise.

I don't have any hard answers because this is all happening as we speak.


  1. The problem is there are always more 'good' avenues than there is $$ to go around...

  2. The problem is there are always more 'good' avenues than there is $$ to go around...


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