December 21, 2008
We're pleased when good things happen to good people. The Greater New Orleans Foundation, a community foundation serving New Orleans and southeast Louisiana, has announced that Albert Ruesga will join the foundation as president and CEO in January. Ruesga replaces Ben Johnson, who served as GNOF's chief executive from 1991 to 2008, and Ellen Lee, who has served as interim president since Johnson's departure from the foundation in June.
Currently vice president for programs and communications at the Washington, D.C.-based Meyer Foundation, Ruesga previously served as founding director of New Ventures in Philanthropy, a national initiative of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers; worked with the Boston Foundation; and was an assistant professor of philosophy at Gettysburg College.
The first, a point-by-point rebuttal of the most common objections to social justice philanthropy, is a must-read for anyone who cares about fairness and justice in society. Here's how Albert answers critics who say funding for social services or youth enrichment programs or housing development etc. is social justice funding.
I'll cede the point: there's no use arguing over the ownership of the term "social justice." Moreover, I can imagine contexts in which giving a hungry man a piece of bread would count as a deeply political act. It's true that funding social services or youth programs, for example, fails the definition I've given above of social justice philanthropy. After all, providing funding for these services doesn’t typically lead to structural change and might in some cases impede it. Nevertheless there's something wonderfully human, deeply just about giving assistance to someone who needs our help.
There is, however, another kind of funding that aims to address the upstream causes of our downstream problems, that asks why some communities are much more desperately in need of social services or affordable housing than others, or why the young people in these communities attend schools that are falling down around their heads. It's the kind of philanthropy that analyzes how power and privilege are brokered and maintained in this country. It's the kind of philanthropy I'm championing here. I'll call it "social justice philanthropy plus" perhaps, "or turbo philanthropy" or "Maureen." Rather than fight for possession of the term social justice philanthropy, I'd happily yield it to whomever would claim it since ultimately it doesn’t matter what we call it, it matters only that we do it....
And this is Albert opining about the "talent gap" in the nonprofit sector:
Attend any earnest discussion of nonprofit issues and there’s frequently an elephant in the room. On the issue of how to attract and retain the best nonprofit talent, the room that houses all those elephants in the room is, in my view, the chronic and significant undercapitalization of nonprofit organizations.
"Undercapitalization" is a fancy way of saying that nonprofits are always madly scrambling for money. This undercapitalization leads to fundraising burnout (figuring prominently in both the Daring to Lead and Ready to Lead reports), underinvestment of time and money in staff capacity, lack of attention to new staff, and an impoverished organizational infrastructure.
But chronic undercapitalization also exacerbates something I'll call the nonprofit "frump factor." That's frump as in "frumpy." Think Roz Chast doing a cartoon about a bake sale for the local 4-H Club.
A friend and I were watching a film about the making of Cloverfield, one of those big budget summer blockbusters featuring extraordinary special effects: thirty-storey monsters tearing off the head of the Statue of Liberty and hurling it down Broadway -- that kind of thing. At one point my friend, a veteran of nonprofit work, turned to me and asked, "Why can’t our sector do anything as cool as that?"...
Alas, things have been pretty quiet over at WCT since midsummer, and now maybe we know why. Still, what a shame. Imagine, had he had the time, what Albert might've said about the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the bailouts of AIG, Fannie and Freddie, the TARP, Hank Paulson, Bernie Madoff, and the whole sorry cast of characters on the Hill and on Wall Street that fiddled madly as Rome burned.
Congrats to GNOF on an inspired choice. And here's wishing you the best in your new job and city, Albert. Don't forget to write.
-- Mitch Nauffts