Hip, Hip, Hooray; Equality Prevails Today

Thanks largely to the Supreme Court, same-sex marriage is now legal throughout the nation! (This is just one of several stories in the media touting the decision: http://www.minnpost.com/eric-black-ink/2015/06/us-supreme-court-rules-all-states-must-recognize-same-sex-marriages.) No more state-by-state decisions (though some defiant states, finding the Court increasingly political and partisan, are refusing to abide by the decision (http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/06/27/alabama-judge-throws-tantrum-over-marriage-equality-by-ending-marriage-licenses-for-everyone/)). The decisions on “Obamacare” and “housing discrimination” might affect more people, but the decision on same-sex marriage positively impacts those with a same-sex orientation. Perhaps, the LGBT community is better organized than many others. If so, hopefully it’ll stay that way, remaining vocal and organized.

Supreme-Court-Justices-2009

The Supremes (Supreme Coure justices, that is)

Of course, many people advocated and a lot of activists worked for this result. Euphemisms are obsolete ()http://www.npr.org/2015/06/28/418187875/long-before-same-sex-marriage-adopted-son-could-mean-life-partner?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20150628),It’s sad to know that many who might have benefited from this decision have departed the planet, that numerous folks who weren’t in an applicable committed relationship died before this result, including those who passed away from AIDS while that plague decimated the gay population.

That the Court announced its decision just before many Pride celebrations, certainly contributed to the celebrations this year (), marking the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall riots (http://www.therainbowtimesmass.com/2015/06/26/last-living-stonewall-veteran-celebrates-marriage-equality-decision/). The 8th annual Fruit Bowl, a tobacco- and alcohol-free event sponsored by Rainbow Health Initiative on the Friday evening of Pride in Minneapolis, where I live, drew a large crowd. Half a million people were estimated to have attended Sunday’s Pride parade, and the two-day festival in downtown Loring Park was exceedingly crowded (http://www.citypages.com/slideshow/twin-cities-pride-2015-the-parade-7441153); even more than usual, if that is possible, parking within walking distance of the park was impossible.

display

35-W bridge over Mississippi River lit up for Pride

Many allies supported last week’s decision. Corporations were eager to offer their congratulations and to tout their commitment to marriage equality (http://www.ijreview.com/2015/06/354051-35-companies-just-told-america-exactly-think-scotus-gay-marriage-ruling/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social&utm_content=post-footer&utm_campaign=Sharing). Municipalities got into the act (http://www.ijreview.com/2015/06/355167-seattle-unveils-rainbow-crosswalks-gay-pride-week-youll-never-believe-much-cost-taxpayers/). Thanks are due too to the many supporters who shared their opinions on the subject.

Despite the rapid progress and the fast pace of social change prevailing on the issue of marriage equality (http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-pace-of-social-change/), there was notable dissent (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/26/antonin-scalia-dissent_n_7671110.html), some of the justices seemed to be clueless (https://youreadygrandma.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/supreme-court-justice-didnt-know-marriage-cant-legally-involve-churches-or-religion/) and the decision was by only 5-4, a majority achieved through the votes of three relatively aged justices. The narrow majority on this issue as well as the identities of the dissenting justices prove once again that it is critical that social moderates and/or liberals gain the White House in 2016 or face the threat of conservatives intent on undoing changes upon being elected (http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/06/29/418398912/cruz-opposition-to-gay-marriage-will-be-front-and-center-in-2016-campaign).

If there is any doubt about the importance of controlling Supreme Court appointments, the reactions and statements of Republican presidential candidates quickly eliminate it (http://mashable.com/2015/06/26/2016-presidential-candidates-gay-marriage/?utm_campaign=Mash-Prod-RSS-Feedburner-All-Partial&utm_cid=Mash-Prod-RSS-Feedburner-All-Partial&utm_medium=feed&utm_source=feedly). Besides being often laughable (http://nytimes.com.co/wi-gov-scott-walker-challenges-supreme-court-justices-to-fist-fight/), especially when accompanying actions are taken into account, the reactions of social conservatives demonstrate many feel this is an issue that—like slavery, WW II internment, and inter-racial marriage before—should be subject to majority vote (http://www.vox.com/2015/6/26/8851495/same-sex-marriage-scalia). Whether wrapped in the cloak of states’ rights, democracy, the Constitution, dignity, government mandate, ritual intellectualism, or whatever other inapplicable concepts might gain political mileage (http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/jindal–left-will-go-after-first-amendment-rights-472587843943), fundamental rights are not something requiring a popular vote to exist or be recognized (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b715GKJNWXA).

Popular culture turns often humorous (http://americannewsx.com/politics/watch-stephen-colbert-hilariously-slams-the-right-wing-justices-after-the-gay-marriage-ruling-video/#) over such “shenanigans” (http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/06/bobby_jindal_says_clerks_wont.html#incart_m-rpt-2) and the pontificating (http://www.buzzfeed.com/lanesainty/angry-americans-are-promising-to-move-to-australia-after-the#.mpn17W9D3) and hypocritical statements (http://www.advocate.com/politics/marriage-equality/2015/06/27/texas-pastor-now-says-he-didnt-mean-hed-really-set-himself-afl) of some conservatives. Truth is, despite their statements to the contrary, the dissenting justices are really the ‘dangerous’ ones on the Court, and the “Biblical pronouncements” (http://www.forwardprogressives.com/what-every-american-should-know-about-the-biblical-definitions-of-marriage/) are usually poorly understood by those depending spouting them to support their opinions. In fact, same-sex marriages were once sanctioned by the Church (http://io9.com/gay-marriage-in-the-year-100-ad-951140108 ).

Religious wedding depiction

Religious wedding depiction from early Church

The reaction of some conservatives and Evangelicals, to whom this has been a distraction from other concerns (http://edcyzewski.com/2015/06/26/the-supreme-court-just-gave-american-evangelicals-a-gift/), is predictably negative (http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/conservatives-feel-betrayed-by-supreme-court/), whatever their limited credibility (http://www.rawstory.com/2015/06/stephen-colbert-roasts-justice-scalia-then-dares-him-to-be-a-guest-on-the-late-show/, http://americannewsx.com/politics/watch-stephen-colbert-hilariously-slams-the-right-wing-justices-after-the-gay-marriage-ruling-video/#). Especially when centuries of “traditional marriage” are cited (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/06/26/justice-roberts-cited-the-traditions-of-four-cultures-in-his-dissent-on-gay-marriage-heres-what-he-didnt-mention/), the viewpoints are primarily discredited.

Despite the positive consequences (http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2015/06/same-sex-marriage-transformation-our-world-while-its-all-us-much-more-child, http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/how-same-sex-marriage-ruling-may-impact-politics-and-society/), one casualty of marriage equality is that gays are no longer outsiders (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/27/us/scotus-same-sex-marriage-gay-culture.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0). In the U.S., there is no same-sex marriage; now that marriage is available to all; there is simply marriage.

Over the weekend, I attended the wedding of a second cousin. I’ve been to many weddings, each one different. This one had its unique moments, especially since the bride was spontaneous about many things with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Often the presiding minister gives the soon-to-be newlyweds some advice on marriage. In this case, he admonished each individual to assess how it felt to be married to them, advice any couple might benefit from, especially in challenging circumstances.

Same-sex weddings join traditional weddings

With all the hoopla here, it’s easy to forget that in some countries, being gay is still a liability (https://news.vice.com/article/turkish-police-use-water-cannons-rubber-bullets-and-tear-gas-on-gay-pride-parade?utm_source=vicenewsfb), and even that homosexuals can be imprisoned for life or put to death. With marriage equality, it’ll be easy to lose track of the work that still needs to be accomplished in areas like job security, housing discrimination, credit availability, education access and bullying, and gender identity. By tossing gays and lesbians a crumb, albeit an important and valuable one, it might be that American LGBT communities could lose sight of the loaf while many gays and lesbians are still hungry. Two can live as well as one, only half as long (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/30/opinion/the-supreme-courts-lonely-hearts-club.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=opinion-c-col-right-region&region=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region&_r=0 ). Celebrate and remember, using that memory to effect change.

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The Will Talk (Part 1)

In a recent post, I mentioned the “will talk.” Here are the details (in a multi-part blog post) about an important development tool and topic of conversation with which every developer needs to be conversant and comfortable. Conversations about wills are not just for planned giving experts or staff, whatever their titles (and there are several): gift planner, deferred gift planning officer, planned giving director, to list a few. They don’t have to be awkward or uncomfortable, either; in fact, they shouldn’t be.

In addition to being a good opener for the “serious” part of a conversation with a would-be donor, the “will talk” is a way for the developer to demonstrate that his or her concern goes beyond money and support to encompass the would-be donor’s well-being and future. The development professional can actually provide a service that is worthwhile and helpful. Having tools and resources readily available can establish credibility as well as enabling the would-be donor to undertake a project without hassle and, as appropriate, in a DIY manner, which will be appreciated. Besides establishing credibility, the “Will Talk” can help establish trust so important to biggerr and often later “asks.”

When should a developer discuss face-to-face inclusion of his or her organization in a will with potential donors? Probably sooner than the developer might think; by the time most potential donors are in their early 40s is not too soon. Overlooking the approximately 80% of people who die without a will, the average age at which a will is created is 45, and the average age at which a charity is named in one is 48. In most cases before 40, electronic promotion and as-needed one-on-one advice coupled with the posting of easily accessible sample bequest language is usually sufficient; having (and promoting) this information online is a minimum requirement for non-profits serious about receiving gifts through bequests usually made in wills. (Bequests can also be made through trusts or other vehicles, to be discussed in a future post. Another easy way to support an organization is through POD (Pay on Death) and TOD (Transfer on Death) provisions, also to be discussed in a future post.)

Once a charity is in a will, there is only about a 3% chance it will be deleted. Though older people may sometimes change a will, they may not, and it is much more difficult for a charity to be added as a beneficiary later. Getting in a will early (when it is created or soon after) is much easier than being added later. Getting a would-be donor to rethink estate planning decisions is a lot harder than being part of original thoughts and intentions. As a development officer, go for early inclusion. An organization should have a stewardship plan in place to help prevent elimination of it from wills and/or other aspects of estate plans. 

Why should anyone have a will? A lot of people don’t, as though not having one is going to keep them from dying. Wrong. Everyone is going to die; “no one is getting out of here alive.” Dying without a will is just going to make it harder on a person’s survivors. So, do the right thing: take time to create a will.

There are lots of reasons to have a will, even if a person doesn’t have a lot of money or things. Some of those “things,” btw, probably have sentimental value. Survivors might fight over them and resent each other because of the conflict, regardless the outcome. Don’t let them; obviate fights by defining who gets what. A person can have a list of personal property attached to their will and can change it without changing the will (in legalese, adding a codicil to it). Disposal of personal possessions can be easy.

If anyone beside a spouse or blood relative is going to inherit anything, it has to be passed via an estate plan. For most things, this means in a will.

 “But I’m young and married. Everything goes to my spouse, so I don’t need a will,” your would-be donor says. Wrong again!

If he or she has minor children, they definitely need to say who their children’s guardian will be if, god forbid, they and their spouse die in a common accident. Unfortunately, it happens; not having a will is not going to prevent a catastrophic accident. (And, the guardian needs to be talked with first and has to agree to serve if needed; don’t spring this task on someone, they may decline, and the parents won’t be around to insist or appoint someone else.)

In cases where a person dies without a will, the tendency is to assume everything goes to a surviving spouse. Dangerous assumption; laws can and often do change. Changes can be overlooked. Ignorance of the law doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply. 

What if a surviving spouse gets a new partner and then dies without a will? Will the first partner be happy that the family farm, for instance, goes to the new spouse? Taking time now to define possession and ownership, e.g., with life estates, may obviate events down the line.

And, there is always the unpleasant possibility that a spouse will pre-decease the grantor/would-be donor. (“I’ll rewrite my will if that happens,” your would-be donor says. Great, but that isn’t always realistic; paralyzed by grief, doing a rational task is not always “top-of-mind.” And, many surviving spouses, often aged and even sick, die soon after a deceased partner.)

“I don’t have the money,” a would-be donor may object. (“So, I want to saddle my survivors with attorney’s fees or leave them to deal with issues they won’t or can’t take to an attorney,” is what the development officer’s would-be donor is actually saying.) Beside the obvious selfishness in this statement (whether said or silently thought), cost doesn’t have to prevent creation of a will. While paying an attorney to draft or review a will is wise, there are forms one can purchase at little cost in a store or online; there are even free ones. Many charities will post sample language on their Web sites. Dare I say it: a will can be “upgraded” later.

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The Will Talk (Part 1)

In a recent post, I mentioned the “will talk.” Here are the details (in a two-part blog post) about an important development tool and topic of conversation with which every developer should be conversant and comfortable. Conversations about wills are not just for planned giving experts or staff, whatever their titles (and there are several): gift planners, deferred gift planning officer, planned giving director, to list a few. In addition to being a good opener for the “serious” part of a conversation with a would-be donor, the “will talk” is a way for the developer to demonstrate that his or her concern goes beyond money and support to encompass concern for the would-be donor. The development professional can actually provide a service that can be worthwhile, essential, and helpful to the would-be donor. Having tools and resources readily available can establish credibility as well as enabling the would-be donor to undertake a project in a DIY manner, which will be appreciated.

When should you discuss face-to-face the inclusion of your organization in a will with potential donors? (Let’s back up to say that you should talk with would-be and existing donors about a bequest to your organization.) Probably sooner than you think; by the time a would-be donor is in his or her early forties is not too soon. Certainly, the “idea” of estate planning should be mentioned soon after (but not in the same conversation, unless the donor brings it up thanking the donor for a gift or commitment, including an annual gift that captures the attention of the stewardship director and/or president (if your organization has a director of stewardship , the gift threshold for a thank you from him or her should be different from (lower than) that of the president.) Overlooking the approximately 80% of people who die without a will, the average age at which a will is created is 45, and the average age at which a charity is named in a will is 48. Before 40, electronic promotion and as-needed advice coupled with the posting of easily accessible sample bequest language is usually sufficient and a minimum requirement for non-profits serious about gifts through bequests usually made in wills. (Bequests can also be made through trusts or other vehicles, to be discussed in a future post, such as POD (Pay on Death) and TOD (Transfer on Death) provisions.)

            Once a charity is in a will, there is only a small (3%) chance it will be deleted. Though older people may change a will, it is much more difficult for a charity to be added as a beneficiary later. Getting in a will early (when it is created or soon after) is much easier than being inserted later. Getting a would-be donor to rethink decisions is a lot harder than being part of original thoughts and intentions. As a development officer, go for early inclusion. Have a stewardship plan in place to help prevent elimination of your charity from a will.  

             Why should anyone have a will? A lot of people don’t, as though not having one is going to keep folks from dying. Wrong. Everyone is going to die. Dying without a will is just going to make it harder on one’s survivors. So, do the right thing: take time to create a will while you’re alive..

            There are lots of reasons to have a will, even if a person does not have a lot of money or things. Some of those “things,” btw, probably have sentimental value. Survivors might fight over them and resent each other because of the conflict, regardless the outcome. Don’t let them; obviate fights by defining who gets what before “you” go. (I’ll use a personal pronoun to denote the would-be donor. None of us are getting out of here alive.) You can have a list of personal property attached to your will and can change it as time goes by without changing your will (in legalese, adding a codicil to it). Disposal of personal possessions can be easy.

            If anyone beside your spouse or blood relatives is going to inherit anything, it has to be passed via an estate plan. For most things, this means in a will. (There are some important exceptions, and other things that can be passed outside a will.) 

            “But I’m young and married. Everything goes to my spouse, so I don’t need a will,” your would-be donor says. Wrong again! If he or she has minor children, they definitely need to say who their children’s guardian will be if, god forbid, they and their spouse die in a common accident. Unfortunately, it happens; not having a will is not going to prevent a catastrophic accident. (The guardian needs to be talked with first and has to agree to serve if needed; don’t spring this task on someone, they may decline and then the parents won’t be around to insist or appoint someone else.)

            And, there is always the unpleasant possibility that a spouse will pre-decease the grantor/would-be donor. (“I’ll rewrite my will if that happens,” your would-be donor says. Great, but that isn’t always realistic; paralyzed by grief, let alone aged and ill-health (realistic possibilities) doing a rational task is not always “top-of-mind.” And, many surviving spouses, often aged and even sick, die soon after their partner.)

            “I don’t have the money,” a would-be donor may object. (“So, I want to saddle my survivors with attorney’s fees or leave the survivors to deal with issues they won’t or can’t take to an attorney,” is what the development officer’s would-be donor is actually saying.) Beside the obvious selfishness in this statement (whether said or silently thought), this does not have to be true. While paying an attorney to draft or review a will is wise, there are lots of will forms one can purchase at little cost in a store or online; there are even free forms. Many charities will post sample language on their Web sites. A person can save a lot of attorney time and costs by inventorying what they have and to whom it should go. Dare I say it: a will now does not have to be perfect and can always be “upgraded” later.

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Endowing an Annual Gift

There is nothing new about the idea of endowing an annual gift, but the details often get in the way with the necessary decisions, become opportunities for procrastination and/or indecision. To whom and how should one present this idea? Where does money go? How are future years’ “gifts” accounted for? These are just some of the questions to be decided. You may already have such a program and have answered questions. This blog post is for those who are thinking of but have not yet executed this idea.

To complicate matters, the director of the annual fund or annual giving, often a younger person, is usually not empowered or allowed to make these decisions even if the “execution” is often lft up to him or her. Sometimes, the director of annual giving feels such gifts are beyond his or her expertise and/or the ability of phonathon callers to ask for. Regardless, I would suggest getting the director’s recommendations first. This is an opportunity for a director of development, director of planned gifts (If your organization has one.), and the director of the annual fund or annual giving to share ideas and work together.

First of all, perhaps, is the issue of who to ask? I would suggest consistent small donors over age 70. Why? Because larger donors to an annual fund are probably “raising their hand” and should be “saved” for solicitations of major gifts, older donors have usually made up their minds about major aspects of their wills and/or estate plans, and younger donors, even if they have been presented with the “will talk,” may be made more uncomfortable by,  not quite be ready for, or be under-gauged through a face-to-face discussions about a different planned gifts, although a “starter” plan around an annual gift certainly recommends itself (but may be something best broached through social media). Decisions here include what range of gift amounts and what age range to present such an idea to. You will need to decide what is a consistent and a smaller gift and what age range is appropriate or possible for your organization’s constituents.

Then you need to decide how much to ask for? I would suggest an endowment amount—about 20 times—based on the spend-ratio on your endowment averaged over the past 10 years plus any amount deductible for future expenses. The averaging can help ensure that the amount is appropriate for and will last. You may want to use this as an opportunity to ask “target” donors for a stretch gift, perhaps some given now and some later as a bequest.  This “gift” should not take the place of future annual gifts during life, which may present an opportunity to discuss other planned (deferred) contributions. The concept is both to have a gift that will produce funds in perpetuity and, it is hoped, one that will ultimately produce donations that are larger than current gifts: the needs of the organization may and probably will increase. Use past increases to explain the desire for an annual gift endowment that may produce a larger “annual gift” than donors currently make. An annual gift endowment is a “gateway” gift to larger or other planned gifts, if not to a major gift.

Where to put the money? Presuming gift amounts do not meet a new endowment threshold or the donor does not want a new fund in his or her name, where to “park” money received will be an issue. I would suggest a new endowed fund be started to receive future gifts once the first donations are received, even if the fund, presumadly like most or all of your organization’s funds, is part of the endowment. This will be an aggregate fund specifically for annual gift endowments. Having a separate fund will facilitate accounting and allow you to gauge the success and acceptance of the concept.

What about sunset provisions? Your organization may want to specify that per-donor accounting will only happen for so many years from the death of the donor though donations to the annual fund will continue from the fund. In other words, if your organization decides to go with w sunset provision, eventually there will be an amount of the endowed fund unassociated with donors’ name that will generate a contribution to the annual fund. This is, among other reasons, because future individual contributions may look or be small compared to other gifts and there may not be future heirs to witness donations in the name of the descendant, whether or not your organization has their names or reports to them. In addition, a sunset provision may lower expectations and help guarantee that while support may be in perpetuity, an annual gift endowment does not take the place of a larger planned gift and/or a named endowment, such as a scholarship fund.

I would suggest that the concept, once adopted, be promoted in electronic media and, for more “targeted” groups, in face-to-face discussions, perhaps as an initial idea or one among several to be considered. Except with particular donor groups—such as for print-oriented donors who have been consistent in their support through small annual gifts, I would be cautious about incurring direct mail expenses to promote this idea. An exception might be as part of a year-end appeal in situations where response has been unusually strong. 

There are other practicalities of an endowed annual gift for organizations instituting the concept. Is the controller or accountant of an organization, or a current staff member in his or her office, prepared to take on the additional responsibility of endowed annual gifs? Does a new position have to be created? Where will the responsibility for the accounting fall and be placed in job descriptions? (A sunset provision can help ensure the “sustainability” of the concept.) How can descendants of decedent’s be notified about and/or should they be informed about or thanked for such gifts on an annual basis? How does one determine who is deceased? What about situations where a gift has been established during life? And will be added to at death? How are annual expenses met and by whom? (An organization may want to determine that a certain amount will be deducted from the endowed amount, but should inform potential donors of the deduction for future costs. In such cases, the organization will need to determine where unspent portions of such deductible amounts will be “parked.”) It will be best if administrative issues are discussed and determined ahead of time. 

Creating endowed annual gifts is a great way to bridge the concept of annual support and planned gifts, and, with the right groups of constituents especially, can be an effective way to increase overall support for an organization, as well as an effective way to extend the duration of individual donors’ support for an organization. The tricky thing is how to make such gifts effectively fit the needs of an organization without having them diminish levels of future support. If the latter is a particular concern, then the idea of an endowed annual gift might be best as one started with or “pioneered” for a group from which larger endowed and/or planned gifts are unlikely. In other words, they might be an idea reserved for face-to-face discussions that are not likely to lead to other results

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Fall Leaves

It’s a miracle of Minnesota: autumn and its moments of beauty. Despite the underlying melancholy, the changing leaves are quite pretty. Before Halloween, I went walking to view the leaves along the mighty Mississippi (though it’s pretty much just another river in Minneapolis, albeit one that has contributed considerable history of this town).

Leaves along the Mississippi River

Leaves along the Mississippi River

The day afterward, it was very windy; the leaves were being swept onto the ground. Most of the trees had begun to change colors, though some remained green. I’m glad I went walking when I did, even though the wind made it fairly brisk outside, because the breeze took a lot of the leaves.

Leaves on the ground

Leaves on the ground

It was a “’tween” time.

In order to see the leaves (“leaf peeping”),

Galena tree

Galena tree

I went with my partner to Galena.

Galena panorama

Galena panorama

We went to see the history there, as well as because Chicago, not too far away, had cultural attractions we wanted to take part in (the opera and the symphony). The leaves were past their peak, even in Galena, but I couldn’t have gone the week before anyway.

Chicago was lovely. Among other thing, one overcast day, we visited the contemporary museum there

Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art staircase

Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art staircase

and ate breakfast at a great place where the wait was “only” a half hour. But, I’m back now, watching Minneapolis slip toward winter. The leaves are now more on the ground than on the trees. Already, it’s November.

This week it even snowed, and the trees are pretty leafless. Winter is on its way. Summer is past. But, most branches aren’t completely bare yet, and some trees still have summer “coats” of strange colored leaves. There are bureaucratic deadlines ahead in the New Year, income taxes for instance. Before them, holiday cards and gifts to be purchased and wrapped, cookies to be made. It’s turning into a busy time of year.

But, I find fall more sad than celebratory. The days are getting shorter. The leaves are falling. Winter, which is long in these parts, is ahead. I’m not a big enthusiast of Halloween, which, in my opinion, has become an overdone holiday.

Minneapolis Halloween house

Minneapolis Halloween house

Thanksgiving and Christmas, which I do enjoy, still seem a long way off (though Thanksgiving will soon be a commercial afterthought). Snow will stay soon. So will the cold.

Perhaps some of my melancholy has to do with what is essentially a pun on “leave.” This time of year makes me recall partners, places, perspectives I have left. That each departure resulted in something better, it’s easy to see in retrospect. However, while they were happening, the leaving was anything but easy, or future satisfaction certain.

They were, it felt then, a risk, albeit one now I’m glad I took. But, particularly this year, perhaps because I had a “landmark” birthday before summer and am now a “landmark” age, looking back has an added significance for me.

It’s easy to think of past friends and faces, places and realities I’ve lived in and through and imagine them as leading to different places, if they had persisted. But they didn’t.

Once winter is here, I can take it and even find some beauty in it. After all, the days are getting longer. Spring is ahead, and something to look forward to. No denying, it’s nice to get away to a warm climate during winter; returning to snow is not so hard then, and one knows, when one comes back usually, the snow will melt before too long.

But, getting to winter is the challenge. Fall is a “’tween” time.

Perhaps, what I need to do is look back with the same sense of inevitability and acceptance that I feel toward winter. After all, the seasons change, and so have I. A constant moving forward is change, whether personal or having to do with the seasons. In fact, sameness became, in my opinion, boring. Hanging on to my past may be pretty, but it’s futile. Like trees do their leaves, I experience a sense that I’m better prepared for the future without the camouflage and coat of the realities from the past.

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Shutdown Follies

The shutdown of the federal government

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is certainly frustrating, infuriating, and unnecessary, especially since Congress has had so long to resolve the issue of the FY14 budget.1  Ideology trumps compromise,2 however, and the Republicans seem determined to shoot themselves in the foot.  There have been several consequences already from the shutdown, 3 a lot of rhetoric (and non-rhetoric4), and some chivalrous acts (notably by Democrats5 but also by some Republicans), let alone economic costs estimated at around $220m/day.6 

Even more frightening is the terrorization of the world threatened by the debate over the debt ceiling debate and a U.S. default,7 let alone the cynicism of the Republicans regarding both situations and their determination not to back down.It’s the month of Image Halloween, so, it’s no surprise, perhaps, that we should be afraid, very afraid;9 “trick or treat” has turned into just trick, no treat.  The least our legislators could do is reuse their pay;10 this seems too much to ask of the clueless, though.11   It is small comfort to think of the limping or immobilization that could result from injuries in both feet of the Republicans, a consideration apparently of little importance especially to the extreme Republicans, exemplified by Tea Partiers.

But, there has been another event now paralleling that of the shutdown.  That is the demise of the Minnesota Orchestra.12Image  To summarize, management locked-out the symphony musicians last season and has done so again so far this season.  Now the conductor has announced his resignation too.13 Image  The lockout is over a roughly $6 million per year deficit.  The conductor is leaving because concerts at Carnegie Hall have been cancelled.  Allegations have been flying:14 management misled legislators (who approved a multimillion dollar subsidy for renovation of Orchestra Hall, now done), not to mention the musicians; the musicians were overpaid and expect continued inflated salaries; the orchestra is only second-tier while pay under contracts, now expired, was first-rate; management has exhibited bad faith.  Both sides are entrenched about their position.  Whichever side you sympathize with, and despite the fact that to most of us $6 million is a considerable chunk of change, it’s beginning to look like the bickering will result in the dissolution of the orchestra.15  According to the musicians, already about a fourth of the orchestra’s musicians have left.  Meanwhile, with relative ease, a $1 billion Vikings stadium on the site of the Metrodome, just over 30 years old,16 has been approved.17

Is the disconnect obvious?  Sports matter; music does not.  Sports fans, like the Republicans who mainly stay on message while holding a gun to the head of the nation (and the world) appear organized; music fans, like Democrats, find it difficult to stay on message, let alone point out the obvious: the issues Republicans say they want to stop—such as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and national spending—are ones already decided by democratic majorities, are issues the Republcans previously supported,18 and are “ships” that have “sailed;” they are “barking up the wrong tree.”  At least one knowledgeable leader has noticed the Minnesota disconnect between the Vikings, who threatened to leave, and the Minnesota Orchestra, the management for which has been unable to reach agreement on a contract with the players that will allow the organization to exist and perform, and pointed out the obvious: that the orchestra is an asset to the Twin Cities—for jobs, the economy, bringing and keeping company headquarters and operations here, not to mention excellence in entertainment.19  It is an asset Minnesota cannot afford to lose.  One hopes sound logic will prevail and a solution will be found so that the orchestra is able to resolve its difficulties

However, what do orchestra management and perpetrators of a federal shutdown have in common?  Both are short-sighted and so focused on their own position they can’t “see the forest for the trees,” are willing to “throw the baby out with the bath water;” in other words, they are egotistical, greedy, and unwilling to compromise. Both are willing to “cost” others innocent others to make their point.  Both groups20 are “out of their league” and don’t seem to know it.  Both deserve to lose their positions.  Let’s hope they do, but that the shutdown and the Minnesota Orchestra’s contract dispute both get resolved soon, the former before the debt ceiling debates start in earnest and the latter before the state loses an orchestra.

 

  1. Past opportunities to resolve budget issues: http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/09/30/20756914-how-congress-reached-this-point?lite
  2. Reaction to shutdown: https://www.facebook.com/JerryFladmark/posts/3583495201283
  3. Effects of shutdown: http://news.yahoo.com/shutdown-stories-congressional-quarreling-affecting-us-173012233.html
  4. Shutdown broadcast: http://www.gopshutdownlive.com/
  5. Franken joins those foregoing pay by donating check to food charity: http://www.alfranken.com/2013/10/03/swmpls-patch-sen-franken-to-donate-pay/?fb_action_ids=10151892707701815&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%7B%2210151892707701815%22%3A562145770506251%7D&action_type_map=%7B%2210151892707701815%22%3A%22og.recommends%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D
  6. Estimated cost of shutdown: http://washington.cbslocal.com/2013/10/02/washington-area-expected-lose-220m-per-day-due-to-shutdown/
  7. Debt ceiling debate cost: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/long-debate-over-debt-ceiling-could-harm-economy-reports-says/2013/10/03/992c482e-2c35-11e3-b139-029811dbb57f_story.html
  8. Republican shutdown cynicism: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/frame_game/2013/10/shutdown_leverage_forget_obamacare_republicans_are_using_the_shutdown_as.html
  9. Default costs: http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/breakout/u-treasury-default-catastrophic-consequences-explained-170230218.html
  10. Refusing Congressional pay: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/10/01/which-lawmakers-will-refuse-their-pay-during-the-shutdown/
  11. Another insensitive Republican: http://freakoutnation.com/2013/10/03/house-republican-says-i-need-my-paycheck-during-the-government-shutdown/
  12. Minnesota Orchestra economics: http://www.minnpost.com/macro-micro-minnesota/2013/09/economics-behind-orchestra-dispute-slouching-toward-lake-wobegon-symph
  13. Minnesota Orchestra conductor resigns: http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/10/01/228164214/minnesota-orchestra-conductor-resigns-after-carnegie-hall-cancellations
  14. Positions of orchestra management & musicians: http://www.minnesotaorchestra.org/http://www.minnesotaorchestramusicians.org/
  15. Minnesota Orchestra doomed?: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2013/10/02/mcmanus
  16. Vikings’ Metrodome: http://www.vikings.com/stadium/metrodome.html
  17. Vikings’ new stadium: http://www.vikings.com/stadium/new-stadium/faq.html
  18. Conservatives’ ideas: http://wallstcheatsheet.com/stocks/the-irony-of-obamacare-republicans-thought-of-it-first.html/?ref=YF
  19. Former governor’s blog: http://govarnecarlson.blogspot.com/
  20. Members of Minnesota Orchestral Association & Congress: http://www.minnesotaorchestra.org/about/board-management-and-administration/board-of-directors , http://www.democratichub.com/congress-list.aspx?o=pv&adv_b=bing&utm_source=Bing&utm_medium=CPC&utm_term=members%20of%20congress&utm_campaign=DH+All+Congress+Bing
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Trust

Recently, I read a book about trust called The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey, whose father, Stephen R. Covey—a business guru of sorts who authored the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote the book’s foreword. (In small type at the bottom of the cover below the author’s name it admits “with Rebecca R. Merrill.”) The copyright for the book is 2006 (by the author, not by publisher Simon & Schuster), and emblazoned across the top of the paperback volume—along with the pages of endorsements by “CEOs;” “Business Authorities;” “Marketing Authorities;” “Media Authorities;” “Government, Education, and Healthcare Authorities;” “Personal and Professional Authorities;” and “Learning and Human Resource Authorities”—is the banner “New York Times Bestseller.” In other words, this is a much vouched-for work.Image

As you can tell from the book’s title and its subtitle, “The One Thing That Changes Everything,” the book is all about how trust makes business (and, the author asserts, personal relationships, which he uses in narratives to illustrate many examples) more successful—that is, as far as business is concerned: quicker and more profitable, and lends it a competitive edge in a “flat world” (Thomas Friedman and his idea about a “flat world” is referred to many times) global economy. While going back and forth between business and relationships, the book does provide very helpful and convincing examples to illustrate its points. Trust is something we take for granted, at least until it is gone. Sometimes, we don’t notice it has disappeared until it is too late. But, trust, contrary to most assertions, can usually be restored and sometimes accrues quickly.

Choosing this volume was not, I’ll acknowledge, my own initiative; it was tangential to my position as a Director of Development and Planned Giving at a university, where the development (aka advancement, or fundraising) team is preparing for a leadership retreat, led by an outside consultant. In other words, it was assigned reading I took on preemptively. Extrapolating the principles illustrated to the non-profit world was not that difficult, though Covey does not refer to the sector often. For instance, the index refers to one section—spanning two pages, which is, in fact, only a couple of paragraphs long—dealing with non-governmental agencies. Nevertheless, I dutifully read the entire work from cover to cover. (In addition to knowing a lot about trust, I now have too much information, perhaps, about the Coveys.)

It always amazes me how authors draw a whole book from such topics, but they can and do. Just look at the great number of competing titles in the business section of any bookstore. To get there, this volume enumerates four essential core principles and 13 behaviors—more than I, at least, can remember, let alone, most of the time, practice. The behaviors each fill a chapter, albeit most of them are rather short. The author assures us, we must follow these principles and behaviors if we want to reap the rewards of trust. I practice at least most of the behaviors, instinctively, or else, as the book teaches, I have a lot of recommended adjustments to make.

Armed with information presented in the book, I hope I am prepared for the retreat next month. I, and we—the team, should learn soon which pages in the book we are required or requested to have read before the event. Having read the entire volume, I will only have to review the pages assigned. Then, another book for my shelves! Want to read about trust? This book seems to have lots of information about it, including how to find and instill it in others; even if there are seeming gaps in the logic or examples sometimes. In my opinion, it has an optimistic point of view, one which I can appreciate and find reassuring.

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