I have been a close observer of the American Right wing for over half a century. I have seen organizations come and go, but more often, I have seen organizations come, peak, go into maintenance mode, and then bump along, with money coming in from ever-older donors and especially from the last wills and testaments of former donors.
Legacy donations have always been important to every nonprofit organization. The most obvious legacy donations in the history of Western civilization were the deathbed donations of rich men, mostly landowners, who finally decided that it was time to buy a little favor with God. So, they called in a priest, and they transferred land either to the church or to one of the monastic orders of the church. The church built up an enormous legacy of land throughout the Middle Ages. Those legacies came into the church for 1,000 years. Then, Renaissance states started to confiscate these lands. The practice went on from Henry VIII in the early 16th century until the triumph of the Soviet Union in the middle of the 20th century.
INFLUENCE FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE . . . MAYBE
Legacy donations are made by people who have decided that they want to extend their ideas beyond the grave. They believe that their children have received sufficient capital from them, so that it will not harm the children when some of the legacy money is handed over to some nonprofit organization. For very rich people, this is a good idea. Unless a person’s heir has the same kind of vision and moneymaking ability that his entrepreneurial parent possessed, the legacy is likely to be frittered away. It is better to promote one’s ideas beyond the grave than the self-destructive personal habits of people who happen to be your genetic heirs.
The problem with legacy donations is simple: the organization that receives the donations is only marginally less moribund than the person who is 6 feet under. The organization maintains a shell, in a zombie-like fashion, but in fact has passed over the great divide between life and death decades earlier. It maintains the same letterhead. It may maintain the same headquarters. It may still publish its monthly newsletter. But the founder is gone. His vision is gone. His innovative efforts have become bureaucratic. The new managers may or may not sing the old songs, but they certainly do not write any new songs or offer creative new arrangements for the old songs. They draw their salaries, and they go through the motions of extending the founder’s vision, but in fact the organization is no longer competitive in the world of ideas.
It is understandable how this happens. Most nonprofit organizations do not survive the first five years. Of those that survive the first five years, very few of them survive the next 30 years. If the innovator was a young man who launched the organization, by the time he is close to retirement age, if the organization even exists, he now has what old men love to have: secure income in retirement. Instead of taking a low-paying pension, he simply stays on. The organization turns into what in effect is an old age retirement home with 30 staff people and one resident. He still draws a paycheck, as if he were contributing anything of value to the organization, other than serving as a figurehead. His presence no doubt is comforting to his aging peers, who will then leave a legacy in their wills. He functions in much the same way as a greeter functions, or at least functioned a generation ago, at a Las Vegas gambling casino. He is the functional equivalent of Joe Lewis.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)
What I see with the nonprofits around here is that most have very liberal boards. Recently I was on the Board of Directors of a nonprofit originally created to teach reading skills to adults. It had morphed into teaching English classes to immigrants, then to illegal aliens. Even though I don't think illegal aliens should be in this country, I can't control that and I would rather teach them English than have them speak only their native tongue. So I supported this. The last straw was when the director asked how she should lie to all the conservative donors when they asked point blank if we served illegals. Instead of justifying it as I had, she thought she should lie to get their money. The board agreed and I was asked to leave.
This is a very good article and definitely “food for thought.” I’m sure that there are some organizations that wish it wasn’t written. They don’t like having their scams exposed.
Good discourse on this subject.One correction: The Brown Bomber spelled his name,Joe Louis.
Gary, – so true about non-profits. "The people with vision have no money and the people with money have no vision." Most visionaries wither away for lack of funding.
The crux here is that most non-profits get siphoned dry by excessive administrative costs, achieve little, and wither away from neglect of the original vision. Megabuck non-profits have been systematically overtaken by outside groups for their own benefit, and the motives and funding changed to meet their priorities. It's a simple fact that no one notices they have been targeted until it is too late to retake the board majority.
The American Cancer Society is a good example – the cause – Find a cure. Get's everyone on board. They do fund research, but the proportion of funding versus admin costs is ridiculous. Many of these cure/research groups spend a fortune on marketing and advertising to keep the dollars rolling in, and for what – more overhead………. They purposely absorbed the Komen Foundation for a reason – they did such a good job marketing and promoting, reaping hundreds of millions in donations that were being diverted from them.