On Doing Corporate Philanthropy Well, Or not

Some thoughts on corporate marketing and philanthropy.  I am increasingly uncomfortable with us and our corporate/non-profit partnerships that seem to be all about marketing and appear to have little substance behind them. While I blame the companies in part, I think we may be a part of the problem as well.

I was reminded of my discomfort last weekend at the Vikings game, and with the NFL's promotion of breast cancer awareness month that will start tonight. Several times last weekend, the Vikings highlighted their work to stop childhood disease, and support soldiers. The work is good. I have no problem with that. But as they gave it prominent play, and the whole stadium stood and applauded, I felt very uncomfortable. Something seemed off, as if what we were all doing, the Vikings and us the fans, was ultimately all about us.  Is this something we really care about, or is it about simply appearing to care?  Am I wrong? Is this a necessary part of fundraising and making people aware of worthwhile causes, or is there a hidden narcissism going on that starts with us?

To be clear, I get that in some respects it is primarily about marketing.  And for a for-profit entity that may be ok.  For me it is more a question of authenticity.  Is what you are promoting core to who you are or not?  Which matters, because I think many consumers can sniff out a lack of authenticity.  If the philanthropy is infact sincere, and I certainly hope it is, then the communicator needs to take care that that message is effectively communicated.  At the Viking game a few weeks ago, the partnerships didn't seem authentic.  I didn't get the impression that the Vikings core concern was childhood disease.  It seemed like they just wanted me to feel good about what they were doing in the community.  And it seemed like a lot of us were perfectly fine with that.  We stood and applauded, costing us nothing.

This is in contrast to, for example, an outdoor company that sells sporting goods, and also takes practical steps to nurture the environment.  If a CEO or owner clearly has a passion for the outdoors that drives both his business and his philanthropy, that I can get on board with.  If a metal fabrication shop puts their own time and effort into making things to help the handicap, say a kick-ass wheelchair for a wounded vet.  That is exciting.  They are proving their passion with their time, and asking me to get on board as well.  Ok. I like it.

But if it is just about perception.  Save it.


Everyday Negotiating

We've had a little extra drama in our lives of late, but we have made the most of it.
A week and a half ago a guy decided to take a left turn in front of me, while I had the right of way. Collided going 25 or 30 mph. Since our 01 Civic was technically only worth $3200, they totaled it. Been shopping for a new sedan ever since.

Purchased a gently used Certified Honda Accord on Monday, (the last day of the month) and I have to say, while they said they have a no-haggle policy, (almost all dealerships in the cities do) somehow the price came down $500, the interest rate moved, (Came with a bank offer in hand, and balked at their first offer that barely beat it.) and a whole lot of things got thrown into the deal.

It wasn't about being tough. I think it was about building rapport, and asking, not demanding. Joey playing the part of the bad cop probably didn't hurt either.

A while back I read a book on negotiating, and it had a chapter on retail-negotiating. The book suggested that you really need to spend time with the salesperson. Let them do their job. Let them educate you. Play along even if you already did your research. If you come in and start making demands, you will likely get a flat no. Instead, spend an hour or two with them, (more or less depending on the situation, we spent multiple hours with our car guy.) Then, when you make the ask, (a reasonable one) they will be invested in both you and the sale. They can't afford to spend that kind of time and get nothing for it.

While I'm no expert, the advice certainly proved true on Monday, and while the context is different, it seems to work out when I'm negotiating child support and other family law issues as well.


Scripture on Judging Others

There is a tension in scripture on the use of the word "judge."

For example, John 7:24, and many other similar passages say things like, "Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

While in contrast, Romans 14:4 says, "Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand... You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat."

And yet, 1 Corinthians 6:2 says: "Do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?"

This all seems like it could be a problem.  Taking a look at the full context of each of those passages helps, and I think the Apostle James offers further assistance. Judging rightly is closely related to teaching, admonishing, and loving others well, and James has this to say about teachers: "Not many of you should become teachers (which inevitably involves making judgements), because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. [Remember] we all stumble in many ways." James 3.

And Paul says this: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." Philippians 2:1-4

In my judgement, many Christians are like this blogger, who writes at length on why it is ok to judge others, without looking at the tension in scripture, or talking about how to do so well.  (He lists nearly every passage that says judge, but never looks at Romans 14.)

Exercising discernment, care, concern, teaching, or judgement without humility is an effort doomed to fail, and too often, that is exactly what happens. (For me in particular.)  That is one of the reasons non-Christians, and former Christians, and Christians who often don't identify as Christians, and our culture in general disdains judgement so much; they rarely experience it combined with humility and graciousness.

A Memorial for those who fell in Afgaistan and Iraq?

I recently spent some time at the Vietnam War Memorial in Duluth. While there, it occurred to me that our generation needs to build some memorials for those who have fallen during our wars.

I did a quick google search to see if anything was in the works.  It seems Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery is the closest thing we have at the moment.  And some have pointed out that we just recently got the WWII memorial built, so it might be a while in the making. 

If and when something does get underway, I want to contribute in some small way.


Reflections on Memorial Day

Memorial Day makes me uncomfortable. It is meant to be about those that died, but with them absent, people want to thank those that served. I never saw combat. Like many, I joined the military for personal reasons, not altruistic ones. (College money.) It was pre-9/11, and Bosnia was in the headlines. Defending freedom was a distant thought.

I enjoyed serving, and got every last benefit out of the deal. I suffered nothing. So to be thanked for my service...

Today I think of those who died. Not people like me...

Don't get me wrong, compared to my college bound friends maybe I suffered a little.  One definitely gives up some freedoms. Air Force "boot camp" was rough, all six weeks of it. (The Army does 10, and the Marines do 13.) I did learn some powerful lessons about dealing with physical pain. (Not necessarily a big deal if you haven't physically broken anything.) And I'm sure my wife has benefited from the lessons in cleaning and ironing.

I also caught the worst cold of my life during combat support operations. (sarcasm alert) It turned into walking pneumonia. We were in northern California directly supporting operations in Iraq. They had us in these not so mobile, mobile trailers full of computer equipment for analyzing intelligence. 105 outside. 45 inside. Not good for your health.

One of my friends from high school who was in the 101 Airborne pointed out that the more appropriate name for my service was the Chair Force. I couldn't disagree. The chair I was in, analyzing intelligence, purportedly retailed for $500. I did feel compelled to point out that we got paid roughly the same. While I returned to my one person air conditioned dorm room, he was often sharing a ten man tent, where temperatures could reach 100 degrees.

Did I mention that I earned a Bachelor's degree debt free? And that the military helped pay for parts of two graduate degrees?

Some have pointed out that this is a pretty good deal.  And it is, but consider the numbers.  An enlisted soldier or sailor with the rank of E2, one of the most common junior ranks, is paid a salary of $1716.90, plus a tax free housing and food allowance of $869.05, for a gross total of $2585.95 per month. At 50 hours a week, that is about $12.92 per hour, plus free healthcare and other incidental benefits, and the GI Bill.

That is a good deal for a kid fresh out of high school with no marketable skills.

On the other hand, is it sufficient for combat, worth risking life and limb over? (No. So you get an additional $225 per month combat pay.)

While plenty of poor kids do join for the money and the training absent other prospects, it seems like the fellas on Wall Street could spare a few more dollars--if in fact these soldiers give us the freedom to make as much money as the market will bear.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not really all that worked up about this, I am just sharing my perspective.  Ultimately, it is a day for those that died, not for people like me. I'm just saying I don't like standing at church to be recognized for example, and I think I'm not alone.

You have to want to join. I did and am grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded.   


Go in Peace

There is a tension in Christianity between on the one hand, living a holy life that abstains from sin, and on the other, participating in systems that seem necessary but give us pause. Being a part of our communities in ways that call into question the ideals of Christ. One's career is a common area this challenge surfaces.

On that topic, this passage caught my attention today.

In 2 Kings 5 the commander of the army of one of Israel's enemies, Namman, had a problem, leprosy--a disease that would surely kill him, and which alienated him from his community.

And yet, he hears about the power of God, from of all people, a young Israelite girl that had been carried away into slavery, likely by his army. Desperate, he dared to approach the people he abused, and asked for help.

The King of Israel was distraught, certain that his failure to heal Namman's disease would be a pretext for war. But then a lowly prophet stepped in.

Like all of us, Namman, an enemy of God, experienced the grace of God.

And then this is what caught my attention:

"But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

“Go in peace,” Elisha said."


Reflections on the Affordable Care Act

The problems with Obamacare are well documented.  And they are real.  People have a right to be upset with the roll-out of the ACA.  But the fundamental premise that all Americans should have access to healthcare is being addressed, and it reflects a value for life and justice and generosity.

This article in the New York Times details some of the promises and ongoing problems of the ACA.

In some cases, those most vociferous on the problems are those that have done everything they can to derail it.  They are like a neighborhood bully who, having just rammed a stick through the spokes of a little boys bike says, "see I told you you would crash."

And then there are those who say, "we aren't opposed to access, we are just opposed to this approach."  But were were these people for the 20 or 30 years that this problem developed?  Obamacare addresses problems that were well documented and not being addressed.  Those problems could have been addressed in some other way in the years prior to Obama being elected.  If churches and non-profits should be at the forefront of this effort, why weren't they? Or why wasn't their effort adequate?  Why wasn't their enough of them?  Or did they do the best they could and the inadequacy of the effort prior to Obamacare just illustrates the limits of this approach?  (I'm not judging the efforts of those who were involved in non-profit healthcare prior to the ACA, I'm talking about the systemics of it.)

Finally there are criticisms of cost.  Several things are happening here.  First, American's are being asked to pay the real cost of their healthcare. (Or something closer to that number.)  In some cases, people were getting more than they were paying for.  Second, people are getting an insurance contract that is fundementally better than it was for many in the past.  The situation is similar to regulations on automobiles.  In some parts of the world, you can get a new car for substantially less than you can here in the States, but the workmanship, safety and efficiency all suffer.  You take your life in your hands driving these cars.   In the same way, people who use to have low-cost insurance plans, more than likely did not realize the extent of the exclusions and limitations on those plans.  In some cases they were paying for an insurance contract that was not worth the paper it was written on.  Having said this, this is one area I could see agreeing with conservatives.  Maybe American's should be free to buy bad insurance contracts.  I could see offering a super low-cost insurance contract that came with the equivalent of a Surgeon General's warning.  "Warning!  This contract does not comply with the requirements of the ACA and contains significant limitations, including..."

Having said all this, the problems at present are real.  Good intentions are not enough.  President Obama and his deputies need to deliver on the promises they made because those promises reflect a concern for life, and justice, and generosity.