On July 12, 2001, Hank Goldstein was presented with the “Sage Award” at the 10th Annual Summer Institute of the American Association of Fund Raising Counsel. The text of his remarks follow.
This is like a Texas lynching. They asked the rustler if he had any last words. “Well,” he drawled, “if it wasn’t for the honor of the thing, I’d just as soon forget it.” So I am a “sage.”
Part I: Yes, I’m Still Buying Green Bananas
“Sage” is a senior citizen movie ticket. “Sage” means you only need to carry three cards: American Express, Medicare and AARP. “Sage” is people asking, “Are you retired yet?” Or “still working?” Or dead? “Sage” is wanting to be young enough to have a midlife crisis. If I don’t count the divorces, the deaths of parents and friends, or the crash and resurrection of The Oram Group, I haven’t had time for a midlife crisis. “Sage” means the forbearance of my friends, the tolerance of the Raybin partners, being patronized by my children, and the patience of my co-mortgagor, Linda Broessel. “Sage” means time for travel and for squash, hiking, kayaking, cycling, running, and other pursuits to which I bring considerable energy and enthusiasm but very modest talent. … “Sage” means the opportunity to pontificate before captive audiences.
I am not dead … yet, and I have no plans to retire. Retirement in the usual sense is not on the horizon for me. Retirement is training wheels for death, which a trust officer of my acquaintance defines as “account activation.” I hope to keep my account inactive for a while, through work, luck, exercise, good friends, and passable Pinot Noir. The marbles still line up and I am at the top of my game, despite the occasional Florida moment. Life and work are jolly good fun, because I cannot conduct either without the lubricant of ironic humor.
People always ask us what we do, don’t they? I tell them I invented Velcro. When I ‘fess up, the next question, of course, is “how did you ever get into that business? Well, here’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. When I woke up this morning, (and in “Sage-land” waking up is 99% of the battle) -- I realized that perhaps a third of the people in fund raising or consulting, including a few of you -- weren’t even born the year I started.
Part II: Sages Are Made, Not Born
To get to the future, a bit of the past . …
In 1956, on August 1st, I went to work for Lee Tracy, executive director of the community chest in Paterson, New Jersey, the Sodom and Gomorrah of organized fund raising. About a dozen struggling charities hung by their deficits. Our campaign goal was $200,000. The in-the-office campaign slogan was “Help support a sagging chest!”
I hired on as public relations director, a title invented by Lee to elevate my self-esteem, and keep me working cheap. The salary was $75 a week, $10 more than I had been offered as a general assignment reporter for the Paterson Evening News.
Lee was a defrocked social worker, a serious daytime drinker, a poet, and sober or not, one of the two best people for whom I’ve ever worked the other Harold Oram, of course. Here is some of what happened to me during my first campaign:
- The pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church of Prospect Heights kicked me out of his office when I told him the Bible didn’t mention the Dutch Reformed Church of Prospect Heights. I offered this observation only after he told me the Bible mentioned neither the community chest nor township campaigns.
- Two large, round, tattooed gentlemen escorted me from a steel extrusion plant on the edge of town. I erred in believing that workplace solicitation for the community chest was a movement whose time had come.
- The newspaper called Lee a drunk in print. Lee and I went to the bar of the Alexander Hamilton hotel where I wrote the denial.
- We had report meetings. Over at the Alexander Hamilton hotel, volunteer solicitors gathered at breaking light. Following God’s blessings, watery scrambled eggs with little pieces of bacon floating in them, pastry of uncertain manufacture, and tepid coffee, these worthies told in tones of abject defeat the result of their failed entreaties to the merchants and counting houses of the city. It was a heady start on the day.
Lee had me write my first direct marketing piece, an earnest plea to the shoe stores, dry cleaners, butchers, hardware purveyors, barbers, pizza parlors, tarot readers, pool halls, bodegas, saloons and other tenders of Paterson’s commercial life. For inspiration, I repaired to the Tree Tavern, where warmed by wine and bloated by pasta, I wrote my heart out.
In the fullness of time, Alexander Hamilton left Paterson. Allen Ginsberg left Paterson. And so did I.
My next stop was nearly nine years at the Greater New York Fund, now United Way of Tristate, where I learned how to work effectively with CEOs of big companies, and how important good tradecraft was and is. I was well trained as a fundraiser, and mid-level manager. I was promoted twice, and I had a shot at a top job either in New York, or elsewhere within the United Way movement. I don’t see a lot of good tradecraft or training today despite the proliferation of workshops, degrees, conferences, and what not. PowerPoint has dulled the senses, and almost no one can write a simple declarative sentence. The volunteers with whom I worked at the Fund were mostly terrific. As top executives in the city’s major firms, they were usually white, Protestant, and Republican. They were always hiring away my Fund colleagues, which was fine by me. I never bought the corporate rap. I played the part. I never truly believed in the script.
I remember one top solicitor from those years. This citizen was a partner at Morgan Stanley, and had pulled Fund duty because one of his clients had recruited him to the campaign. At the Fund, we used institutional leverage effectively, to raise volunteers and money. This guy had me to lunch at one of the restrictive downtown clubs, and over his version of soul food, told me utterly without irony that there were three important things in life: Morgan Stanley, the Episcopal Church, and the Republican Party. Certainly not the Greater New York Fund, a conservative place, sexist, ageist, racist, politely anti-Semitic in the manner of the time, homophobic, a simulacrum of the business community which is exactly what it aspired to be.
In those days, I dressed for success, and I was quite a picture. The rule was to mimic the titans of trade: white button down shirts, dark pinstripes, rep four-in-hands, black wingtips, fedoras, and yes, by God garters to hold up the black socks! It was so perfect it was almost a send-up of the IBM look. The women wore dresses or skirts, and not those genderless dress-for-success-suits that came along later. A woman who showed up in pants would have been sent home. After she’d been fired.
The Fund was stultifying boring. My outside stimulation was graduate school, local Democratic politics, and involvement in many of the major social issues of the day, especially civil rights.
Every mid-level manager on the Fund’s campaign staff had to take a turn running one of two major luncheons a year. These huge, soporific affairs were held in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria. The carte de jour was the greasy, gray rubber chicken bred especially for the captive banquet trade, wrinkled little peas that tasted like grapeshot, and the spongy mystery cake covered with viscous red sauce.
There was little comic pause, but I was witlessly responsible for one memorable moment. We used a double dais to seat 60 volunteers, and in the backstage holding area, per the luncheon operations manual, I laid out 60 names on 60 chairs. As the band struck up “East Side, West Side,” or whatever, I goosed the lead guy, and the grand entrance began. Unfortunately, I had reversed the seating chart backstage. The lower level dais was now the upper. Stage right was stage left! Toward certain confusion these merchant princes and plumed dukes of commerce advanced. Like a pack of squealing pigs on ice, they skittered from one end of the stage to the other, half the moguls climbing to the upper dais, half bumping their way down to the lower. Party time! … Clearly, I had absorbed all I could from this job. It was time to move on.
Part III: You Don’t Work For A Living; You’re A Consultant
It was late 1963. I had just turned 30. My daughter, Janet, had only weeks before presented herself to the planet, and I had $100 in the bank. I answered a blind ad in the New York Times. Eve Bates, one of Oram’s vice presidents had run the ad. … What luck! I had heard a lot about the Oram firm, and the clients they served. I showed up at the appointed hour, all kitted out in the IBM rig, and was shortly conducted into the commanding presence of Harold Leonard Oram, HLO. He offered me an 11am cigar, a Dewars, (I accepted both), and after a nice bit of patter, sent me away, having asked for a writing sample.
A few days later, Harold telephoned to tell me he wanted me to “take a campaign” in Fulton, Missouri, at Westminster College, which had gained a moment of fame as the site of Churchill’s famed “Iron Curtain” speech. I had spent eight months at Fort Leonard Wood, the all-time cloaca of military posts. … Were any of you ever stationed there? … No way was I going back to Missouri, or for that matter, any other landfill between New York and L.A. I turned him down. In those days, firms signed a campaign at 5 pm Friday, and needed a body with a pulse, on site, at 9 am Monday. … Three months later, HLO called back, and said he wanted me to work on a campaign for Hampton Institute (now University), then and now one of the nation’s preeminent historically black institutions, and the first of 14 HBCUs I have since served. Before I could spurn him again, he thundered, “There’s no money in Hampton. We’re going to run the campaign from here.” And we did.
The first or second month on the job, April or May 1964, I went to my first AAFRC dinner. The cocktail hour began with old guys in suits, dry snacks, and a mood that was like a funeral where everyone gathers in the anteroom before the service, and says nice things about the corpse. An open bar did a brisk business in hard liquor, and as you would imagine, things lightened up quickly. AAFRC mojos of the day attended these semi-annual beef and booze collations: guys like Ed Powell, J.O. Newberry, Roger Wilson, Dave Ketchum, Arnaud Marts, George Brakeley, and among the firms involved were John Price Jones, Tamblyn & Brown (where Lee Tracy had once toiled), the Wells Organization, Cosgriff, Feldstein, and many others I’ve forgotten. The paid exec was Eldridge Hiller, Jack Schwartz’s predecessor.
To this particular dinner, Harold Oram brought his retinue of walking furniture three VPs, all women, one of whom was African American, unusual for the time, and still pretty rare in this group -- and a trailing edge of two or three junior staff, including moi. The other AAFRC firms either had no women on staff, or dunked them in the steno pool.
When I came to Oram, the firm had been an AAFRC member for a decade or so; Harold had served one or two terms as treasurer, and delighted in knowing but never discussed how the other firms were doing. However, the Oram firm was really a different animal. We cherished a strong anti-corporate corporate culture, we were cause-driven, and we served liberal and left wing counter-cultural organizations. Our AAFRC colleagues were actually quite tolerant … but bemused. In certain matters, HLO was a major snob, and one of his quirks was that he embraced the prestige and camaraderie of AAFRC. He definitely enjoyed swimming with the other whales in the pod. The rest of us didn’t know what the hell we were doing here, and no doubt, vice-versa.
The Association was dealing with the same cosmic issues we are now, with about the same results. One of the nut-cutters in the early 1970s was how to treat Oram, the only AAFRC firm in the direct mail business. At that time, and until I diversified the company some years later, direct mail was the backbone of our business. We strongly disagreed with AAFRC’s method for how to report income: in a word, they wanted dues figured on the gross billings, still the way we do it; Oram believed our dues should be figured on the net because a lot of the money passing through our books washed out as expenses on behalf of our clients. The tilting went on for years. Finally in 1975, George Brakeley, Jr., and HLO the two aging dinosaurs -- had a heap-big fight. When Harold got back to the office, there was a “Lincoln Cabinet” meeting of senior staff. I was by now an Oram biggie. Four of us voted against resigning from AAFRC. Harold voted for. We walked.
Harold had come into this business as a publicist/fundraiser for the Lincoln Brigade, the American leftists, liberals, and idealists who fought on the anti-Franco side in the Spanish Civil War. It was the middle of the Great Depression, a time of one-cent candy, two-cent newspapers, and three-cent stamps. When I went to work for his company Harold had already carved out a brilliant career as advocate and money raiser for unpopular, often vanguard causes, and activists of every kind. Many of them couldn’t pay fees and we took them on anyway, hoping for the best. We often never collected, and as sometimes happens friends became ingrates.
He gave free office space to any crony, cause, or luckless stray who asked for it. This habit of welcoming wildly different people of strong intellect and uncertain temperament led to many strong encounters in our clutch of airless Manhattan offices. Discordant personalities, invariably in need of unrestricted funds and unlimited photocopying, crossed paths with our small staff of equally eccentric and sometimes goofy people whose common denominators were passion for causes and devotion to Harold. I fit right in. When I washed up on the Oram beach, I knew immediately this was where I belonged, I knew this was the work I wanted to do, and that is still true every day of every week.
We were a company (if you could call it that) of motivated, eclectic, multi-ethnic, noisy, opinionated, brainy men and women, vying for Harold’s time and attention. He was more loyal to us, and the retinue he towed, than any Tammany boss, and the flawed or fallen were like as not seconded to the compassionate payroll. Often ravaged by personal demons, they added zest and overhead.
Harold Oram’s world vision was coherent and purposeful. He was a political and social democrat, a one-worlder, and his true agenda was to make the globe a better place. Clients were taken or turned away on that basis. Raising money was only a means.
He revered the written word and the compelling idea dramatically put. He expected felicity of expression in my and others’ writing. He was the best copywriter I ever knew. A compulsive editor, reviser and re-arranger, he rubbed copy raw until he got what he wanted. He was tough on the copy, but never on the writer. So naturally, I’d go back to my shared cubicle, broken desk and sprung typewriter, composing well into the night, hoping for his praise in the morning.
Each afternoon around five or six, anyone who was around gathered in Harold’s office for the best seminar on this business that you or anyone could possibly imagine. Clients, staff, jobseekers, and hangers-on drank his Dewar’s, and smoked what they brought. It was apt to be anything. Harold shared, smoked, chewed, and spat truly terrible Bock panatelas. And he held forth on clients, how we should serve them, how to approach their problem creatively, and he constantly exhorted us to think, think, think! At one such twilight collation, after a meeting with an impossible client, he resigned the account, and declared that “the pattern of client relations is ingratitude!” Often true, and I liked the ring of it. I prevailed on one of the failed academics we were then sheltering to render it in Latin. The framed translation "Patrono ingrates cliens semper cernitur,” hangs on an office wall, under HLO’s picture. Kim, that’s how that got there.
I moved up in the firm, and was given stock. Though I loved the madcap environment, I pushed us to become a business because I realized we could not survive otherwise. We went corporate in the 70s, as the staff grew. I caused the compassionate payroll to disappear, and gradually jettisoned the supernumeraries.
The client base broadened, and we moved to larger quarters. The quote “interior designer,” another of Harold’s rescues, managed to retain our look of impecuniosity and imminent demise. The late afternoons in Harold’s office became infrequent, and lacked the intimacy and bite of the late ‘60s. In 1978, I bought the business. The day after the contract of sale closed, Harold announced he was withdrawing his “working capital.” That turned out to be $80,000, and it was a few days before I had to meet my first payroll. This was a lesson not previously imparted in the Dewar’s Seminars. Though dependent on the success of the business for over half of his annual income, Harold did not hesitate to blow on the cards, then and thereafter. For many years after he retired, we had, at best, an ambivalent and mutually costly relationship. But in the last few years before he died on August 22, 1990, at the age of 83, I am glad to say we made it up.
With Harold’s death, I was quite truly on my own. Working for Lee Tracy and the Greater New York Fund, I learned fund raising. Working for Harold, I gradually learned consulting, basically by making many -- and correcting some -- mistakes. I had bought the firm with the invaluable help of two demanding and eccentric outside investors whom I had come to know because we represented organizations in the peace movement, in social justice, civil rights, population issues, and the like. These guys were impact donors to all of them.
Stewart Mott, whose fortune came from General Motors, was brilliant, erratic, always true to his principles, and the family outcast. He was a libertarian marijuana grower -- in his Park Avenue penthouse -- devotee of Renaissance music, unpretentious but definitely odd. For example, he generally received any and all in his skivvies. When he wasn’t doing pot, he smoked an exotic brand of Egyptian tobacco that smelled like burning rubber and swamp gas, combined. Despite considerable wealth in the coinage of the time, and of course everybody was after it, Stewart was for a long time the Most Eligible Man in New York Never to Get A Second Date With the Same Woman. His courting style was truly pathetic. But no matter. The ladies came in hope, and left in tears. Feminine raiment accessorized his bachelor lodgings.
Robert Wallace Gilmore was in personality totally different from Stewart, but equally off. He had some money of his own, and he had married into the Publishers Clearing House family. A Yalie, an ex-CIA man some said (I never found out), and Quaker do-gooder, he was a dreamer for peace and global justice. He and his wife Joyce established the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, which now has a corpus of $125 million. They both died years ago. … Alas. …They lived on West 11th, in Greenwich Village, across the street from the townhouse the Weathermen blew up.
Stewart and Robert backed me because they wanted to perpetuate the causes they helped so much. I am happy to say they would still be proud of me because as a company, then largely alone, and now with the Raybin side, I am still doing the work they cared about even as I serve a broader range of bill-paying, mainstream philanthropies.
They, their accountants, and Harold and I, constituted The Oram Group board. One of the bean-counters was a sweet man who struggled with Stewart’s wilder riffs. The other was nice enough, but a hard-nosed guy, ever determined to save Robert from investing all his money in truly hopeless causes, into which category he had largely classified The Oram Group. For several years after he sold to me, Harold was Honorary Chairman of the Board. God. At one point he and I were suing each other over money. Robert was dreaming up an intergalactic peace movement, and Stewart -- who could read and analyze numbers faster than even the estimable Ms. Raybin, Queen of the Spread Sheets -- regarded meeting agendas principally as place mats. Our board sessions were sometimes chaotic to say the least. That the company lost money in about as many quarters as we made it added a certain zest to our deliberations. As if we needed more. Like you, we muddled through.
You know that in 1992, the Oram firm essentially deconstructed. Three department heads partners in income, but never in ownership decamped, exercising their contractual right to do so, in exchange for buying their practices. There was never a “sale” of the company. There was a multi-year payout that each departing employee was obliged to honor in spirit, fact and law. This trio proved the truth of the old Romany proverb: “Sometimes you get the bear. Sometimes the bear gets you.” It was a depressing six months. I sucked it up, and went on.
I disposed of excess office space, grew a ponytail, and adopted a new mantra to cope with stress: will any of this matter in twenty years? I kept on with my stable of clients, added new ones, lost a few, and I brought Oram back to AAFRC, a move my colleagues had resisted for nearly 15 years. My first meeting was, as Yogi said, déjà vu all over again. The faces had changed. But like an old married couple, the arguments were the same. Les grandes fromages were still bemoaning the heft of their dues. Other moguls held the Jeffersonian view that New York was a place of sophisticated corruption, and anywhere west or south of Newark a font of natural innocence. Jeez. Everyone’s rocks still fit the holes in everyone else’s head. The good news was the number of younger practitioners at the table, as well as more women with real power in their companies, some of them owners; growing diversity; and of course, the Raybin sorority, of whom I spoke at the big firm/small firm session. If you missed it, have your credit card ready, and call the 800 number.
Part IV: Rejoice! The End Is Near
Having shared a bit of the past, let me close by looking ahead some.
• In the last decade, US giving has doubled, to $200 billion. But the number of AAFRC member firms is about the same, and has been, more or less, for at least a generation. Is there a connection? Why are we unable to grow the Association? From the time AAFRC was founded, it was run like major league baseball. A small bunch of owners sat around the table making up the rules. Though AAFRC thinks of itself as fully participatory, is our association model really any different from 1935, 1955, or 1975? I think not, otherwise we would have captured a much broader market share. I am concerned, and so should you be, that we have failed to undertake a serious examination of alternatives. For example, what are the pros and cons of becoming a federation of firms with chapters around the country, like PRSA, or AFP? Can we do this while continuing to set and maintain ethical and professional standards as we do now? Could this be a way to generate the funds we need to invest in Giving USA? Last winter’s strategic planning exercise was all right as far as February meetings at O’Hare go. But it did not move far enough out. As far as I can tell, we are about where we were. What is AAFRC’s long-term survival strategy?
- The number of nonprofit organizations in this country has proliferated, to well over a million; overseas, private nonprofits are also multiplying apace. In the US, perhaps 15% have budgets over $1,000,000. I am not really sure. Whatever, there is a huge market in the US, and an emergent one elsewhere. What is our global strategy?
- The nonprofit industry is highly inefficient, and mostly small enterprises. Like most small businesses, they tend to be under-capitalized, badly managed, change-resistant, and are the trailing edge in technology and innovation. That is our customer base, by and large, and helps explain why consulting to private nonprofits remains a cottage industry. The good news is that there are a lot of cottages, and the technology of virtual practice now allows us to serve them profitably, and without consequently increasing staff. While wriggling on the spear-point, I learned that a herd of employees, and step-down management is no guarantee of profit especially in a tight economy.
- If we acquired and merged all the AAFRC and non-AAFRC firms we could find, how large would it be: $75, $100, or even $150 million? In today’s metrics, that is not a consequent enterprise, let alone a market-mover. What this tells me is that you can’t build large firms from small clients. Or to slightly misquote Dorothy Parker: “If you took all the chorus girls in New York, and laid them end to end, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
- The Accentures, Booz Allens, Bains, and McKinseys can have the mansion trade. I doubt they will ever make real money at it. They are not making serious inroads into our bread-and-butter work, and soon they will realize it’s not worth their time, especially in a wavering economy. Moreover, they just don’t “get” the nonprofit culture. The staff people they assign are by and large young, well intended and inexperienced. Nonprofit work is not assigned to the rainmakers. Practice policy apparently dictates that these firms persevere in applying their big-company consulting principles to candy stores. Most of these types, fine people all, are young and have never run a small business, let alone a large one.
- Giving USA remains our crown jewel … for the moment. However, I think AAFRC must re-think its relationship to Giving USA. We have contracted with Indiana University, and though the jury is still out, I am encouraged by the results so far. However, AAFRC no longer can be described as the sole mover of Giving USA. The association with an important, well heeled academic institution is a plus, but we need to keep firmly in mind that the audience we want to reach ultimately is not an academic one.
- We should create a business plan that recognizes, and plans for, the investment this asset requires if it is to remain an indispensable resource for international philanthropy. By the way, what is our plan for developing a new publication … Giving Globally?
- We need not and should not assume that Indiana can be our only partner. The Trust publishes, Indiana researches and writes, but where is the technological edge? We do business in an environment that rapidly consigns to obscurity anything but the fresh and the fast. AAFRC does not have the resources to develop the product. That’s what brought us to Indiana, but it is unclear to me what the extent of their commitment is going to be, or to what degree they have a responsibility to generate capital investment. It seems to me that is the publisher’s task.
- One possible solution I would like to see receive serious consideration sorry Russ is to create an independent Giving USA Foundation. That might help us seat a board with access, and thus obtain the funds we need for better technology, deeper research, and product regionalization, all of it available on line, in a timely fashion, well before the first of June or July.
- The mission of AAFRC is clear enough. The vision should be to once again lead the consulting profession. We can do it.
Lee Tracy, Harold Oram, and now in this stage of my career, Nancy Raybin, have been profound influences on me. Their gift was and is intellect, passion, and leadership the ability to see things before others do, and to act accordingly.
Remember, life is lived from the neck up. Don’t scare babies. Wear sensible shoes. Thank you for indulging me.