Rotten Tomatoes & Qualitative Analysis

Greetings Benjamin Philanthropists,

You have spent the last week crunching numbers and looking at different charity’s spending ratios.

As Alec wrote in his blog:

“The 990 for The Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County revealed that the organization was financially stable and devoting funds to the right programs. The program ratio for the organization was 90.7% meaning that over 9o% of total expenses were allocated to programs by the organization. The management ratio was 4.6%, and the fundraising ratio was 4.2%.” 

This week, we turn our attention to the other side of the coin: QUALITATIVE analysis. In one sense, the definition of qualitative is simply that which is uncountable. So we look at an organization’s markers of quality rather than simply number of dollars raised or programs launched or people fed.

So what does this have to do with Rotten Tomatoes, a website that gathers reviews from professional critics and average moviegoers?

rotten-tomatoesWell, for one thing, this is an example of a powerful rating system that is entirely qualitative…you don’t read movie critics citing the number of cast members in a movie or number of costume changes to defend their recommendations. Sometimes they mention a film’s budget, but it’s easy to think of indie and blockbuster movies that received critical acclaim.

In his blog, Tactical Philanthropy, Sean Stannard-Stockton wonders why we don’t create a similar platform for charities: “So enough with administrative expense ratios. Enough with the focus on the salary of charity officials. I want to know which nonprofits are any good and I don’t think there’s any number you can show me that will answer that question.”

What is the experience of volunteers? What about populations served by a charity, how do they feel about the assistance they are getting? A qualitative platform that could integrate the voices of staff, beneficiaries, volunteers, donors and board members would provide a much needed supplement to the Form 990.

Week 3 Whirlwind – Recap & Exciting Incentives…

Thanks for sticking with us last week, students! We know we covered a lot very quickly, so I wanted to recap a few things.

The deadline to gather funds toward your cause is Thursday March 13, about one month away…

In class you announced your great team names:

Kids 4 Kids Foundation (Children and Youth)

Food Finders (Hunger)

Special Helpers (People with Special Needs)

Family First (Family Services)

Students for Students (Education)

Medical Miracles (Hospitals and Medical Research)

Next you brainstormed fundraising ideas. Remember – you want to choose fundraising activities that are manageable. Feel free to be creative and think outside the box!

We also discussed the script for reaching out to organizations – both large and small – in your areas of interest. Here are some good resources for discovering non-profits in our community:



Lastly, I told you I would be announcing INCENTIVES for your fundraising efforts. Hopefully these will help you keep your eye on the prize and increase your impact:

1) First group that reaches its fundraising goal ($300 is actually turned in) – Team receives $100 bonus toward charity of choice

2) 100% weekly (and thoughtful!) blog participation by entire group as of prior to Week #6 meeting date – $50 bonus

3) Most money raised and turned in as of Week #8 – March 13. – $100 bonus

4) Most creative fundraiser – $100 bonus

5) Most $ raised at a single fundraising event. – $50 bonus

Let the friendly competition begin! Remember to run ALL campus fundraisers by Mrs. Ditaranto.

I look forward to hearing how your calls go this week.


How do we choose?

Thank you to all the students who made our first class such a hit!

My only gripe is that we didn’t hear enough from you, but I suspect that’s because there were so many things I wanted to explain and impart that I ended up, well, pontificating. Ah well, something to work on this week 🙂

One of my favorite moments from our first class was watching everyone sort through the 20 Make A Difference Cards, each one representing a different area of charitable work such as hunger, the environment, family services and animal welfare.

Screen shot 2014-01-27 at 3.03.40 PM Screen shot 2014-01-27 at 3.04.00 PM

First students had to select their top 6…and then narrow it down to three. Trying to choose between causes like education, cultural preservation and homelessness is no easy task, and I could see students struggling with this process of prioritization and elimination. This made me want to explore how major philanthropists handle the debate over the worthiness of causes. Turns out, there is plenty of controversy in the charitable giving world over the distribution of dollars.

Recently Bill Gates set off a debate when he wondered, in an interview with the Financial Times, why anyone would donate money to build a wing of a museum when that person could instead direct money to preventing a disease that causes blindness. Gates cites the utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer, who argues the moral equivalent would be to take 1 per cent of the people who visit the museum and blind them, thus demonstrating the barbarism of the blinding disease in a way that cuts to the quick.
river-blindnessBut of course we live in a society where donors do give generously to museums. We celebrate their gifts and enjoy the chance to see masterpieces in person. The New York Times published a response to Gates’ argument in “What Bill Is Blind To” and a quote jumped out at me:

The writer Somerset Maugham said “Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger.”


Which brought to mind a stirring description by the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Emily Rafferty:


The MET paid $45 million for ‘Madonna and Child’ by the early Renaissance master Duccio di Buoninsegna. The painting is 8 by 11 inches. It was the most expensive acquisition in the museum’s history.

“A human being needs to be nourished, and that’s partially in body, but it’s also in mind and in soul…The day after 9/11, when we were asked by the city to open, we had thousands of people waiting outside the Met’s front door. Thousands of them. And when they came in, they looked around, they went to the galleries, they went to their favorite work of art. It was a way that they could affirm their continuing existence and the fact that history had preceded them and there was survival.”

I see both sides, but I tend to have a pragmatic attitude toward this question of which causes we should champion.

You know how wellness experts tell you that the best form of exercise is the one you’ll actually stick with? I sort of think the same idea applies to philanthropy.

What charitable work taps into your childhood dreams or preserves something dear to you? What work makes you come alive? There you will find fulfillment. The charity will benefit from you and you from it.

I believe this mutuality is the sweet spot and source of real power in philanthropy. There is no prescription for that – we each soul search to find it.

Looking forward to continuing the conversation on Thursday!

Some Philanthropy Favorites in Podcast and Video

Happy Monday,

Sometimes I am in the mood to get my news and culture through earbuds or youtube rather than articles – perhaps you can relate?

If you want to learn a bit more about philanthropy and it’s leaders, or simply want to know if money makes people mean, check out the links below. Enjoy! And let me know what you think.

Paul Piff: Does money make you mean? | Video on

Giving It Away : TED Radio Hour : NPR.

Watch WIRED Live | Bill Gates & President Bill Clinton: Technology and the Value of Connectivity-Exclusive Interview | Wired Video | CNE.

Mark Bezos: A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter | Video on

Peter and Jennifer Buffett: Questioning parts of the philanthropy business |

Philanthropy’s edge: Innovation and a long time horizon |

Cash, Cows And The Rise Of Nerd Philanthropy : Planet Money : NPR.

Welcome Benjamin Students!

Hello, hello!

I can’t wait to get started with our Main Street Philanthropy class and learn about each of you and what sparked your interest in this class.

As for me, philanthropy peaks my curiosity for a couple reasons.

First: I have always been fascinated by people’s life stories. I guess as the daughter of a journalist, this comes with the territory. In theater, we talk about characters’ motivations–what drives someone to walk across the stage or tell a bald-faced lie or eat an apple – whatever!

I believe philanthropy reflects our deepest motivations and values as citizens.

Second: Interesting people are philanthropists. Andrew Carnegie, Doris Buffett (Warren’s sister – check her out), Mark Zuckerberg, and of course Bill & Melinda Gates. My great aunt likes to say that only boring people get bored. Heavy-hitter philanthropists create a life enriched by constant learning, thus avoiding ever being bored or boring. Notice that philanthropists are not saints. In fact, they often become flashpoints in larger debates about income inequality. They are complicated characters. I like this about them – again, never boring!

Third: It’s personal. My family members get together every year around the holidays and talk about the organizations we support. These charities run the gamut from animal welfare to fistula surgeries in Africa to a model train museum in Maine. We enjoy learning about each others’ causes I think in part because they tell a story of how different we are, but in a completely non-judgmental setting. We aren’t heavy-hitters. We can’t eradicate malaria. But we do take pride in our family culture of philanthropy.

So what about you? Where do you and your family fit in? How does philanthropy figure in your life story and that of your parents? Can you think of a time you benefited from another’s philanthropic gift?

We live in Palm Beach County, which ranks 16th out of over 3,000 counties country-wide in giving.

Our community gave away $1 billion last year. Just to give you an idea, one billion minutes ago, we would have been living in the heyday of the Roman Empire and writing our blogs in Latin. So we are in the lucky position of power and responsibility. The face of philanthropy is changing. Let’s make it new and make it better.