• February 27, 2015

Opinion: Why Philanthropy Should Welcome the Tea Party

Why Philanthropy Should Welcome The Tea Party Photo 1

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At least since the Harvard scholar Robert Putnam turned “bowling alone” into a social malady, the philanthropic world has been encouraging Americans to become more involved in the nation’s civic life, and especially in elections. It has supported efforts to increase voting, develop “social media” and other types of grass-roots communications, and participate in a wide range of community-service activities, including “service learning” classes at all levels of education.

How much impact those efforts have had remains debatable. But many of their advocates saw the election of Barack Obama as president two years ago as a sign they were working and that American politics was becoming more enlightened as a result.

Although the outcome of Tuesday’s elections was also driven by a grass-roots movement that brought many Americans who had been on the sidelines into the political process, no such reaction is likely this time. Part of the reason is that the philanthropic world had little to do with this effort. But also, many nonprofit leaders have reacted with dismay to it—though they are misguided in doing so.

The movement consists of a number of organizations collectively known as Tea Party groups. As Kate Zernike, a New York Times reporter, noted in her book Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America, it is the latest in a long line of populist movements that have arisen throughout American history, rooted in concerns that government has grown too powerful and threatens individual liberties.

According to an April New York Times/CBS News poll, over half of Tea Party members had never been involved in political campaigns before. Although a majority said they were Republicans, most saw their efforts as separate from—and in some cases, opposed to—those of GOP regulars. In some cases, the tensions were so strong that Tea Party members challenged the candidates put forward by the Republican establishment. Tea Party members mostly regarded themselves as middle- and working-class, in good or very good shape financially. Few of them were members of minority groups.

Not all the candidates the Tea Party members backed won, but enough did to give conservatives, who were all but pronounced dead two years ago, an overwhelming victory.

Tea Party groups supplied the energy that enabled the Republican Party to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives by a comfortable margin and cut substantially into the Democratic majority in the Senate. They also helped it capture legislative bodies in 19 states (at last count), including some places where Republicans had not been dominant for more than a century. With Congressional redistricting about to occur, these statehouse gains could have long-term political significance.

Despite accusations by their opponents, money from wealthy donors and businesses played only a small role in these triumphs. To be sure, conservative and libertarian donors supported organizations, such as FreedomWorks, a Washington advocacy group headed by the former Republican Rep. Dick Armey, that gave considerable assistance to Tea Party chapters.

However, most of this help took the form of supportive services, such as training in running meetings or understanding election laws. The impetus for, as well as the goals and direction of the Tea Party movement, came from the ground up, not the top down.

Nor was election-oriented corporate money, made possible by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a big factor. This was partly because such support is usually directed toward political committees with few, if any, members—in many ways, the opposite of the Tea Party groups.

In any event, as a share of the $4-billion spent in this year’s elections, these “independent” expenditures are not likely to exceed 10 to 15 percent when complete figures become available. Moreover, the spending includes a considerable amount of money from labor unions, liberal advocacy groups, and others that do not share the Tea Party movement’s objections to government and often weighed in against its preferred candidates.

A more convincing explanation for the Tea Party’s success may be its embrace of the kinds of methods that community organizers have long championed. Beginning with a call-to-action on a television news show, Tea Party members, in little more than a year, built integrated networks of groups, operating in communities across the United States.

To do so, they relied heavily on television and the Internet to acquire information, recruit members, schedule meetings and rallies, and coordinate tactics. They also built on ties established through non-political organizations, such as religious and business ones. Some even adopted techniques promoted by the liberal organizer Saul Alinsky, just as the groups that helped elect Barack Obama did.

The rise of the Tea Party movement, in short, suggests that fears of civic disengagement in the United States may have been exaggerated. When motivated by a compelling set of issues, it seems that Americans can still put together an impressive campaign, spontaneously, swiftly, and with little professional leadership or guidance. Whatever their inclination toward “bowling alone,” they are capable of working together when necessary. For that reason alone, the philanthropic world should find at least some comfort in the Tea Party’s accomplishments.

But unlike the Obama campaign, Tea Party members take a far more skeptical view toward government—and indeed, toward the President himself. It is a rare example of a grass-roots effort that seeks to reduce the influence of government, rather than expand it, to solve the problems that led its members to get involved. That is what has caused so many leaders in the philanthropic world—who often see government as an important ally—to be apprehensive about it.

That outlook is unfortunate for at least two reasons. First, it too easily dismisses the value of civic engagement in strengthening society by encouraging the public to take responsibility for what it considers important problems.

In addition, it fails to appreciate that by becoming more involved, those with strongly felt concerns will face pressure to reconcile them with the views of others. Though not inevitable, out of such interactions may come resolutions that are mutually beneficial and consensual.

For all the alarm it has occasioned, the advent of the Tea Party movement is actually a welcome development, not only because of what it reveals about the social health of the United States, but also because it potentially opens the door to dealing with issues that affect philanthropic groups and their allies too.

Leslie Lenkowsky is professor of public affairs and philanthropic studies at Indiana University and a regular contributor to these pages. His e-mail address is llenkows@iupui.edu.


1. grenadier - November 04, 2010 at 02:22 pm

This op-ed is so shockingly wrongheaded, misinformed, and naive in its assumptions, that I don't even know where to begin to address all of its failings. Chronicle, your politics are showing -- and they're not pretty.

2. joe5991 - November 04, 2010 at 02:27 pm

What a reasonable discourse. I am sure that if we look hard enough we could find a similar explanation and apology for a movement like this during the Weimar Republic. Seriously? A movement without any intellectual underpinning other than "shrink government" is not even a reflection of traditional conservative values. For a better appreciation for this movement and its antecedents I will refer you the works of Richard Hofstadter (in particular his critical masterpiece on anti-intellectualism in American life) and C. Vann Woodward on the de-volution of the populist movement (Tom Watson - Agrarian Rebel) and for good measure Herbert Marcuse's masterpiece "One-Dimensional Man". Leslie - you need to grow a pair and stop patronizing reactionary mobs disguised as political movements.

3. tomhull - November 04, 2010 at 02:33 pm

Sure Tea Party proponents are civicly-involved but with no positive platform to speak of. Shrinking government means further unraveling of the social safety net which has only strengthened a bit in recent years. Tea party advocates claim the USA is # 1 but look at where we stand on the list of countries i.e. hunger, infant mortality, gun violence, etc. I'm sure they will encourage everyone to get a pair of boots from their local Goodwill store and starting pulling themselves up by their bootstraps just like Ronald Reagan proposed twenty years ago.

4. ronafernandez - November 04, 2010 at 02:36 pm

I'm all for populism, but I have to say the best thing about this op-ed are the comments from my colleagues above. Shrill pseudo-vigilantism is not the same as the populism of the sort that brought Obama (and other populist politicians) into power a couple years ago. I hope the Chronicle also publishes an op-ed with a differing point of view on the election than this one, to keep things fair and balanced.

5. mark900 - November 04, 2010 at 02:42 pm

This is a joke, right? The basic tenets of the tea party are as follows: (1) if you're not white, straight, and born again, leave; and (2) I've got mine; screw everyone else. How in the hell will this promote community & philanthropy?

6. emma_jean - November 04, 2010 at 02:46 pm

I'd like to see the Tea-Partiers offer up the amount of dollars that governments - federal, state, and local - now pay to nonprofits in order to provide critical community services. I hear cuts to government spending, and I know they mean social services, and they don't mean war. Nonprofits are already seeing cuts across the board from city, county, state, and federal governments, and have experienced a similar drop in individual donations, causing us to decrease services. I somehow doubt those with a "Tea Party" menatality are going to be all about picking up the difference.

7. ericnee - November 04, 2010 at 02:46 pm

The author either doesn't recognize the difference between true populism and nascent fascism, or in fact sympathizes with the right wing. If Leslie does indeed support the Tea Party's fundamentaly reactionary principles she should just come out and say so, but to couch her promotion of the Tea Party movement under the guise of civic engagement is good and therefore philanthropy should support it is disengenuous. I am surprised and disapointed that the Chronicle of Philanthropy is running this piece.

8. pamelagrow - November 04, 2010 at 02:51 pm

Whoa. I agree wholeheartedly with grenadier - "This op-ed is so shockingly wrongheaded, misinformed, and naive in its assumptions, that I don't even know where to begin to address all of its failings."

Your author refers to the tea party as a "grassroots" and "populist" movement, yet they're primarily funded by a couple of oil billionaires intent on avoiding any regulation and able to hoodwink the gullible masses. It's interesting that of all of our presidents, Reagan came closest to a truly Libertarian agenda - it's also pretty apparent that the failings in our current economy resulted directly from a number of his policies.

Tell me Rupert Murdoch hasn't acquired The Chronicle?

9. richardpshaw - November 04, 2010 at 03:05 pm

The comments above in response to Ms. Lenkowsky are incredibly tellin. -- "These people don't stand for anything, they are not smart, and the CofP is somehow Conservative". Really?

The problem with many leaders "thinkers" in the NFP community is that your elitist views and propensity to want to hear yourself speak prevents your ability to effectively listen.

I don't associate myself in anyway with the Tea Party Movement but it doesn't take a Harvard education to understand that for every $2 dollars our federal government brings in through taxation, it spends $3. This is called unsustainable in NFP circles.

There are many people to blame including both political parties in our country for this mess. I just wish those "progressives" that are so passionate about issues like “climate change” could muster the same level of passion to do something about the financial Armageddon that we are on a course to eventually meet. A little less smarts and a little more wisdom is definitely in order.

10. travbradburn - November 04, 2010 at 03:10 pm

I couldn't wait to read the comments since I guessed this article would go over like a lead ballon with this audience. Why can there not be a dialogue involving a different viewpoint? Freedom of speech is great until someone's opinion differs from your own? The only small, closed-minded thinking associated with this article is coming from this comment board. I think a little more intellectual honesty in looking at the basic reasons why this 'movement' has caught fire should be done with more effort than listening to biased media portrayals.

11. emma_jean - November 04, 2010 at 03:13 pm

@richardpshaw -

If the government is overspending, it's because they are over-spending on war, not because they are over-spending on social services. I don't think I'm elitist because I think that it's more important to help our neighbors than it is to kill people across the globe.

I can't argue that the government spends too much - clearly it does. But the Tea Partiers aren't taking aim at war spending, they are taking aim at the social safety net, and that is why their philosophy is at odds with philanthropy.

12. pamelagrow - November 04, 2010 at 03:16 pm

Could this so-called "grassroots" movement have caught on because it has an entire "news" network promoting it?

13. tracymmo - November 04, 2010 at 03:30 pm

Dismissing the grassroots nature of the movement by citing corporate money makes no sense to me, as clearly individuals have embraced the message, given the Yellow flags in my neighborhood. But looking at the Tea Party as just a "we're not gonna take it anymore" grassroots movement is also off the mark.

Some Tea Party supporters are clearly part of the American tradition of the "government: don't tell me what to do," something that goes back to, well, the Boston Tea Party - not to oversimplify that event, which was much more than that. But our nation has had lots of populist movements centered around "us v. them," resulting in discrimination and terrible violence, also known as human rights violations.

There's a big difference between people genuinely disagreeing on the role of government, and the use of race to stir up fear. I got a mailing this week from a Tea Party -style candidate trying to scare people in the district about our Representative, Dennis Kucinich, not supporting the Mexican border wall and his support for Spanish language governmnet documents. Our district is on Lake Erie, a.k.a. the Canadian border, and it's full of people who don't speak English, notably Ukrainian and Serbo-Croatian, which is a non-issue here. We even have a new "Ukrainian Village" in town. Racism runs deeply through the Tea Party.

14. richardpshaw - November 04, 2010 at 03:35 pm


I do think that many Tea Party types would be just as against wasteful military spending as they would wasteful spending in other areas.
You may need to look at the real figures to better understand the financial mess we are in. Unsustainable entitlements are the biggest drivers of our financial crisis. True safety net spending is a small portion of our federal budget. Oh, and by the way, government funding is not philanthropy.

15. padch - November 04, 2010 at 03:46 pm

@richardpshaw To add to what emma_jean said please find me a Tea Party participant that argues for a rational cut in spending. I agree that our government over spends but the reality is we under tax and especially those at the top of the economy. What would the Tea Party eliminate lets see the government healthcare??? Already medicare only pays 1.20 to every 1.30 the hospital spends. Who is going to cover our seniors illness and healthcare costs especially now since they are getting rid of the so called Obamacare which is really called the patient affordability act. Oh wait they can cut social security...yes at the exact time when our country is facing the largest group of retirees. I'm sure the Tea Party is all for cutting funding for intersstate and highway funding...yes we can have all privatized toll roads...a dollar a mile that sounds perfect.
These people aren't a populist movement they are uneducated, irrational white, conservative bigots.

16. jameyc - November 04, 2010 at 03:47 pm

Oh my....getting "shellacked" hurts doesn't it? The elitists consider anyone with an ounce of conservative blood in their veins or who might actually believe humans did not crawl out of the muck on their own to be backward idiots, not worthy of a voice in the modern political world. But guess what? It appears we are at least smart enough to get out and vote!

17. emma_jean - November 04, 2010 at 03:55 pm


I would like to see evidence that those in the tea party movement understand the difference between entitlement spending, safety net spending, and military spending. (ie, keep government out of medicare!) I feel like I've got a pretty good handle on that, but I don't think they do. In fact, most of what I've read tells me that they think b/c national security is in the Constitution and education isn't, then funding for the defense dept. is fine while funding for the education dept. is not... and more arguments along those lines.

I did not argue that government funding is philanthropy, I argued (perhaps not clearly enough) that the tea party's goals to cut government spending (mostly, from what I can garner from their party literature & rallies, on the saftey net side and not on the military side) is not in alignment with philanthropy's goals.

I'm still wondering: if they think cutting the social safety net is a good idea, are they willing to pick up the tab on an individual level?

18. tgweiss - November 04, 2010 at 04:06 pm

Whether you agree with the Tea Party or not, the point that Mr. Lenkowsky makes is that 1)civil society is alive and well in America and 2)a more active citizenry on the whole is not a bad thing for philanthropy because resolutions and consensus can be reached on important social issues.

If your reaction is to look at the Tea Party movement as a threat to philanthropy, you are destined to lose. The organizations that have learned to adapt with the constantly changing face of the government and politics will continue to thrive. Stop complaining and start adapting.

19. denise6983 - November 04, 2010 at 04:27 pm

Tgweiss - The tea party movement is based upon a group of people who did not adapt, but complained and took action on issues about which they felt strongly. I do not agree with their politics but I certainly appreciate that they didn't just sit around and "adapt." The last thing that organizations who are here for the welfare of people should do is adapt to that which they disagree. We need to take a page from the tea party book and advocate for a human welfare agenda.

20. richardpshaw - November 04, 2010 at 04:28 pm

Very well said tgweiss--

I do know this as a proven fact. People with a more conservative leaning (which most TP folks are) are more charitable and do more for the needy in this country and around the world than those that cloak themselves in compassion and as being progressive. These are facts, they can't be disputed and even if you take out giving to religion, these facts hold up.
Wanting more tax revenue from others, so government can give it to someone else, is not compassion. That is elitism.

21. joe5991 - November 04, 2010 at 04:31 pm

White Citizens Councils knew how to "get out the vote" too. And they knew how to make democracy "work" for them. I fault the Democrats and the Administration for getting caught up in the Beltway traffic to be sure but I find it laughable that when the Obama administration took office, the same people who now proclaim they have a mandate to stop the government from working the next two years argued that the President-elect and his party that swept in with control of both houses of Congress had no such mandate - and that they were the Real Americans in this story.

22. tgweiss - November 04, 2010 at 04:51 pm

@denise6983 - I'm not suggesting you or any other organization adapt your political and philosophical underpinnings. I'm suggesting nonprofits find ways to adapt to a potential change in funding structure, i.e. less government funding.

Additionally, nonprofits who are dismissive of the Tea Party movement and sterotype Tea Party members as unintelligent (true or not) are alienating an active population and missing out on an opportunity to educate and engage potential donors. I, for one, don't want to miss out on this opportunity, even if it appears this group may not readily align with our mission.

23. travbradburn - November 04, 2010 at 04:56 pm

The opinion that conservative views are racist in origin is just as false as liberal views being founded in anti-God, loose morals. Sure, there is a small (very small) percentage of that on both sides. Let's have intelligent conversations about differing views and find ways to compromise. Much of America is tired of the incessant rooting for your team and villainizing the opposing 'team'. We are on the precipice of an economic meltdown. Those two things are what the so-called tea party, grassroots movement is all about.

24. heidimassey - November 04, 2010 at 05:51 pm

I guess the struggle for me is that the post is based on a faulty premise. The tea party is NOT a grass roots movement. And many of the candidates who ran for office as well as the organized republican party are not aligned, really, with the tea party. Yes there are these loosely affiliated groups throughout the country. But the Dick Armey types of the world have utilized these groups as tools in their desire to further the corporatist goals of a large segment of the GOP. (And honestly, far too many democrats are also aligned with those goals.)

The premise of the article that Obama's success was lauded and the Tea Party success has not been is almost a ridiculous statement. The numbers of people who were inspired by the Obama campaign were staggering compared to past elections. The tea party candidates won in many races because the democrats just didn't show up. There was an appauling lack of voters at the polls compared to the numbers who voted in 2008. So to say that the tea party movement has been this ground swell of grass roots activism is ridiculous. If the democrats had shown up, every tea party candidate, except in the most strongly conservative areas, would have lost. Unfortunately, their not showing up, although interpreted as support for the tea party, is really just perhaps a rejection of some of the democrats running for office.

So, to me, this article just serves as a platform for the author to be a shrill for the tea party. I understand wanting to promote divergent view points. But let's be honest...that isn't the right's strongest attribute. It is however, a very strong component of the progressive movement in this country. Take a look at any democratic rally and compare it to any republican rally and clearly, that is the case. The tea party remains a fringe movement, that when the democratic voters show up, will be defeated every time in America.

25. mlinnovations - November 04, 2010 at 06:05 pm

First, I am not involved with any Tea Party group. However, I'm delighted whenever I see civic engagement. By the way, studies reveal that the more civicly engaged folks are, the more philanthropic they tend to be. So, I'm all for more civic engagement.

Second, I'm getting a bit tired of uber-liberals spouting off about what is good for poor folks, particularly when so few have any direct experience in the area. I grew up poor. My family was on food stamps. While I'm grateful for the government safety net (and continue to believe in a safety net), I recognize that what saved my family was hard work. As an adult, I built a sucessful business that created many good-paying jobs. Through my EXPERIENCE, I have seen how government can help and how it gets in the way. I know what worked for my family and what did not. So, unless you've had your own true experience with overcoming poverty, stop acting like you know what you're talking about. (By the way, since "making it," I've been incredibly generous with my philanthropy.)

Third, if you're interested in learning about the impact that increased reliance on the government has on private volunteerism and philanthropy, I recommend you read "The Tragedy of American Compassion" by Marvin Olasky, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin. The book examines government involvement in social programs and philanthropy in the private sector from the colonial to near present period. In short, his thesis is that the more government is involved, the more the private sector pulls back. And, the private sector is almost always more efficient and effective in delivering needed services.

Fifth, we would all do well to learn what inspires Tea Party participants and how the various groups successfully market. We should seek to understand the messages that resonate. Then, we should build better cases for support and implement stronger marketing programs. For example, though a bit simplistic given space restrictions, we know that certain segments of the population believe that the private sector is better at delivering certain services than government. So, if your organization does an effecient job of delivering social services, let this market segment know.

Finally, for the commentors here who happen to believe our taxes are too low in this country, may I suggest that we consider taxing all billionaires at 100%. In fact, let's confiscate their entire wealth. Guess what? It would barely make a dent in reducing the national debt. Folks, we have a problem. Unfortunately, it's a problem we won't be able to tax our way out of. What we need is civil dialogue and honest debate. Can you do that?

26. heidimassey - November 04, 2010 at 06:23 pm

Check out the profile of the author of this blog post: http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Lenkowsky_Leslie

Favorite excerpt: "...track record of working for hawkish right wing organizations."

Consider the source my friends. Consider the source.

27. travbradburn - November 04, 2010 at 06:25 pm

To heidimassey:

Your premise that the progressive movement allows a free exchange and listens to divergent points of view is refuted by the very existence of most of the comments on this very message board. Back to my original post...progressives are every bit as aggressive at trying to shut down divergent points of view. Progressives are very good at accepting and discussing views that differ within they're own side of the aisle. But discuss anything regarding illegal immigration, radical Islam, limited Government, etc. and you're views are dismissed as racist or ignorant. Both sides shut down opposing view points in equal fashion. Your in for a rude awakening if you think Fox News and Dick Armey are all that is behind the tea party sentiments. It's time to have real discussions without resorting to name calling and team cheering.

28. heidimassey - November 04, 2010 at 06:31 pm

And then there is this special article about the author and his totallly horrible leadership of Americorps: http://www.slate.com/id/2084677/

I can go on because there is oh so much more to reveal...but those who want to live in reality will get the picture about who the author of this post is. Those who don't, well it won't matter how much I turn up-they won't believe it.

Still, I am saddened to see that The Chronicle of Philanthropy has someone like this as a regular author on their site...disappointing.

29. jmontoya - November 04, 2010 at 06:50 pm

There is no having a "civil dialogue and honest debate" with the Tea Party. This is a group that makes intelligence and education sound like a bad thing by calling it "elitist." On their own, they have displayed their racist leanings and lack of knowledge about the very things they complain about, time and again. This is not to say that EVERYONE in the Tea Party is a racist or unintelligent. Nope, even intelligent people can be brainwashed when they feel threatened by change. But there is no way to talk sense to them anymore once they are, and no reason that we should view them as a positive thing for philanthropy or society -- in fact, I think their extremist views are pretty scary in a lot of ways. I don't believe for a minute that these people give more to philanthropy than your average joe, especially if you take out the church offering plate. Show me where you got that statistic and I'll bet it was conservative propaganda. Even if they do, it's probably NOT as a percentage of income.

30. heidimassey - November 04, 2010 at 06:55 pm

Oh how I wish (not really...) that the progressives were even a little bit as effective on message control as the GOP. But being a big tent party has its struggles-like there are LOTS of opinions and within a wide range, all are valid.

I don't happen to believe all conservatives are racists or even that all racists are conservatives. That is NOT my point at all. I don't even mention racism-you read into what I said. The GOP doesn't have diversity, not necessarily because it is racist, but because minority groups, on the whole, believe that the Dem party is more aligned with their interests. Sure there are racist conservatives...there are racist progressives/dems too. But that isn't the point at all. Not really even relevent to this discussion.

AND, I did also say that there were some folks in the country who were legitimately part of the tea party movement-but it is not NEARLY the ground swell of support that it is easy to assume based on what we see in the media. THAT is due to Dick Armey, et al, not genuine support of the tea party. If Americans could learn a little patience for the economy to improve (and don't chastise me here-I am a single unemployed mother of 3-I know that is difficult!) and actually read newspapers and get their news from someplace other than fox, then perhaps things could go differently. For now, we have to rely on a generally uninformed apathetic electorate that makes voting decisions based on sound bites, if they vote at all.

And fyi, I totally distinguish between republicans who genuinely care for others, who authentically believe that conservative principles are good choices and those who are narcissistic and only looking out for themselves. I have a fairly substantial group of republican friends who I frequently go to for discussion on the issues. None of them would ever subscribe to tea party antics or philosophy. It just doesn't align with what they believe. Not big into name calling or aggression...but also not into the kind of garbage that was written in this article by Lenkowsky. It is just not based on reality in any way. It is propaganda, not facts, and should be called out for being so!

31. mlinnovations - November 04, 2010 at 06:56 pm

To heidimassey (and others):

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. There's also an old Yiddish saying that, loosely translated, says, "You can learn something from everyone." Instead of expending so much energy impuning the reputation of the author, why don't you spend more time addressing the content of his column?

I applaud "The Chronicle of Philanthropy" for being open-minded and courageous enough to post/print a variety of views. Provoking honest discussion of the challenges we all face is part of the Chronicle's job. I do not always agree with what I read on its pages, but I also appreciate the Chronicle for making stop and think. Bravo to the Chronicle!

32. vwhenry - November 04, 2010 at 07:00 pm

Some of the most reflexively intolerant people I've run across are the liberal (now branded progressives, since liberal is apparently a bad word) intelligentsia While they espouse public discourse and free speech, many seem quite surprised to find others have an opinion that runs counter to theirs and prefer to muzzle those contrarians. Nonprofit organizations are staffed overwhelmingly with left leaning individuals, but statistically, conservatives give more money to charities. If fundraising is part of your responsibilities, you might need to remember that when you're busy ticking off your donors.

33. heidimassey - November 04, 2010 at 07:52 pm

mllnovations and vwhenry

I read your comments and spent some time thinking about if I wanted to respond or not...didn't want to get into a (pardon my language) pissing contest...but to not answer may be interpreted as not having an answer, so I trudge on...FYI, mllnnovations, I did spend considerable time reading and digesting the content of the column. I think that what I and others have posted is addressing the content. 26 comments before I even posted about who the author is...all about content.

Ever hear the expression, "Opinions are like (expletive) Everyone has one."? Doesn't mean we need to provide them with a platform. I would hope this platform would be used to convey well thought out ideas, not political propaganda. Not about shutting down the message-this message is completely appropriate and reasonable for Lenkowsky to write...on the National Review or elsewhere. But I state again, the premise, that this movement is grassroots and has a significant following, is false. Therefore, everything that follows is irrelevant. To suggest that organizations should look closely at what the Tea Party has done and perhaps adopt some of those practices simply leads already stretched professionals on a wild goose chase where all they will find is smoke, mirrors, Glenn Beck and Dick Armey, NOT useful techniques for building a grassroots movement-because left to their own devices, with out Fox and with out high rollers, most of what the tea party has attempted to do has been wildly unsuccessful.

And fyi, vwhenry, not a fundraiser, so it isn't an issue...please try to lose the broad brush when you paint a picture. You seem to have some pretty strong ideas about us liberals, progressives, or whatever you want to call me. But I have a feeling you might be surprised to find that there are some who are genuinely kind, compassionate, authentic and they even give what they are able to nonprofit organizations. Not sure where you read that nonprofit organizations are staffed by us lefties, but if you are right, whatever. And that conservatives give more money, again, whatever...not sure how that is relevant to the debate about the above article...I can't answer for the entire progressive movement-just me.

34. mlinnovations - November 04, 2010 at 08:26 pm

To heidimassey:

Thank you for taking the time to address my comments. I also want to thank you for being so forthright. However, I do not agree that conservative opinions should be limited to conservative publications as you have suggested. Is this really where civic discourse has come to in our country? Good grief!

35. tgweiss - November 04, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Ms. Massey,

While it is indisputable that Les Lenkowsky has strong ties to the Republican party and conservative ideals, the thesis of this article is actually apolitical.

He has two major points. The philanthropic sector shouldn't overlook increases civic engagement even if the increased engagement comes from ideologies that seemingly run counter to philanthropic organizations. Secondly, having a equally motivated left and right movement to create change may very well lead to resolution on major issues as the two sides find ways to work together.

Regardless of whether it is a true grassroots movement, there is no debating that the Tea Party movement, much like the Obama campaign has resulted in an increase in civic engagement. And whether you agree with the reason or the premise behind the civic engagement is of little consequence of whether it exists or not.

The point is the nonprofit sector is driven by civic engagement, so an increase, regardless of it seemingly running counter to nonprofit ideals, should be viewed positively.

36. heidimassey - November 04, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Well, tgweiss, if there is no debating that the Tea Party movement has resulted in an increase in civic engagement, then I guess the discussion is over...in spite of whether it is actually true or not...or if it is just a sense we have from the excessive coverage of the tea party by the media-perhaps the lack of substantial increase in votes by Republicans might be significant here...but it is NOT open to debate so I won't bother bringing that up...

And mllinnovations, it isn't about only allowing conservative opinions in conservative publications. It is about limiting the conversation on this site to real, relevant conversation by those with some expertise to discuss topics. This was a political post, written to promote the tea party, NOT philanthropy. THAT is why it shouldn't be here. If the purpose of this site were political, then it would be appropriate-it is not. It is for topics related to philanthropy/nonprofits. I would perhaps see as relevant, tea party fundraising methods...perhaps...but NOT their civic engagement because it just didn't happen the way the media has portrayed it. If you TRULY believe that there has been such a great increase in participation, show me some facts. Increase in volunteers for those candidates. Increase in votes cast for those candidates compared to other elections. But many of the supposed tea party candidates lost and many others barely won in an election in which HUGE numbers of dems who voted in the presidential election just didn't show up. Tell me how that demonstrates an increase in civic engagement. The dems were so turned off by the D and R candidates and the repubs happened to show up. How is that such a notable accomplishment by the tea party?

37. tgweiss - November 05, 2010 at 07:36 am

Estimates are that around 4 million new Republican voters participated in this year's elections. Even if there was a decrease in the number of Dems turning out at this year's election, and some of these new Republican voters actually were independents that voted Democratic in 2008, there is still a significant number of new voters actively participating in the electoral process. Many of these were on the sidelines during the last election cycle, meaning their entrance into the political process represents an increase in civic engagement by at least one measure. I haven't seen any results on how many voters contributed to a political party, candidate or PAC for the first time either, but I would venture a guess that in the GOP camp, that number was up as well.

38. kgilnack - November 05, 2010 at 10:05 am

Couldn't quite fit all of my feedback in a comment, but here's why I think this post is a waste of time and that The Chronicle of Philanthropy could offer more useful, thoughtful opinion pieces: http://kgilnack.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/why-should-nonprofits-welcome-the-tea-party/

39. arlenes - November 05, 2010 at 10:35 am

Does Lenkowsky recall that Palin mocked Obama for being a community organizer? Her comment came off sounding less like a slam against Obama, and surprise surprise (!), like she had no idea what volunteer run organizations or grassroots movements were or how they work (liberal or conservative). Does she or any of the Tea Party know better, now? Do they know it is a value or asset to a community to have volunteer run organizations that fill voids (i.e. left by shrinking government budgets) (ala government agencies and companies or corporations)? Finally, when did Philanthropy ever "welcome" anyone (or not welcome them)?! You either value philanthropy (no matter who you are) or you don't.

40. dj_nyc - November 05, 2010 at 08:12 pm


The real waste of time here is your comments, and the majority of the comments to this article. If ever there was an example of how coccooned, insulated and absolutely dying for diversity of THOUGHT our sector is, this is it. The unearned smugness of the sector wears very thin very quickly. News flash: you "good" people don't have a monopoly on compassion or virtue, no matter if you hear differently every day from your echo chambers at HuffPo.

When confronted with a differing opinion, you basically threw a collective freak out. Grow up and act like adults.

41. heidimassey - November 06, 2010 at 01:56 am

I am most appreciative of those of you who engage in thoughtful debate and conversation. Not really sure what name calling, put downs and other insults add to the discussion...I have tried to remain respectful of everyone regardless of how I felt about what they had to say.

dj_nyc, I am sorry you have to be insulting to those of us who disagree with you. Interesting that you talk about freak outs because we disagree with the author while you had a similar response to what we have posted. Not sure why our opinions are not valid in your world. And I am not really sure what you are responding to...a monopoly on compassion or virtue-what did I miss here. And echo chambers at HuffPo-because there is such a limitation of available echo chambers on the right?


Would love to see links to the statistics you quoted...I hadn't seen any of that in all of the reading I did following the election. But fyi, 14 million young voters who voted for Obama did not vote in this election. They are not supporters of the tea party and surely if even half that number had come out to vote, the democrats would have done significantly better. And the 14 million doesn't include the African American voters who didn't vote. I will look for links to both of these statistics and post them when I have them.

And kglinack, wonderful blog post! Thank you! There are so many problems with the response from the Chron of Philanthropy editor, I am not sure where to start. However, I think your response was spot on! I continue to be disappointed in the Chronicle's lack of ability to distinguish between helpful posts and political propaganda.

42. californian650 - November 06, 2010 at 10:31 am

My god, you must be out of your mind. This article..which I am shocked the Chronicle has on it's front page is laced with inaccuracies. I know journalism is taking a deep dive but...the Chronicle? Saying that big donors had little do with election results? How is that cave you have been living in?

The Tea Party is the 2010 version of a Klan lynch mob. That's all.....the taxes and spending thing is window dressing, because they can't say out loud ..we consider a black guy automatically illegitimate as our President. When 46% of Republicans think Obama is a muslim, this even more extreme element overwhelming think he is a secret plot to turn the country into a socialist state. No really. Talking with Tea Party people, I am a non-profit executive in DC...when they came to town you would be stunned by the stunning ignorance these people have of the basic facts of government, history etc. And the unrestrained racism when they are together...walking to my metro commutte during one of their rallies..the taunts at a dark 6'2" mexican....."beaner", "nigger", "camel jockey"...charming these are the scum you want the philanthropic community to embrace? The Tea Party will not be happy till someone kills Obama and his family. The hysteria whipped up by Fox that makes Obama the biggest threat to the US since the British burned the White House. They are about squashing civil discourse, violence, racial injustice and tyranical control. EVERY non-profit, regardless of political stripes should consider them a high priority to fight. To counter their messages of violence, division and lies.

43. cnoke1234 - November 08, 2010 at 08:52 am

this is so shocking, can you please explain what this article is doing on the website of C of P? You would be wise to print an apology and remove its content ASAP!

44. livingcities - November 08, 2010 at 02:01 pm

I thought for a second that it was April Fool's day and the Chronicle was having a chuckle at our expense. But, alas, no. The author underplays the vast astro-turfing that has fueled and facilitated the Tea Party phenomenon, from outright contributions to the creation of shell "front" organizations, not to mention the role of the FOX network in propagating and inflating the Tea Party. That kind of distortion is worse that apologist it is destructive.

45. remooney - November 08, 2010 at 02:23 pm

Chronicle, you disappoint me. The article claims to tell us why the Tea Party is good for philanthropy, but it didn't do that, unless you call a general observation that the Tea Party got civically engaged. That doesn't strike me as either noteworthy or helpful in rationalizing the claim that we, who are involved in fund raising and philanthropy, should pay attention. What we saw in the Tea Party was a groundswell of citizens who don't read newspapers or cherish facts clammoring outrage over an economy they can't control and can't understand, reacting to governance that was bold and played out a procedure enacted by the Bush administration. They call for smaller government but offer no solutions as to how to make it smaller and you tell us we should
notice how instructive they are to our nonprofit community. PLLLeeeaaasse!

46. libertyellis - November 08, 2010 at 02:27 pm

So I'm a white guy, in philanthropy for over 25 years, and I've gradually grown weary of government programs (not social safety nets) that never really work, never really get justified and absolutely never go away despite all that. And I'm worried about our national debt. And I vote. So now, according to the vast majority of Chronicle readers, I'm racist, stubbornly imbecilic, uneducated, unwilling to pay taxes, homophobic, illiterate and able to be churned into a frothy mania at the mere mention of Obama's name? Or that I am programmed by Fox news to not think? You keep up that kind of thinking about people who disagree with you and you'll have plenty of first Tuesdays in November like the one you just had.

47. mpirnat - November 08, 2010 at 03:34 pm

I spent 25 years working in the private sector. I came to the non-profit sector 15 years ago to use my talents and experience for the good of the constituents we serve. I have raised millions of dollars for charities to use to help people in need.

I have got to say that I am truly shocked by the narrow-minded criticisms that I am reading in this comments section.

Joe5991 suggests that professor Lenkowsky read "One-Dimensional Man". Based on what Joe wrote, I'd say that is pretty ironic since his thinking seems to be very one-dimensional.
Where is the creativity? Where is the open mindedness...the willingness to explore new, fresh ideas? ...and don't even get me started on the similarities between the Weimar Republic and the legislation that has been proposed by the current administration in DC. I lived in germany for several years and have heard first-hand accounts and read many books on the subject. I have also been a student of the Soviet Union, again hearing first-hand accounts of what life was like under communism...po Ruski. Russian and German are just a couple of the languages in which I am fluent. Many of the current administration's approaches to "solving" societal's problems are very similar to the "Russian/Soviet" experiment...which failed by the way.

Mark900's summary of what the Tea-Party supposedly stands for, again shows a lack of open-mindedness and willingness to truly understand a new idea.

Need I point out again how poorly the government has run Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Amtrak...and we want to entrust them with our health care. Government run health care has not succeeded in Canada, the UK, and certainly not the socialist countries. I know. I have seen it first hand.

Tomhull and others referred to the government as being a "safety net". As the government bureucracies grow and we all get tangled up in their red tape it is we, who work, who must bail out the government with additional taxes. The tax payers are the government's safety net.

48. mgj1000 - November 08, 2010 at 04:49 pm

Here's Frank Luntz from today's Washington Post. His observations seem about right to me:

"Americans' agenda is simple. In broad terms, they want the government to spur job growth, but not by subsidizing more government jobs with taxpayer dollars. They want Washington to balance the budget and reverse the growing influence of government on daily life. They want the government to encourage success, allow failure, punish those who break the law - and then get out of the way. And above all, they want politicians to follow through on their promises, even if that means tempering those promises in the first place."

49. bintaboo - November 08, 2010 at 06:33 pm

Ms. Lenkowksy is either very ill-informed or down-right devious.

Not all social movements are good for democracy. European fascism was once a social movement too. The Confederacy was a social movement too.

The TP was funded heavily by the Koch brothers and other super rich elites who simply do not want to pay taxes and don't give a a damn about the country as a whole. To suggest that just by becoming active in elections and in civil society, the TP represents a positive development for democracy and civil society is wrong-headed. If you analyze what the TP really stands for, and where they are getting their money from, you will see that they are a conduit for the super rich to subvert the interests of average working class people. Those who claim to support the TP simply because they are suddenly wary of government programs are not being honest with themselves or anyone else. Why on earth should philanthropists be happy that right-wing extremists who oppose public healthcare and education are actually wielding political power, riding on a wave of bigotry and xenophobia that are sadly deeply engrained in the American pysche??? Then again not all philanthropists are socially conscious.

50. mpirnat - November 09, 2010 at 09:22 am

Ironic how uninformed bintaboo seems to be. The billionaire George Soros (a socialist) and most of the elite Hollywood millionaires back the liberals. The Chinese Communists (the next step beyond socialism) backed Bill Clinton in exchange for our technology secrets. Labor unions (once valuable in helping make working conditions safe for factory workers) pour millions of dollars into the democrats' campaigns. What are their motives?

It has been my experience, varified by my studies of the Soviet communists and German facists; that labor unions tend to lead the way to communism.

51. viswag59 - November 09, 2010 at 04:31 pm

I have been trying to submit my comments in this space since yesterday. But every time the site returns an error message.

I have sent my comments to 'philanthropy@pubservice.com' for posting my comments but am yet to see them posted. Waiting and wondering. Regards.

52. viswag59 - November 17, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Part 1:
1. Anything and everything grassroots need not be admired and appreciated. Islamic terrorism today is very much a grassroots movement. I am sure that none of us who believe in civil liberties will support that kind of mindset. In the past, under dire economic circumstances, Adolf Hitler led such a rabble rousing grassroots movement to come to power and then turned all the ire against the Jews and democracy itself. We have seen similar events in the erstwhile soviet regimes and also communist & Hindu-extremist ruled states in India.

53. viswag59 - November 17, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Part 2:
2. While I appreciate some noise by the TPM regarding TARP, I have not heard of any voice raised by the TPM on the issue that equated Corporations at the same level as individual citizens (my comments on the Keith Olbermann issue follow later). It is important to realize that corporations today are extremely powerful and in many cases more powerful than most governments. They have the means to not only manipulate governments but also have enough strength to by-pass governments. Government institutions are extremely weak when compared with the powerful corporations.

54. viswag59 - November 17, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Part 3A:
This brings me to a very crucial point. Having grown up and lived under an almost soviet-like powerful bureaucracy in India I fully appreciate TPM's anti-bureaucracy mindset and the need to reduce the powers of governments and government bureaucracies. Since Reagan and Thatcher governments have actually grown tiny relative to, for instance, the market forces.

55. viswag59 - November 17, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Part 3B: Could not submit for repeated error message.
Part 4:
It is time to realize that there is NO civil entity/institution today to counter the POWERFUL CORPORATE interests. And, I say this despite being an entrepreneur and CEO myself. Powerful corporations easily usurp the powers that we believe are bestowed in our elected representatives and governments.

56. viswag59 - November 17, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Part 5:
Yes, in many cases governments are powerful. But they are powerful only when they want to do BAD things (like withdrawing civil liberties in the name of curbing terrorism) because these BADs are either supported or not opposed by powerful corporations. Where the governments want to protect individual citizens against powerful corporate interests these powerful corporations turn on the governments and are able to ensure that their corporate rights are preserved and protected. Has the TPM opposed such corporate powers?

57. viswag59 - November 18, 2010 at 12:38 am

Part 6A:
It is important to realize that Democracy is not about having a small government. Nor is it about people participating in elections. Even terrorists can be elected by a rabble rousing grassroots leader.

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