• Fred's Blog

    Tell Me More than a Story

    Last year, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga released “Cheek to Cheek,” their album of jazz duets. Bennett’s controlled, classy (always a coat and tie) appearance matched with Lady Gaga’s ever-changing and audacious persona would seem to be a formula for failure, but it worked beautifully. Bennett later remarked that the key to a good duet is contrast along with quality material and voices that complement each other. As well, they had developed a friendship two years before that led them to want to work together on the project. It was a stretch, but two soloists found complementary partners to create a best-selling album. For some reason, listening to their music…

  • Fred's Blog

    Not Throwing Away My Shot!

    My father had a life removed from us we knew little about until we were grown. It was only a few years before he died that I understood why. We talked about it on a series of trips we took as father and son when he was losing his health, and we knew it was just a matter of time before he could not travel at all. It was on our first of these trips that he told me about New York City and the Waldorf Astoria. Dad grew up in the poorest parts of Nashville, Tennessee. He was always a misfit there. While others resigned themselves to a life…

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  • Fred's Blog

    Take It to the Limit

    William Barstow was an enterprising partner and friend of Thomas Edison, as well as an inventor and highly successful entrepreneur in his own right. One night in 1931, Barstow and his wife, Francoise, sat around their table as usual, discussing new ideas. They had been wrestling awhile with how to structure a substantial gift that would allow them to make donations without setting up a trust or a private foundation – both of which were primarily reserved for only the wealthiest families in the country at the time. The Barstows worked out an arrangement with the young New York Community Trust to create a vehicle that would give them most…

  • Fred's Blog

    The Mr. Spock Prize

    My friend Randy Samelson at Counsel & Capital is funding a prize for the best annual report designed for Randy and other “left-brain” donors. I am calling it the Mr. Spock Prize, and I thought some friends might be interested in applying for the prize as well as my response to Randy’s generous initiative. Dear Randy, Thank you for sending me your proposal to sponsor a $50,000 prize for the nonprofit or church that produces the best annual report for “left-brain donors.” As you probably know, while printed annual reports represent a significant expense for nonprofits (and there are even prizes for print design and graphics), they remain unread by…

  • Fred's Blog

    Playing the Piano in a Whorehouse

    It was Harry Truman who said, “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.” Mark Twain wrote, “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” H.L. Mencken was ruthless in his criticism of the political class, “If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.” Will Rogers, while kinder overall, still found politicians easy targets during the Depression, “The United States Senate opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.” So, it…

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  • Fred's Blog

    Darwin’s Paradox

    In “Where Good Ideas Come From” Steven Johnson uses the illustration of a coral reef as an example of a structure that is both fragile and still able to withstand the incessant pounding of waves and storms. He quotes Charles Darwin’s first experience with reefs and his amazement they were able to withstand the violent surges of water, “The ocean throwing its waters over the broad reef appears an invincible, all-powerful enemy; yet we see it resisted, and even conquered, by means which at first seem most weak and inefficient…Yet, these low insignificant coral-islets stand and are victorious: for here another power, as an antagonist, takes part in the contest.…

  • Fred's Blog

    Darwin's Paradox

    In “Where Good Ideas Come From” Steven Johnson uses the illustration of a coral reef as an example of a structure that is both fragile and still able to withstand the incessant pounding of waves and storms. He quotes Charles Darwin’s first experience with reefs and his amazement they were able to withstand the violent surges of water, “The ocean throwing its waters over the broad reef appears an invincible, all-powerful enemy; yet we see it resisted, and even conquered, by means which at first seem most weak and inefficient…Yet, these low insignificant coral-islets stand and are victorious: for here another power, as an antagonist, takes part in the contest.…

  • Fred's Blog

    The Great Divide

    Roger Thurow was a longtime foreign correspondent in Africa and Europe for The Wall Street Journal and was also the co-author of ENOUGH: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. He visited with me several years ago as he was writing his book and doing interviews for other projects. His first question was, “Why is it just now that evangelicals like Rick Warren and others are getting engaged in social justice issues?” This was in 2007 – the 200th-year anniversary of the signing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act that ended the slave trade in the British colonies. That date seemed like a good place…