Hello. My name is Michael and I’m a grantaholic. I’ve raised millions in foundation money over the past two decades, and I admit that the next time I need a financial fix, I’ll be tempted to raise more. I have a problem. And here’s what I’m doing about it.
Six years ago, when I stepped down from directing the Institute for Policy Studies, I started working with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to design a community-friendly poultry operation called Bay Friendly Chicken, a company designed to undo most of the anti-labor, anti-environment and anti-consumer-health practices of our principal competitors, Tyson and Perdue. Soon BFC will be issuing its first stock–available only to residents of the Chesapeake Bay bioregion, so we can keep ownership local.
BFC has multiple bottom lines. It will serve its investors, including the initial nonprofit sponsor, Community Ventures, which earned stock for writing a feasibility study and business plan. It will improve the lot of the myriad stakeholders in chicken production on the Eastern Shore. And it will serve as a model for how to create diversified ownership of a company through stock that is still rooted in community.
The longer-term goal is to make it possible for Americans to invest their pensions and mutual funds in local business. This brings me to the second business I’m launching, in Santa Fe, called Gulliver LLC. Gulliver is seeding venture funds that invest exclusively in local ma-and-pa’s. Most venture funds, when their five to eight years of participation are done, aim to create companies that will be traded on the NASDAQ. Gulliver, in contrast, seeks to create local stock issues, and ultimately a New Mexico stock exchange for local companies.
The third set of businesses concerns local purchasing. I’m working with several groups–in Philadelphia; Portland, Oregon; and Millinocket, Maine–that are creating gift, credit and debit cards to reward consumers with discounts whenever they buy local. A small fee for the cards will finance a linked buy-local campaign.
Any or all of these initiatives may not succeed; the jury will be out for a long while. But I keep in mind Thomas Edison’s words that it took thousands of light-bulb-design failures before he could come up with one that worked. Kicking the grantaholic habit is not easy–we all must be prepared to stumble, learn and grow–it’s just easier than not kicking it, and a helluva lot more fun.