I'm determined to give NBC's new show, The Philanthropist, a fair chance. Sure, I've seen the first episodes. Did it perfectly reflect the reality of the majority of the philanthropists we represent or work with? Probably not. But I also can't help feeling that it was about time someone glamorized what I do for a living. Let's review the context:
The buzz for giving comes courtesy of a new TV show, in prime time, on a major network (NBC, Wednesdays, 10PM). Check.
The series title is unambiguous: The Philanthropist. Good. No missing the point there. Check.
Then things would appear to get a bit tricky. The Entertainment Weekly logline for the premiere praised the series, but also called it a drama about a "rich, rule-breaking, risk-taker" who's also a "reckless billionaire." Well, as Caroline Preston wrote in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, this is not exactly "the stuff that fills many annual reports on corporate giving, to be sure."
And yet, for the first time in recent pop culture history, a depiction of someone who calls himself a philanthropist (until recently, one of the most boring words in our language to most people), will have a chance to enter our homes and make us all aware of the need for the truly-lived, philanthropy-centered life. That in itself is a big accomplishment.
Moreover, the namesake of the series will also get a chance to spark conversation, to generate dialogue about giving and about the ways our giving is changing along with us. In the twenty-five years since Hispanics in Philanthropy's creation, no other event has had the potential to create such a wide-ranging, potentially long-spanning, intimate, entertainment-integrated and, so, emotionally driven reaction, and that is one big deal.
And there's more. The series protagonist, like Bobby Sager, the real-life philanthropist it's based on, is a former businessman who brings his business skills to bear on his philanthropy. Well, check and check! That's what HIP is has always been all about: sound business practices for effective philanthropy.
Actually, it's what we, all of us in the philanthropy world, are all about. How else could we continue to do so much in the current economic climate? By leveraging! Like Bobby Sager, and "Teddy Rist," we look at philanthropy as a vital part of life, something enriching to be done for its own good. We're globe-trotters, or would like to be, because we believe in transnational connections. We know it's about getting close to people, understanding things from all points of view. Sager himself says that he often gives abroad because the dollars go further, and like any good businessman, he's looking for "exceptional return on investment." (We, at HIP, like to mix things up a little, investing both in the United States and Latin America, but the point is well-taken.)
He says he gets to "deploy the same kind of skills I used to make money...make people accountable" and he likes to make it sustainable to "give it legs." Well, check, check, and check. What else do philanthropists of all budgets do year in and year out?
So you'll understand if, in the end, I don't care too much if this philanthropist gets a little reckless in his over-the-top, 007-like pursuit of making the world a better place. How else would I keep from forgetting the difference between my non-glamorous life's work, and the fictional entertainment of a TV series?
Oh, yes. There is the detail of Bob Sager having an actual submarine hatch as the entrance to his office. I wonder if one can get one of those on eBay.
Diane Campoamor is president of Hispanics in Philanthropy, which is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. Prior to joining HIP, Campoamor served as a director at the Shalan Foundation, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), the United Way, and the YWCA.