Specialization Can Save Your Plumbing and Philanthropy

I spent much of my pre-July Fourth celebration in my basement, dealing with a backed-up sewer line. It’s not exactly what I had planned, but, alas, it’s been an ongoing issue for a few years. And, well, y’know “stuff” happens.

There is no metaphor here for philanthropy, per se. Nor for donor intent or issues affecting DonorsTrust’s principles of limited government, personal responsibility and free enterprise. But as I heard the shrill of the basement water alarm warning me that bad things were happening, (and were about to worsen), I simultaneously grabbed the shop vac AND the phone. The shop vac was to prevent an immediate problem, the phone call was to find the person who could actually do something about it.

And, perhaps that’s the lesson, or at least the reminder.

In this instance, I knew what needed to be done, but I recognized I lacked the tools to deal with the issue. In a market economy, we thrive on specialization to address problems, create opportunities, and determine value, so that we may live the lives we seek. Collectivization tends to do the opposite, leading to experiences that are (potentially) dull, grey and mediocre, and frequently more work-filled.

In the middle of my mess, I needed somebody who had a 2-inch professional snake that could reach 80 feet into my sewer line. And who also did not mind the fact that he’d get pretty darn grimy in the process. Now, with the short-term problem fixed, I face longer term disruptions involving people with specialization in trench digging, pipe cutting, tree cutting, landscaping, and who knows what else.

But I will also be able to flush with confidence.

The Business of Service         

We at DonorsTrust are not planners. We do not “manage” our assets with the intent to secure a multi-decade investment return (though we appreciate how market returns can boost our charitable capacity). We do not offer our clients a narrowly scrubbed, pre-ordained list of charities that we control and to which they may recommend grants. We are not a donor-advised fund that is in the “business” of professional philanthropy.

Steve Jobs famously eschewed market research when it came to Apple’s products. He discussed how his purpose was to show people what they actually wanted or needed. On a certain level he might have been correct. But that’s not how we view our customer base.

We truly do not know what you want.

We do not know what motivates you to be charitable in the first place, or why you choose to support certain organizations over others, or how you value your charitable legacy and the role that your children or others might (or might not) play. We do not know what financial constraints you face, or what your long term financial and tax challenges may be. We do not know if you have libertarian or conservative clients who could use the protections of DonorsTrust.

While we glean this information from our clients as we work more closely with them, we are keenly aware of Friedrich Hayek’s warning about the “fatal conceit” that often strikes those who “plan” for a living. That is why DonorsTrust does not plan your giving, but offers assistance as you plan your own. As I said before, unlike some commercial ventures, we are not a professional donor-advised fund out merely to make money for ourselves.

At DonorsTrust you are in charge. Oh sure, there are legal restrictions that we all must abide by when it comes to the specifics of a donor-advised account. When you work with us, we will remind you of the rules that protect all of us. But, at the end of the day, our mission is to serve you, the donor community, and not ourselves.

Specialization Benefits All

We appreciate the diversity that this community represents. Just as we value the diversity of the thousands of groups we support. We base our values on the historical separation of government and citizen when it comes to creating a flourishing civil society. “Public” charities (privately funded) are themselves an example of specialization – each pursuing and using local knowledge, collaboration and coordination (but not centralization), and dynamic experimentation to address and solve a particular problem. We celebrate this diverse attempt by myriads of charitable armies to improve the lives of so many.

In other words, we love this specialization. And in that vein, we offer certain experiences and beliefs that can be useful. We can help with estate planning, charitable trusts in particular. We can serve as a platform where one can experiment with the concept of “being a philanthropist,” especially for younger professionals. We can monitor a charity on behalf of a client to ensure it remains focused on the mission and outcomes that drew that client to the charity in the first place. We are intimately acquainted with (given our constant interactions) the groups that make up the “liberty movement”, and we play an advice/consent role with our clients to ensure they find the right group that fits their interests. We can ensure your charitable legacy is spent in the time frame you want and to the organizations you deem most worthy of support.

In that effluent-tinged moment in my basement, I knew precisely what I needed. I simply lacked the mechanism and technical skills to fix it. But I reached out and found those and am confident of a resolution that will enable me to pursue other aspects of my life.

So give us a call, we can help. Even if it’s messy.


  • Lawson Bader

    Since 2015, Lawson Bader serves as president and CEO of DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. Before coming to DonorsTrust, he amassed twenty years’ experience leading free-market research and advocacy groups including the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He began his career in DC in as special assistant at the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, then worked as a legislative analyst/paralegal with Pierson, Semmes & Finley, and managed government relations at SRI International. He is a former weekly columnist with Human Events, and a current contributor to Kiplinger and member of the Forbes Nonprofit Council. He also serves on the governing boards of the Atlas Network, State Policy Network, and Oakseed Ministries International. Lawson earned a BA in political science from Wheaton College (IL) and an MA in public policy from The Johns Hopkins University.

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