Doing Well by Doing Good

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jacob Marley summed it up pretty well. Or, rather, his ghost did. When complimented by cringing former partner Ebenezer Scrooge for being "a good man of business," Marley's ghost, jaw unhinged, wailed its rejoinder. "Business," he moaned, "mankind was my business. Their common welfare was my business."

Bill Shore--author, social activist and nonprofit guru--couldn't have said it better. Minus the unhinged jaw. And the guilt. Marley's ghost, with its chain of money boxes and eternal wanderings, was a bit of a downer. Bill Shore is none of that. He believes business is good, profit is good, and people are, basically, very good. He believes people want to give, to share, and that it's just a matter of letting them give and share their talents, including their business acumen, as well as their possessions.

A friendly sort of guy, with a direct blue gaze and a firm handshake, Shore is many things.

He is founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-hunger, anti-poverty organization, which organizes--among other things--the annual Taste of the Nation, for which well-known chefs gather in various cities, including Los Angeles, to serve up signature dishes to premium-paying crowds.

At 43, he is an author of "The Revolutionary Heart" (Riverhead Books), about the founding of Share Our Strength, and more recently "The Cathedral Within: Transforming Your Life by Giving Something Back" (Random House).

And increasingly he is speaker and consultant, called hither and yon for conferences and workshops by a philanthropic community that is frantically trying to figure out how to thrive in an economy where about the only thing growing faster than the wealth is the nonprofit sector.

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Shore's message is a bit more complicated than that of Charles Dickens' creation, but they agree about one thing: Helping others is the surest, straightest way to helping yourself, and building a better world.

Marley came to this conclusion the hard way--death and damnation. Shore's path was just a bit easier--presidential campaign politics with Bob Kerrey and Gary Hart. In 1984, while still working for Hart, he and his sister began Share Our Strength. After Hart's campaign foundered, Shore turned his full attention to solving the problem he believes should be this nation's first priority: the unrelieved want in which more than 35 million Americans, most of them children, live.

Shore and his organization, which has distributed more than $50 million since its creation in 1984, operate with the heretical belief that the future of the nonprofit sector lies in the creation of wealth. Business ventures, marketing partnerships, licensing agreements--these are the terms Shore would have join, if not replace, the more traditional lexicon of philanthropy.

"It used to be you graduated from business school and you had to decide 'Do I want to help the public sector or create wealth?' " Shore says. "I want people to realize you can do both."

To make his point, he offers up the success of Share Our Strength. Most of the money is the fruit of business ventures--Taste of the Nation's sponsors include American Express, Williams-Sonoma and Evian. The chefs also offer department-store cooking demonstrations; Share Our Strength collects a portion of the profits from the cookware sold. There are cookbooks and endorsements, there's even a specific Taste of the Nation Calphalonpot. Share Our Strength also organizes Writer's Harvest, an ongoing literary benefit, and maintains other corporate relationships.

But serving as an example is not enough for Bill Shore. After his first book, "Revolution of the Heart" told the world the story of the founding of Share Our Strength, he became a much-sought-after speaker, which brings him to L.A. about every six weeks.

A recent fete for his new book "The Cathedral Within" was held at downtown's Cuidad by long-time Share Our Strength friends and chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. Dee Dee Myers and Arianna Huffington were part of the unusual assortment of folks chatting it up over empanadas and margarita shooters. Emissaries from the fiefdoms of politics and food and Hollywood and philanthropy, all heeding the same counselor--Bill Shore.

"Out of all the organizations we know," says Milliken, addressing those gathered at Cuidad, "SOS is special, because it treats nonprofit as for-profit."

"We can give back in a bigger way," interjects Feniger, "because they've found a way to make profitable your skills. And those are easy to give because that's what you love to do."

Part business pitch, part innovators' hit parade, part parenting manual, "Cathedral" clings to a central metaphor. A cathedral, Shore argues, is proof of the power of faith and vision. Its creation required the efforts of thousands--designers, artists, craftsmen, laborers--over hundreds of years. And few who literally invested their lives saw the finished product. A cathedral is a thing of beauty with a communal purpose, and, Shore repeats: it was paid for, for the most part, by the community. Those who seek to solve the world's ills, he says, would do well to consider themselves cathedral builders.

"We know how to handle many of our problems--hunger, violence," he says to the crowd gathered at Cuidad. "We have the solutions; we just need to make them replicable, and sustainable."

"Unfortunately," he adds, "we spend too much energy reinventing the solutions. It's as if we were giving other [researchers] money and asking them to come up with another vaccination for polio."

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Much of the book is devoted to describing some of the programs that have worked locally--the innovative job-training program Chrysalis in Los Angeles, Chicago's Children's Choir, CityYear in Boston--and pointing out how many of their leaders came from the private, not nonprofit sector.

"There's a line in Bill's first book that really spoke to me," says Maura Manus, a program officer with the Ford Foundation. "It says, 'If your vision is based on a need of your own, it will not fail, because your need will not let it.' "

Until recently, Manus ran Chrysalis, the L.A.-based nonprofit that helps the poor and homeless prepare for, find and keep jobs. She appears in Shore's second book as a near-perfect example of the antithesis of selling out. A successful studio executive, Manus decided that sitting on boards wasn't enough. Her personal need, coupled with well-earned business sense, helped her make Chrysalis a success.

Shore's insistence that nonprofits need the talents of the private sector--the MBAs and CPAs--is right on, she says.

"Foundations are expecting more and more of nonprofits," she says. "It's not enough to do good. You have to handle the money you get well."

Manus, who met Shore a few years ago at a conference, calls herself a big fan.

"Bill is on a mission," she says. "His message is very singular, very focused. He's a certain kind of hero to people, and we certainly need heroes."

"I think he's really on to something," says Myers, former press secretary to President Clinton, who has worked with Shore in various capacities. "It's a completely new approach to an age-old objective. It's hard to have long-term income if you are dependent on grants and donations, and it's hard to be on the other side, always being asked to write a check. With things like Taste of the Nation, everyone--the chefs, the restaurants, the cities, the donors--everyone wins."

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Like Shore, Myers believes that the rise of social entrepreneurs is part of a larger trend, a redefinition of leadership. In "Cathedral," Shore talks of a switch toward "servant leadership," power emerging from the ability to effect social change, rather than the other way around.

"Young people especially seem to look up to community leaders," Myers says, "and people are beginning to look more toward nonprofits and schools for leaders. This expands the number of ideas that are acceptable."

Shore concurs. If nothing else, he says, he wants to change the way we think about giving.

"The real intersection between politics and business is that both are about convincing people to do something because it is in their best interest," he says. "Nonprofits shy away from this. They urge you to give so you won't feel guilty."

But sustainable success, he argues, means helping people connect to their greatest passion, even if that passion is making money.

"Creating wealth is fun," he says. "But you can have that fun and fulfill your need to give back at that same time. It's so simple."

Simply revolutionary.

Mary McNamara can be reached by e-mail at Mary.McNamara@latimes.com.

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