The world has changed. For one thing, it has become louder, at least to Paula Franzese. “We live in a time when loudness seems to control,” says Franzese, a professor of law and ethics at Seton Hall University and one of the state’s leading voices on ethics reform in government and property law. “The angry voice, the loudest voice seems to command our attention.”
The side effect, Franzese says, is that civility suffers, and so, in turn do nonprofits, which rely more on a gentler, less vocal style of persuasion in order to get needed operating funds.
Franzese will be one of several speakers at the Gift Planning Council of New Jersey’s 2010 annual conference on Wednesday and Thursday, April 21 and 22, at the Trenton Marriott. The conference begins at 4 p.m. on April 21 with addresses by Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini and philanthropy consultant Gail Freeman, who will present “The Habits of Highly Successful Development Professionals.”
The full conference resumes at 7:30 a.m. the following morning and features presentations by Dan Pallotta, a California-based nonprofit consultant and founder of Pallotta TeamWorks marketing firm. Franzese will be the lunchtime keynote presenter of “Kind Words Conquer.” Cost to attend the conference is $225. Visit www.giftpanning-nj.org.
Franzese, considered one of the state’s top authorities on property law, teaches about real property and ethics at Seton Hall and Columbia, from which she earned her bachelor’s in 1980 and her J.D. in 1983. She was a litigator with Cahill, Gordon, and Reindel in New York City, where she also served as a member of the New York Housing Court Reform Project and the Governor’s Task Force on Life and Law. She clerked for Justice Alan B. Handler of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
She was appointed to the state Ethics Council by Governor Dick Cody and in 2006 Governor Jon Corzine named Franzese chairwoman of the state Ethics Commission. Her father, Luigi, is credited with inventing penne ala vodka (though he originally called it penne ala Russia) in the 1970s when he was a chef at Orsini’s in New York. The restaurant at the time was a haven for celebrities such as Mick Jagger, Jackie Onassis, and Sammy Davis Jr.
In a 2009 essay entitled “Is Civility Dead?” Franzese posits that our society is living “in a time of diminished expectations. The scandalous and the salacious have become the norm. Political corruption tests a weary electorate, and negative campaigning assaults the senses.”
The essay is directed more toward government ethics than gift planning, but Franzese says her point is valid for both. Because we expect less from our leaders, they give us less in return. We let the people in charge get away with questionable behavior and we shrug it off as just another part of politics.
Add to that a heady dose of negativity — think of the numerous cable news channels that broadcast an endless stream of screaming heads who offer little substantive discourse but a generous helping of egos and emotions — and the politics of give becomes mired in, well, politics.
The trickle-down effect of this is that little gets done when a lot needs to get done, and Franzese says that the more we accept boorish behavior the less the quieter voices will be heard.
Power to the meek. Meekness is often confused with weakness, and gentle voices are often dismissed these days, says Franzese, because people think they are the voices of wimps.
Not so, she says. A commitment to a gentler course, one that consistently espouses the quieter, more substantial (and by default, less flashy) aspects of a nonprofit, in fact shows the opposite. As Gandhi rid India of British rule by refusing to give into violence and revenge, so too can nonprofits refuse to shout for the attentions of governments and donors. To consistently lead through this example, Franzese says, is a sign of strength.
Nothing will fix everything. One of the other criticisms Franzese has about society today is its thirst for instant gratification. Want to know who was in that movie about the biker gang in Hollywood? Look it up on the Internet. Don’t have the energy to cook? Pick up something on the way home.
But it’s one thing to solve your own hunger with a sandwich on the way home. It’s quite another to solve the plague of hunger in inner cities, and any of the myriad issues nonprofits tend to deal with. Nonprofits typically exist to eradicate a problem or change a system, meaning they deal with a lot of people and a lot of money.
“It’s important to understand that there is no fix-all,” Franzese says. Instead, she says, organizations need to apply steady pressure on governments and funders and stay on point with their own aims. Getting the system to work, in other words, means getting its various parts to work, not trying to fix the whole thing. Because you can’t.
Pie on the ground. Many nonprofits (and for-profits, for that matter) are infused with an adventurous idealism. Franzese is fine with that, but she cautions organizations of all stripes to always be realistic. Just as there is no single cure-all for society’s ills, there is no one type of person or organization. There are good, decent people, and there are rotten people.
The easier path is to believe that the world stinks all around and that everyone is out for their own self-interest. Franzese cautions against misinterpreting the phrase self-interest. She even quotes Alex DeTocqueville’s famous imperative for “self-interest rightly understood.” It’s OK to have self-interest, she says — in fact, it’s necessary. But it must be balanced with the interest of others.
Too often, what we hear about is self-interest wrongly executed — financial institutions’ greed; dirty politics that sacrifice true progress for temporary realignment of party lines. And it makes us cynical. But Franzese says we have to guard against the onslaught of negative messages and keep our faith in the basic goodness of people. She firmly believes in the quieter, gentler approach, and she has seen it in evidence repeatedly. Whenever a hot-button issue subsides and is looked at with cooler detachment, ideas flow and progress is made. People eventually come around, you sometimes just have to wait them out.
Leading by example. Applying ethical principles is not just for the classroom, Franzese says. They have a practical effect on the world at large. If institutions and organizations show their government leaders that they can accomplish tangible results through the profoundly un-sexy art of hard work and patience, she feels that those leaders will eventually see the light and follow suit.
But it rests upon nonprofits to be ethically profitable.”It’s about doing well but also doing good,” Franzese says. “It’s about living a life of personal and professional integrity. It’s about saying what we mean and doing what we say.”