Why Fund an Institutional Corpse?

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Then the site
publishes daily articles that apply Austrian economic principles
to contemporary problems.

In short, the
site pays attention to the past, which is a great treasure, and
the present, which is a great challenge. The organization thereby
affirms that the tradition is alive and well, that it is still remaining
true to the past — an affirmation of permanence — and also the
present, on behalf of the future.

Any organization
that does not do this is dying. It may appear to be functioning,
but it is dying.

With the advent
of the Web, every idea-based organization can make all of its materials
available to the public free of charge. There is no excuse not to
do this for “dead inventory,” i.e., those published materials that
are long out of print and without hope of future sale. The one valid
reason for not publishing everything for free is that the organization
relies on book sales for part of its income. Book sales also get
out the message.

I think the
best way is to do both: make new books available on-line, but also
in book form for those who like to hold a book, mark it up, and
store it of a shelf.

Years ago,
I posted all of my non-profit organization’s materials on-line,
plus most of my once-for-profit books. I personally pay to keep
this material on line: www.freebooks.com.

Why did I do
this? Because I am committed to the ideas. Also, I understood that
the Web is the greatest tool of evangelism in the broadest sense.
Anywhere on earth, people can find a site through the semi-planned
yet seemingly random practice of Web surfing. Web search engines
add to this ability of people to find out. Then there is word-of-mouse.
The process is just magnificent.

Any ideological
organization that is not part of this process is dying. It is absorbing
donors’ money, but it is dying.

THE SCENT
OF THE CORPSE

In contrast
to the Mises Institute are numerous old-line right-wing organizations.
They have not come to grips with the Web. They have not spent money
on building a Web site that offers their supporters access to the
complete works of the organization.

Here is this
wonderful tool of spreading ideas, yet these organizations have
no Web presence with respect to all the work they did for so many
years. The directors of these organizations have little memory of
the battles of the past and the people who fought them. They have
no commitment to showing today’s supporters that what the organization
did way back when was part of the self-conscious extension of a
consistent worldview, and involved great sacrifice.

In order not
to embarrass today’s heirs, who you have never or rarely heard of,
I shall not mention any names here. The heirs are busy sending out
fund-raising letters to shrunken lists of supporters, holding seminars
that few people attend, and publishing articles that no one reads
because the organizations have no meaningful Web presence due to
lack of concern and budgetary commitment. But, as Dave Barry used
to say, I am not making this up. I have two in mind, one from each
side of the post-World War II American Right.

In both cases,
the organizations were noted by their monthly publications. These
publications defined the organizations. They informed the troops,
educated newcomers, and served as the equivalent of Gospel tracts
that used to serve fundamentalist churches. Both organizations published
books and newsletters and special reports. Both sold lots of books
by mail. But the heart, mind, and soul of each organization was
its monthly magazine.

When the founder
of each organization died, each went into decline. Neither was able
to sustain its mailing list. Both disappeared off the radar screens
of the conservative public. Both were superseded by similar organizations,
which in turn recruited new supporters.

The donor bases
grew old. Legacy money poured in as the original donors died, but
there was no visible new blood. For all intents and purposes, both
organizations ceased to exert any influence on the movement they
had helped to create. They simply disappeared.

The historic
window of opportunity on the Web that LewRockwell.com and Mises.org
took advantage of is now gone. It is today extremely expensive to
build a large constituency of regular visitors to any Web site.

Most of us
visit a few favorites, spend our hour a day, and do a little surfing.
Our time is too valuable to spend on old sites that never grabbed
our attention. The only way for a site to gain visitors today is
by replacing some other site. This is never easy and always expensive.
It can be done, but it requires a systematic program. It requires
a Jeff Tucker or an Eric Garris to design the assault. These people
are few and far between.

Here is my
main thesis: The mark of sclerosis of an ideological organization
is its failure to commit to its own past. If today’s troops are
not reminded of the consistency of the vision and the sacrifices
that went before, there is no reason for them to commit today. Why
bother? They will not be remembered, any more than the founders
are remembered by the heirs. If an organization is not committed
to its foundational past, then it is not committed to the future,
either.

There are some
ideological organizations that have not published their old materials
because they have been taken over by people who do not share the
vision of the founder. They may not be sclerotic organizations.
They may be merely hijacked organizations.

BEFORE
YOU WRITE THAT CHECK. . . .

There is always
fund-raising for ideological organizations. But donors are well
advised to look carefully at the uses for their money. Unlike in
profit-seeking organizations, there is no clear-cut success indicator
for ideological, non-profit organizations. This much is sure: the
ability to spend money is not unique to productive ones. Non-productive
ones can spend money with the same degree of commitment.

Here are some
legitimate questions to ask:

What have you
published in the past? I want to read it.
What have you published lately? I want to read it.
How many people are reading this material today?
How many of these readers have become teachers or writers?
How many people under age 30 are reading it?
How many people have attended your conferences lately?
Are there CDs or DVDs of these conferences?
Are all these numbers growing?
Is your top priority the Web?
Does your budget reflect this?

The more money
you plan to donate, the more reason to ask.

Here is the
#1 question to ask yourself before writing that check:

Is
my money going to fund those things in which I believe deeply, which
apart from my donation may not be achieved?

This is what
Kennedy’s Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara called “more bang
for the buck.” He meant it literally. I mean it figuratively.

CONCLUSION

You do not
have unlimited time or money. You must pick and choose among those
organizations you plan to donate to. You would be wise not to donate
to either corpses or hijacked organizations.

February
4, 2006

Gary
North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible
.

Gary
North Archives

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