Marc Dunkelman Discusses His New Book, The Vanishing Neighbor, at JHU Center Brown Bag Lunch

Marc Dunkelman, a Research Fellow at Brown University's A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and a Senior Fellow at the Clinton Foundation, spent the lunch hour on Thursday discussing his recent book The Vanishing Neighbor:  The Transformation of American Community.  The book offers an important contribution to the debate over of what is happening with American civil society, how we might save it from further decline, and why this matters to American democracy.  In this sense, Mr. Dunkleman follows in the footsteps of influential sociologists such as Robert Nisbet, Nathan Glazer, David Reisman, and more recently Harvard Professor Robert Putnam.  Mr. Dunkleman focuses on the decline of what he calls "middle ring"  relationships which are distinct from inner and outer ones.  For example, inner ring relationships include family and close friends while outer ring relationships involve professional associations or transactional ones found in social media or virtual communities.  Today, we are more and more in touch with the outer rings -- the fellow members of "like" groups on Facebook who we will never meet in person.  Americans are increasingly abandoning the middle ring relationships -- familiarity with neighbors, fellow parents at the local school or PTA, civic groups and clubs.  This is presenting a crisis of sorts as these middle ring relationships have been responsible throughout American history for building the sense of township and community,  providing, in essence, the connective tissue that builds social capital, so vital to the health of democratic self-government. Mr. Dunkelman suggests that the decline in our middle ring interactions could in part explain the excessive partisanship in Washington, DC.  That is, by only interacting with inner and outer rings -- our ability to interact with others who we may have less in common with atrophies.   Mr. Dunkelman  said there are no easy solutions to this problem -- though he did raise the possibility of national service for young people, but recognizing the decline is an important first step. 



Research in Graduate Studies (RIGS) Symposia Last Night A Huge Hit!

Thank you to (as picture above) Megan Ortagus, Kenneth Ames, and Mary Ellen Mitchell  for speaking to students last night at the RIGS symposia and sharing their strategies and experiences researching and writing their theses and capstone paper.  Students greatly benefited hearing directly from alumni about the thesis and capstone process, what to expect and pitfalls to be avoided.  Especially encouraging was hearing from the alumni panelists about how the thesis and capstone process impacted their career aspirations, helping them to develop writing and analytical skills, as well as expertise, that served to advance them in their fields of work.  




Johns Hopkins and Ice Bucket Philanthropy – by Char Mollison

Char Mollison is a member of faculty and program coordinator for the Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management.

August 26, 2014


In the Washington Post on Sunday, August 24, Johns Hopkins University neurologist and professor Jeffrey D. Rothstein tackled five myths about the disease behind the Ice Bucket Challenge.  As I’m sure you all know, the ALS Association’s campaign to raise money for research into the muscle wasting disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has gone viral.  Millions of people have challenged each other to dump cold water on themselves or donate $100.  The amount of money raised changes daily, but the most recent report from the ALS Association cited $88.5 million (compared to $2.6 million last year) and 1.9 million new donors.

Some of that money will likely (and thankfully) make its way to Dr. Rothstein’s own research, which is funded by NIH, the Department of Defense, the ALS Association and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  And by the way, Dr. Rothstein, who has won many awards for his study of ALS, took the Ice Bucket Challenge.

But, wow, what a debate is raging out there, in both old and new media.  There’s a nice round-up of the criticism by Rick Cohen, writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly.  In sum, the Ice Bucket Challenge:

  • ·         Represents much that is wrong with contemporary charity;
  • ·         Is just a stunt that detracts from other worthy causes;
  • ·         Doesn’t require time, commitment or talent;
  • ·         Lacks substantive information about the disease;
  • ·         Is just a strategy for “feeling good”;
  • ·         Attracts people only because it’s a trend – the cause is a postscript.


Cohen asks, “Does it matter whether the charitable giving is thoughtfully considered or simply the result of a fundraising gimmick? That’s the real core issue here.”

Here is where I differ from the critics of the Ice Bucket Challenge. 

So what if people are giving money because the campaign is fun?  So what if they are showing off on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and all the rest?  I don't know why people think one has to have absolutely pure motives or undergo a deeply serious thought process before giving away money to a cause.  Most people don't have pure motives.  John Edie, the legendary and now retired General Counsel at the Council on Foundations, once described the completely disinterested charitable gift this way:


  • ·         It’s given anonymously.
  • ·         No tax deduction is claimed.
  • ·         There is no belief in the Hereafter.
  • ·         The individual has no family.
  • ·         The individual has no friends.
  • ·         The grantee is in a town the donor hasn’t been to.
  • ·         The donor picked the grantee out of a hat.
  •   The gift went to his ex-wife’s favorite charity that he hated.


We know quite a bit about the most generous donors in the world.  As a courtesy, I won’t name them here, but they are usually trying to save their own souls, make amends for past crimes, avoid being prosecuted for monopolistic practices, keep their children from being ruined by inherited wealth, ingratiate themselves with people listed in the Social Register, find a cure for a disease they have, achieve immortality by having the same name as a building, etc.  


People like to criticize how nonprofits raise money.  The genius of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it doesn't cost the ALS Association very much to implement.  Rather, it taps the free movement of information over social media to get the message out.  If the ALS Association had tried to raise the same amount of money by courting big donors or using mail appeals, it would have been criticized for spending money on fancy dinners or direct mail firms.  


The ALS Association meets all standards of the Council of Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance.  It holds a four star rating from Charity Navigator.  So, one can be assured the money will not go for new carpeting or a skylight in the CEO's office.


My friend Patricia Irwin died from ALS.  If the ALS Association is able to raise a phenomenal amount of money with the ice bucket challenge and give a phenomenal amount of money for research into the disease, I'm all for it. 


In closing, in honor of all the generous but probably imperfect people in the world, all the Trekkies, Dr. Rothstein, and my colleague Sarah O’Byrne in the Center for Governmental Studies who brought this to my attention:



Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg publishes The Worth of War

Congratulations to Center Program Chair Benjamin Ginsberg on the publication of his most recent book, The Worth of War (Prometheus Books). In a most thought-provoking study, Dr. Ginsberg intrepidly goes where few scholars dare -- to a thoughtful examination of the societal benefits of war:


From the publisher:  Although war is terrible and brutal, history shows that it has been a great driver of human progress. So argues political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg in this incisive, well-researched study of the benefits to civilization derived from armed conflict. Ginsberg makes a convincing case that war selects for and promotes certain features of societies that are generally held to represent progress. These include rationality, technological and economic development, and liberal forms of government.
Contrary to common perceptions that war is the height of irrationality, Ginsberg persuasively demonstrates that in fact it is the ultimate test of rationality. He points out that those societies best able to assess threats from enemies rationally and objectively are usually the survivors of warfare. However deplorable the realities of war are, the many fascinating examples and astute analysis in this thought-provoking book will make readers reconsider the unmistakable connection between war and progress.



To order a copy, contact Random House at 800-733-3000.  The book is also available on Amazon.com.


JHU Faculty, David Anderson, publishes book

Congratulations to Professor David M. Anderson on the recent publication of his book, Leveraging: A Political, Economic, and Societal Framework.  Professor Anderson teaches "Scandal Management, Ethics and Public Policy" at the Center for Advanced Governmental Studies.  For more information about the book, please click here.