Phil Cubeta puts the Phil into Philanthropy

Date: 07 Dec 2007


Phil Cubeta, a Dallas based wealth adviser, is an accomplished writter-blogger on philanthropy. I asked him to let us inside his head to see what makes him tick and why he spends his time writing on

The interview is written in question and answer style.

Karen asks: Why did you start gift hub?

Phil responds: I started to blog about philanthropy back in 1999 and had a number of sites before Gifthub. One motivation was simply to have a place to store links to the ever growing list of resources on the internet. Another was to find a life as a citizen, not just a businessperson. In blogging I found a public square in which, like Diogenes, or Socrates, or an Itinerant Mountebank, I could accost my fellow citizens, including the most wealthy and powerful, and ask them the founding questions of philosophy: “Who do you want to be? What kind of world do you want to live in?” The answers people give, and the manner in which they give them, are symptomatic of who they are as individuals, and what their community or society has become.

People embody a culture they take for granted and that culture today in many ways is ailing. The art of satire is the art of healing spiritual and political sickness. So Gifthub has evolved from serving the rich to satirizing them, not to wound but to heal. This is a role open to talent, one I would not recommend to anyone but a Fool operating as a citizen, on his or her own recognizance, without benefit of corporate blessing. As such a free range Fool, I bill myself as Morals Tutor to America’s Wealthiest Families, but I am happy to work with Royalty, and the lesser nobility, and the merely rich, from the UK as well.

Karen: What is the long term objective?

Phil: Ostensibly the topic is giving, but the underlying topic is civic virtue. The goal is to cure the blind, heal the sick, and awaken the living dead among the World’s Wealthiest, Karen, your best customers and mine.

Karen: A lot of money goes into faith giving in the USA. Have you any views about this?

Phil: Well, people give to the communities in which they create their identities. Schools and religious communities, as well as the family, are the key examples. Give to what you love. As someone who lives in Dallas, Texas and has worked with Main Street givers and financial advisors in the Bible Belt for many years, I have great respect for the virtues and civic commitment of many faith-based organizations and donors. I myself was Born Again, after serving as a Dungeon Master to the Stars in Wealth Bondage for many years, back when I was young and foolish. Then, having gotten religion, I became a Morals Tutor to America’s Wealthiest Families, and now to the nobles and rich people in the UK too. I assume the Queen has her Fool, but I have never heard much about him. Have you?

Karen: Who do you most admire and why?

Phil: I admire figures like Diogenes, Socrates, Martial, Horace, Jesus of the Gospels, Dryden, Swift, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, or Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, or Vaclav Havel, who changed society starting from the inside out. We can’t make a better world with worse people in it. Marketing, advertising, political propaganda, is bad art. It creates people of low, mass market quality, driven by base desire and derided by vanity. Some become rich and powerful. To bring the liberal arts, including largess, or giving, or philanthropy-upon-reflection back into the public square is to revitalize democracy, if we do it in that spirit, in community with others. Unless we cure ourselves of our materialism, it will spread throughout the body politic and may prove fatal to our species. Hence, the importance of satire, or moral physic, and my interest in that tradition.

Karen: What are the problems with giving?

Phil: From a practical standpoint, working with wealthy people, the challenge is in getting them to partner with their advisors, their children, and with the nonprofit leaders they support in order to put plans into motion that are both prudent and inspired. A prudent plan takes care of self and family come what may. An inspired plan does all that but also has a positive impact on society. I try to work towards this at Gifthub and in the volunteering I do for Tracy Gary, a donor maven and author, at

Karen: And who are you?

Phil: My father taught college English at Middlebury, a small liberal arts college in Vermont. I went to Williams, Oxford and Yale in the humanities and thought I would be a college professor myself. Blew my doctoral dissertation at Yale and landed not in the Dumpster, as per the mythology of, a disreputable site with which my name is sometimes linked, but in financial services, as a Trainer in Alabama and then Georgia. Was transferred around the country in various roles, becoming a specialist in philanthropic planning for wealthy people in their estate and financial plans. But the appeal for me was always the liberal arts. I say now in doing philanthropic planning that I am “practicing the liberal arts without a license.” Planning is about means. Philosophy, literature and the humanities generally are about ends. To get both means and ends to come together harmoniously for self, family and society is what happiness meant in Aristotle.

Karen: As you are an expert, could you highlight and recommend some worthy charities?

Phil: Rather than recommending a charity, I would suggest donors seek their own points of passionate preference.

o What does the donor want to change or preserve in the world?
o What keeps the donor up at night?
o If the donor’s family had a crest, what would be the motto?
o What traditions or values or virtues does the donor want to see carried on in the donor’s family, and larger community?

From such open ended questions (see the Resources at for more discussion prompts), the donor can get a sense of what he or she is trying to accomplish. From there one asks,

o How best to achieve that desired change In the world, within those values?
o How best to enlist others in the work?
o Who has done the best work in this area?
o Should the donor give, invest, fund, do, lead, volunteer, enlist others?

Essentially, as in any planning you start with the end in view and then look at resources available, the larger system within which the results are to be achieved, the options open, and the results reasonably expected. The nonprofits take their place in that analysis as one way among others of converting an investment of time, talent or money into a personal and social result.

What I just described is sometimes called “strategic philanthropy.” That is not where most donors start. Typically, donors will begin with what my friend and mentor, Tracy Gary, calls “honored obligations,” like colleges or religious or medical organizations with which the family has an existing tie. We give when asked. Giving is reactive or responsive. But beyond that many philanthropists or citizens with resources do eventually want strategic impact, one that is expressive of who they are as leaders and can-do people in their own right. That is the kind of work that attracts me.

Karen: And finally, what are the three things that can change the world in the philanthropic area?

Phil: A better world is not sold in stores. No nonprofit can provide it on demand. Governments get mixed results. Even war will not always make things better. Insofar as we are all living as a fragile species on a fragile earth, within communities that are fragile, we are in this together. Three things or steps that might change the world for the better are, Begin with meditation, reflection, and something close to prayer. Begin with whatever moves through us, whether you call it poetry, inspiration, the muses, or the holy spirit, or wisdom, or tradition, so that a vision comes into focus, or a passion, a longing, an aspiration more noble than not.

Then converse. Open yourself to debate and dialogue with those who will contest your vision, clarify it, or blow it up. Meet with others who are working on similar issues. Get connected. Find your own Fool. They are in shorter supply than you might imagine. Mostly you may find Courtiers, Trusted Advisors, and Plausible Knaves.

Having taken counsel of the Wise and the Foolish, build and implement with your allies, advisors, and partners, a strategic plan, but not an isolated plan. Build with others towards a change of mind, and a change of heart, as well as a “measurable” change in the direction of the world we want. (That by the way, The World We Want, is the title of a fine book by a friend and mentor of mine, H. Peter Karoff. I do a blog for him at

Phil Cubeta blogs at

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