Posted by: mamaamy | November 12, 2012

Authority, Freedom, & Generosity: Facilitating a Positive Life Trajectory

Back in March of this year I was corresponding with a friend of mine who is incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system.  My friend is married and his young wife had various needs (housing, transportation, finances, etc…) that she was struggling to provide for.  Amy and I wanted to help her.  Moreover we also wanted to help her orient her life on a positive trajectory.  Given her history, we had concerns around the concepts of “enabling” degenerative behaviors and our responsible “stewardship.”  Given those concerns, we wanted to maximize the “return on investment” and provide her some oversight/mentoring/coaching in addition to meeting her material needs.

This essay is meant to invite the reader into my personal investigation of ways to provide support to those who need it and initiate a dialogue with like-minded individuals and organizations who are interested in considering ways to facilitate positive life trajectories for the generations.

Many readers of Training God’s Heirs are young parents looking for child training ideas, and this essay may not be, at first glance, of immediate interest to them.  Let me encourage you to reconsider.  A recent Forbes.com article highlights the fact the 15.8 million adult children now live with their parents.  If you think training young children is a profound mystery, then you must appreciate the challenges relating to a twenty-something child who may be ready to rule his domain autonomously, but, due to unforeseen socio-economic conditions, must live at home, or is a full-time student supported entirely (or mostly) by his parents.  With this in mind, let me encourage parents to keep reading.

Reading is thinking, guided by text.  This essay reveals my thinking around the ideas of generosity, giving, and support.  This thinking has evolved over time; as a result, I am including the letter that I sent to my friend as a proposition for providing support to he and his wife so that readers can follow the evolution.  Additionally, my hope is that the reader will be engaged by the transparency of this work.  Of course the names have been changed to respect privacy.

Initial Thoughts:

Dear Cory:

As soon as I received your last letter I rallied the troops on Tracy’s behalf (and yours.)  I sent a letter to Russ & Laura, Rick & Jen, Tyndall & J, and others you don’t know who might be willing to help you and your wife.  We are all working on a plan.  Amy has been in daily contact with Tracy.  Following is Amy’s last email to the gang:

 

Hello all,

 I just thought I would give an update and some more specific information about Tracy and Cory’s situation. 

Cory has been granted an fi6 for parole which means he will be transferred to a rehab program for 6 months, then be home after he’s done in late oct/nov!  The rehab could be in the Houston area or Austin, but we don’t know yet where or exactly when it will start. They are very excited to see the end to his time away from Tracy.

Tracy is no longer living with the man she knew from a former job…she is presently staying at an extended stay hotel–the same one her grandma is in.  She is not too far from her job and she likes being near her grandma, but it is expensive.  We are still looking for a place for her to stay until mid April that is free or super cheap.  In April, her grandma has been approved for a 2 bedroom rental in Conroe that she will share with Tracy…it will be at a reasonable cost for them if they share it.  Until then if any of you know of a room, garage apartment, mother-in-law’s quarters that is available, it would be much appreciated.  I have spoken to some references and the report is favorable.  Tracy is responsible, considerate, and trustworthy as a housemate.  (Andrew thanks for the offer of furniture…she is grateful and will accept it when she finds a place.) 

As far as her car situation, we have been working to help find a reliable vehicle for her.  We had her car checked out and apparently she was sold a piece of junk at a high price from an individual. Her contract says she is to pay $50 a week until the balance (orig.$3500) is paid. She owes $621 more on that amount, but the repairs are estimated at $2500–in fact the repair guy said it wasn’t worth repairing.  So we are in process of making an appeal to payoff the car at a reduced amount ($3000 total) and get the title for the amount of $121.  We are hoping the seller is reasonable and will accept this.  Then when we can find a reliable, cheap car, we will sell the one she has as scrap for $350-500. If you hear of, have, or see a decent car for sale for $500-$1000, please let us know.  

As far as the rest of her financial situation goes, she has a court cost of $205 and a balance at the probation office of $2337.00.  I have the info on how to make payments on these amounts if anyone is interested or able to assist with $$.  

All in all, we are working to get her

 1.) a safe, inexpensive housing situation

2.) a reliable, cheap vehicle

3.) out of the financial strain of the court and probation fees.

 Doing all this would give her the opportunity to live and work in safety and with much less stress until Cory is available to help.  (She would also like to finish her GED, but has been emotionally unable to keep that up do to all of the stresses surrounding her situation.)  We all understand that these are the consequences of many of the choices of her past, but she is desiring a positive, healthy future, and is working to make this happen. If you feel that you want to help her and Cory get their lives on track, it would be a blessing to many.  

 Thanks for considering how you might participate in this opportunity to help this young couple.

Amy 

To be sure, you and Tracy have friends who are willing to help.   However, our effectiveness is limited by the amount of authority Tracy and you grant us. 

Having said that I will ask you to consider authority:

Authority = Rights + Responsibilities

This equation must remain balanced. 

When the equation is out of balance disequilibrium is the product. 

Imagine someone who enjoys all of the rights, but accepts no responsibilities.  An example of this disequilibrium/disharmony producing equation is a man who enjoys the “rights” typically granted to a husband, but does not accept the responsibilities (provision & protection for the female) associated with those rights.  When real life follows this example, the result is often fatherless children, broken hearts, impoverished bodies and souls.  Disequilibrium for individuals, families, communities…societies.

To elaborate on the example above:  Though missed by most observers, the rites and rituals practiced in many western wedding ceremonies is meant to acknowledge the transfer of authority from a woman’s father to her new husband.  Specifically, the father walking the bride down the aisle, and then giving her hand to the groom is meant to signify this transfer of authority.  The traditional vows of the groom promising provision and protection are his declaration to the father and his community that he will commit to live up to his new responsibilities.  The valuable ring is meant to be a tangible representation of his commitment to provide and protect.  The party that is held after this serious ceremony is a celebration of the equilibrium (righteousness, peace and joy) that the couple, family, community is meant to enjoy through the proper delegation and respect for authority.

On the contrary, consider a situation where someone has all of the responsibility, but does not exercise their rights.  Uncommonly, this situation sometimes arises in marriages where the husband is denied his rights, but bears all of the responsibilities.  Certainly situations like this would produce disequilibrium, frustration, bitterness, resentment, etc…  Sometimes you hear of stories where husbands, broken by disequilibrium, try to “take” their rights. To be sure, rights that are taken by force establish a De Facto authority and a rebellion will certainly ensue.

More commonly, welfare programs and “enablers” come to mind as examples of the authority equation out of balance.  Imagine a young man in his late teens or early twenties who’s single mother works two jobs to provide and protect the both of them (and maybe other younger siblings,) while he sits around the apartment playing video games and getting high.  When she encourages him to get a job to help with the bills or to finish his schooling, he tells her to mind her own business. Disequilibrium!  The equation is out of balance. 

Consider how so many tax (responsibility) paying Americans are embittered by citizens and illegal immigrants who are exploiting the welfare systems (rights) sustained by those taxes.  Disequilibrium!

Let me bring this home: In order to maintain equilibrium, the more of Cory & Tracy’s responsibilities we (the group mentioned above) both corporately and individually accept, the more rights we must be granted by you both.  These rights must be granted as we have no intention and no desire to “take” them.  At the same time, you cannot expect us to intentionally enter into a state of disequilibrium, where we accept responsibility for you and Tracy without those rights.

Trust is the foundation of a legitimate authority.  Consider how a child trusts his loving parents, or a wife trusts her faithful husband.  In fact, there is a direct correlation between trust and legitimate authority (rights + responsibilities.)

You have a longstanding relationship with me and Amy and our community.  That relationship makes it easier for you to trust us and grant us authority in your life/domain.  Tracy has a very short and limited relationship with us and her trust in us is similarly limited.

Tracy’s limited trust in us will make it very difficult for her to grant us authority in her life/domain.  To be sure, for Tracy to grant us any “right to rule” in her life/domain would be an act of faith.  Faith in you.

That said, you and Tracy may want to discuss the level/degree of authority you are willing to grant to us.  How much you are willing to accept our responsibility for you/her and the corresponding rights associated with that responsibility.  As an example if we accept responsibility for Tracy’s legal fees what rights do we have in helping her manage her finances?  If we exercise responsibility to buy her a new car…what rights do we have in monitoring her maintenance of it?

During your discussion with her it may be beneficial to converse about some concepts such as freedom.  Freedom is closely correlated to authority.  For example, when you disrespect the rights of others…you may loose your freedom…that is,  your right to rule your domain autonomously.  You both understand this in an experiential, practical way, but maybe it would be worth exploring the concept more philosophically.  We all want to rule our domains autonomously.  We want to exercise our right to rule our lives the way we want to…we want freedom.  Especially in America.

That said, when an individual does not rule well or they fail to exercise their right to rule, when they abdicate their responsibilities…they loose their freedom to rule autonomously.  That’s tough for Americans who’s schemata were formed around a loose understanding of freedom.  Many young Americans believe that freedom is doing what you want when you want to.  That equation could be represented like this: 

Authority – Responsibilities = Rights

For example:  There existed an unwritten and maybe even unspoken contract between Ms. Smith and Tracy.  Underlying this implied contract were the concepts outlined above.  As Ms. Smith provided lodging (responsibility) she assumed she had certain rights to rule Tracy’s behavior.  Was she right to assume this?  Maybe not. Perhaps this contract should have been explicitly detailed, but it wasn’t.  It was implied.  Consequently, when Ms. Smith attempted to exercise her right to rule Tracy was offended.  Perhaps Tracy had reasonable cause to be offended?  I don’t know, but in speaking with Ms. Smith, Amy’s impression is that Ms. Smith’s confrontation of Tracy was not unreasonable.  Of course, none of us were present so we don’t know the details.  Only Tracy can know.

If Ms. Smith was disrespectful or threatening then perhaps Tracy’s response was appropriate, but if Ms. Smith was simply illuminating a breach of their implied contract then Tracy’s response may not have been appropriate. 

Cory, please be confident that we are on your side and working for your best.  Further, let me be the first to say that I have behaved inappropriately and made many poor decisions in my life, and had to reap the fruit of those poor decisions.  I mention this fact so that you and Tracy can know that I’m not condemning you.  How could I?  I’ve done similar things in my life.  What I am offering is an opportunity to learn from my mistakes so that you can avoid having to travel those same difficult paths.

My analysis of the situation is this: Tracy was offended by Ms. Smith “taking” her limited right to rule over Tracy.  Offended, Tracy ran away from the confrontation rather than recognizing Ms. Smith’s expectations and needs and assuring her that she was willing to make efforts to meet those needs.  Tracy could have also demonstrated her understanding that she has limited freedoms due to her past irresponsibility.  

I am not saying that anyone would be justified to disrespect, threaten, or abuse you or Tracy because you have been incarcerated.  I am not saying you are second-class citizens that must learn to accept and expect disrespect or abuse from others.  I am saying that everyone who has broken trust with society looses freedom and with that looses the authority to rule their life/domains autonomously…at least temporarily.

So, even though Tracy is “free” from the state, she is not yet capable of ruling her domain autonomously.  Specifically, her domain does not yet have the resources to provide for all of her responsibilities.  Said differently, she does not have all of the rights to rule over her life/domain because she cannot provide for all of her responsibilities.

Because, the above is true, Tracy, may do well to understand that, temporarily, she must submit herself, her life/domain to those who would be willing to provide for her responsibilities. 

 Before I get to bogged down in the details of your personal situation, I would like to revisit legitimate authority at a conceptual level.

Legitimate Kingdom Authority:

  • NEVER exploits
  • NEVER intimidates
  • NEVER manipulates
  • NEVER abdicates
  • IS disciplined…but not a disciplinarian (note that disciple and discipline share the same root.)
  • IS rigorous…but not ruthless
  • IS generous…ALWAYS rules in such a way as to generate “life” on behalf of the generations
  • IS generating equilibrium, righteousness, peace and joy for those who submit to it
  • IS generating opportunities to release control, to the delegation of its rights & responsibilities, to those who have been trained by it 

Said dramatically, but accurately…

The Legitimate Kingdom Authority is best demonstrated when it saves the lost (not in the way the Christian culture uses that phrase), when it heals the sick, when it restores sight to the blind, when it raises the dead to life.

With the above as our standard, we as a group or as individuals have no desire to “dominate” anyone.  Said plainly, we don’t want to control you or Tracy’s life/domain.  We only want to help establish a positive life trajectory (save), model and train you in the best practices for “ruling well” (restore sight) and enable (heal) and empower (resurrect) you and Tracy to rule your own lives…autonomously, but in equilibrium.  Said just as plainly, we also have no desire to put a “patch” on your situation so that your temporary sufferings are temporarily relieved, and perpetuate the disequilibrium that has been the modus operandi since your birth.

 Please allow me to remind you that I too submit to authority.  Though I am nearly 48 years old, have been married 27 years, have 8 children, have been gainfully employed for nearly 35 years, have a college education and generate a six-figure income, I still submit my life/domain to my pastor/mentor, Russ Marr.  I do this for at least three reasons:

    1. Out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21)
    2. To practice/exercise my faith
    3. To model submission to those under my authority

With these things in mind please consider studying authority in the scriptures.  May I suggest you and Tracy consider the story of the Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13) and the story of Jesus sending out the twelve (Matthew 10)

So, to go forward with the intentions of our hearts…we need to know what is the desire of yours (both you and Tracy.)  This is very difficult/awkward to work out in writing, especially, as it takes so long for me to respond to your letters and due to the fact that you and Tracy are separated by your imprisonment, thus making your communication very frustrated indeed.  In an effort to facilitate clear and direct communication on these important issues, soon as you can discuss these issues with your wife, please have Tiffany contact us with her decision so that we may know the intentions of her heart and yours.  Though it may speed things along, I am not sending this letter to Tiffany, though it is largely about her, out of respect for you and your position in her life.

In the mean time, please know that we are doing all we can.   Be strong and courageous.  Know that in you I am well pleased.  Fight the good fight of faith.  Don’t grow weary of well doing.  Run the race that has been marked out for you.

Keeping it Kingdom.  Your friend, 

Mitch

After sending this letter to Cory, I sent a copy to my eldest son, Matthan, to open a channel of communication and dialogue around this issue.  Matthan is 20 years old, attending college at the California College of Art in San Francisco, maintains a 4.0 grade point average and is fully supported by his parents. We had to converse via telephone.  As we spoke Matthan presented the following point-of-view:

“…If you give a gift (money or car), it should be a gift.  No strings attached.“

His point was well made.  If you give a gift it should not have “strings attached,” and I agreed with him.   He went on to express his concern for the proposition I outlined in my letter to Cory.  Matthan had reservations about the role of authority in a relationship like I have with Cory & Tracy.  He was especially concerned about the idea of an adult giving over some of their “rights” to another individual.  Having read Jean-Jacque Rosseau, Matthan’s position was grounded in ideas outlined in Rosseau’s The Social Contract:

“To renounce freedom is to renounce one’s humanity, one’s rights as a man and equally one’s duties (responsibilities).”

I listened to his arguments, which were compelling, and yet I remained unsettled about how to structure support of the nature I had in mind for Cory & Tracy.  Internally, I was experiencing some conflict around the concept of giving a gift that might not be a truly “good gift” for Cory and Tracy in the long run.

The following is a formal definition of gift:

Gift – A gift is the voluntary transfer of property or funds to another without receiving anything of value in return and without conditions attached while both the giver and the recipient are still alive. The gift giver (donor) must understand the nature of the act and have a voluntary intent to make a gift, called a donative intent. There must be either physical or symbolic delivery of the gift and actual or imputed acceptance by the donee.

So often givers of “gifts” maintain intentions other than, or in addition to the donative intent, and, consequently, thedonees are expected to understand and fulfill the “conditions” of the “gift.”  In the light of this definition it becomes clear how so many relationships are put in jeopardy or destroyed by the simple act of “giving” a “gift” that really isn’t a gift, resulting in poor communication, unmet expectations, nebulas terms, misunderstanding, and frustration.

The Dilemma:

I have given “gifts” to so many panhandlers, vagabonds and folks down-and-out.  I have had former drug addicts live with my family for extended periods and spent thousands of dollars trying to help people change their trajectories.  I have given hoping the gift was “good,” and sometimes, maybe, it was.  Many times the gift was not good.  I have observed people I earlier gave a gift to with a brand new case of beer, or doing something contrary to what they told me they needed the money for. In those instances I experience feelings of being deceived and taken advantage of. Experiencing those emotions reveals to me that I wasn’t giving a real gift at all.  I had some expectations associated with the support I gave.  There were strings attached.

Now that I have this understanding, it is clear to me that, in cases like these, I do not want to give gifts.

There are several reasons for this, one of which is my concern about “enabling” degenerative behaviors.  To be sure, I do not want to facilitate or participate in any degeneration.  Instead, I want to contribute to life…to generate opportunities and possibilities for growth and the generation of a positive life trajectory.  Further, I want to participate in behaviors consistent with my “household” culture.

One of the standards outlined in the Cowart Family Mission statement is generous.  The original meaning of the word generous is different than the current meaning.  Originally, generous meant “of noble birth.”  From this idea derived the words, gentleman, gentile and the modern meaning of generous.  The concept of nobility as I refer to it is not a bourgeoisie class of self-centered exploitation, but one of self-sacrificing benevolence.  The best example of the nobility that I refer to is Jesus, King of Kings, first born of many brethren who are members of a royal priesthood.

With that concept of generosity in mind, I have embarked on a philosophical journey in search of alternative models or structures for providing support.  The purpose of this essay is to investigate various models for supporting generous initiatives.  Following are cursory reviews of different legal structures that are investigations of various forms of support…beyond that of a gift.

Alternatives:

One such model that is growing in popularity is the microloan. Microloans are extensions of short-term credit to impoverished entrepreneurs for the purpose of facilitating opportunities for a positive life trajectory.  In consideration of this idea please refer to the following definition of loan:

Loan – something lent for the borrower’s temporary use. The money is to be repaid according to terms of the loan agreement, which includes any interest to be charged and a time frame for repayment. The lender has to bear the risk that the borrower may not repay a loan.

Given this definition I am confident that I don’t want to extend loans as a form of support.  The repayment requirement of a loan–burdening someone with debt–is not in harmony with my mission.  Nevertheless, I like the idea of investing in someone’s future.  With that in mind I began to investigate investment structures to see if there was a legal structure that would facilitate my vision. The following is a summary of an excerpt from a website:

Venture Capital – Venture capital is a type of equity investment usually made in rapidly growing companies that require a lot of capital or start-up companies that can show they have a strong business plan. Venture capital may be provided by individuals, or venture capital organizations who generally invest in private startup companies with a high profit potential. In exchange for their funds, they usually require a percentage of equity ownership of the company (between 25 to 55 percent), some measure of control over its strategic planning, and payment of assorted fees. Due to the highly speculative nature of their investments, venture capital organizations expect a high rate of return over a relatively short period of time.

Before providing venture capital to a new or growing business, venture capital organizations require a formal proposal and conduct a thorough evaluation. The most important thing an entrepreneur can do to increase his or her chances of obtaining venture capital is to plan ahead.

The terms “start-up venture” and “rapid growth” resonate with my mission, and I really like the idea of the person I’m supporting having a “strong plan,” and a “formal proposal.”  On the other hand, I don’t think this structure will work for me because the ideas of “controlling” or “owning” the person I am trying to serve are counter to my mission.  Nor do I expect any financial “return” on the investment.

Another structure I looked at was that of “Angel Investor.” The name alone conveyed some potential.

Angel Investor – Angel investors are wealthy individuals who provide capital to help entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed. They are known as “angels” because they often invest in risky, unproven business ventures for which other sources of funds—such as bank loans and formal venture capital—are not available.  In addition to their willingness to invest in a startup, angel investors may bring other assets to the partnership such as encouragement, they may be mentors in how best to guide a new business through the startup phase and they are often willing to do this while staying out of the day-to-day management of the business.

They do this in order to provide a resource that would have been helpful to them in the early stages of their own businesses. In many cases, the investors sit on the boards of the companies they fund and provide valuable, firsthand management advice.

In exchange for their funds, they usually require a percentage of equity ownership of the company and some measure of control over its strategic planning. Due to the highly speculative nature of their investments, angels eventually hope to achieve a high rate of return.

For many entrepreneurs, angels include friends, relatives, acquaintances, and business associates. Nearly 90 percent of small businesses are started with this type of financial help.

It is important to be very frank and honest when describing the business idea to a potential investor.  Ideally, the angels’ investment approach will be compatible with the entrepreneur’s needs. A partnership between angels and entrepreneurs is much like a marriage involving issues of compatibility, cash, and shared goals.

“Unproven” and “risky” ventures are appealing to me and offer the greatest potential for growth.  I also like the idea of being a “source of encouragement” and “mentor” while staying “out of the day-to-day management” of the venture.  I think the concept of a “board” of advisors is one worth considering, especially for “start-ups” and “risky” ventures.  However, I don’t think this structure, as it’s defined here, will serve my purpose due to the financial “high rate of return” expectations.

Maybe a type of partnership would work?

Partnership An association of two or more persons engaged in a business enterprise in which the profits and losses are shared proportionally.

The formation of a partnership requires a voluntary “association” of persons who “co-own” the business and intend to conduct the business for profit. Persons can form a partnership by written or oral agreement, and a partnership agreement often governs the partners’ relations to each other and to the partnership.

Each partner has a right to share in the profits of the partnership. Unless the partnership agreement states otherwise, partners share profits equally. Moreover, partners must contribute equally to partnership losses unless a partnership agreement provides for another arrangement. In some jurisdictions a partner is entitled to the return of her or his capital contributions.

Limited Partnership – A limited partnership is similar in many respects to a general partnership, with one essential difference. Unlike a general partnership, a limited partnership has one or more partners who cannot participate in the management and control of the partnership’s business. A partner who has such limited participation is considered a “limited partner” and does not generally incur personal liability for the partnership’s obligations.   A limited partner may lose protection against personal liability if she or he participates in the management and control of the partnership, contributes services to the partnership, acts as a general partner, or knowingly allows her or his name to be used in partnership business.

There are elements of the partnership model that align with my goals, but much of this structure conflict with my overall mission.  For example, the partnership model seems to apply only when the partners are interested in sharing profits and losses proportionally, and maintaining rights to manage or control.  That’s not what I’m interested in. I do not want a right to control.  In fact, I don’t want to control at all, nor do I want to share in any financial profits.

But this isn’t all about me, the other “partner” must be considered?  Perhaps, in keeping with Maslow’s Hierarchy, the partner “needs” to contribute “equally” to the partnership.  This contribution would provide the partner an opportunity to nurture self-esteem, self-confidence, and to earn respect of others.  This idea is in harmony with my mission, and seems critical to generating a positive life trajectory.  The question that arises is…

How can a “partner” who has limited financial resources contribute?

The Model Emerges:

Recently, my 16 years old son, Samuel, and I were discussing these ideas and during the dialogue he introduced the idea of sponsorship.  Samuel and I have raced bicycles since he was about 10 years old and have enjoyed being sponsored by a local bike shop.  We take this relationship very seriously.  We consider ourselves ambassadors of the shop and make efforts to promote the sport of bicycle racing and the shop specifically.  We wear their uniforms while training and racing, worked as ride leaders during youth rides, volunteered during shop sponsored events, posted Youtube videos that reference the shop, are extra courteous when we encounter hikers and bikers on the trails we train on, and during shop group rides we make efforts to make newcomers feel welcome.  The shop does not require that we win races as a condition of our sponsorship.  They only require that we represent the sport in a positive light and promote their business as we interact with the community.  As Samuel spoke, the idea of sponsorship emerged as a viable option of support.  Following is a definition of sponsor:

Sponsor –

  1. One who assumes responsibility for another person (sponsoree) or a group during a period of instruction, apprenticeship, or probation.
  2. One who vouches for the suitability of a candidate (sponsoree) for admission.
  3. A legislator who proposes and urges adoption of a bill.
  4. In the context of stocks, an influential investor who creates demand for a security because of their positive outlook on it.
  5. One who presents a candidate for baptism or confirmation; a godparent.
  6. One that finances a project or an event carried out by another person or group, especially a business enterprise that pays for radio or television programming in return for advertising time.
  7. One who assumes responsibility for salary, entry fees, travel expenses, equipment, supplies, etc… in return for synergized brand recognition.  Where the sponsoree adds value to the sponsor’s brand or serves to fulfill the sponsor’s mission directly or indirectly.  The sponsor reserves the right to cancel the sponsorship if the sponsoree misrepresents the sponsor’s brand, damages the sponsor’s image or frustrates the sponsor’s mission.  The relationship is often governed by a sponsorship agreement.

After doing some research, I became more intrigued in the sponsorship model.  Following is an excerpt from a U.K. government website meant to help their Olympic athletes obtain sponsorship after the London 2012 Olympics:

Remember, when a company commits to sponsor you, it is effectively making you an ambassador for their brand. It is a public endorsement in you and a show of faith by the sponsor that you are worthy of representing their brand. There is therefore a huge responsibility on you to uphold that brand image. You should take this responsibility very seriously. Some sponsors insist on including a clause in the sponsorship agreement, protecting them in case the athlete’s poor behaviour adversely affects the company’s image. An ‘opt out’ clause is not unusual, should an athlete cause such damage to the brand that the future of the relationship is put in jeopardy.

Given my appreciation of bike racing and the recent infamy of Lance Armstrong, I would like to discuss sponsorship while referencing Lance Armstrong’s career to help me make my point clear.

  • Lance Armstrong is a brand.  Of course, Lance is a person, but there is also an enterprise known as Lance Armstrong.  If you doubt that, then consider that Lance Armstrong employs many coaches, doctors, nutritionists, massage therapists, mechanics, agents, attorneys and others who work to maintain the brand.  The brand is (was) worth $100s of millions of dollars.  The brand’s image in the marketplace creates its value.
  • Lance has been building his brand over decades.
  • Armstrong has all authority over the Lance Armstrong brand.  He maintains all the rights and responsibilities for the brand.  Lance rules his brand with autonomy.  He controls it.  He manages it.  No one tells Lance how to run his business.  I am certain that he has advisers and counselors, but ultimately the final decisions are his.
  • Nike is a brand.  This is easier to conceive of for most people because Nike is a corporation.  The brand’s image in the marketplace creates its value.
  • Because the Lance Armstrong brand (his image in the marketplace) added value to Nike’s brand, Nike has been sponsoring Lance Armstrong for about 20 years (until recently.)
  • Nike does/did not manage the Lance Armstrong brand.  Nike doesn’t control Lance or own a share in the Lance Armstrong brand.

Within this structure the sponsor has the right to “leverage” the sponsoree’s image, “brand” in the market place as defined in the sponsorship agreement.  Given this fact, the sponsoree must add value to the sponsor’s image or mission.  The sponsoree, if he wants to maintain the sponsorship, should work continually to maximize his value to the sponsor.  It’s important to highlight the fact that, in the case of Armstrong, he had not won the Tour de France since 2005.  This is important to point out.  Armstrong’s sponsorship by Nike for the past 7 years was not contingent upon victories in bike races.  Clearly, it was contingent upon his continuing added value to the sponsor’s brand and mission.

The Sponsorship Model:

This model is in harmony with my vision for generous initiatives that serve to fulfill my family’s mission.  The reason I believe that this model is superior to the others previously discussed is:

  • The sponsorship arrangement equalizes the rights and responsibilities of both the sponsor and the sponsoree.  Neither party has the “upper-hand.”  Neither is in a position to oppress the other.
  • Importantly, the sponsoree retains freedom to “rule” his own “brand,” or image autonomously.  This is what Lance Armstrong did.  Nike didn’t have control over Armstrong’s business.  Armstrong made his own decisions about when to train, where to live, what races to enter (other than the Tour de France presumably) and when to dope.
  • The sponsoree retains complete “ownership” of his “property,” and thus retains control.  Armstrong clearly maintained “ownership” of the Armstrong “brand,” (even though now it’s practically worthless.)
  • The sponsoree only gives limited authority (rights & responsibilities) to the sponsor.  Of course I don’t know the details of Lance’s sponsorship agreements, but I’m sure they all had certain rights to include Lance’s image in their catalogs, brochures, magazine ads, websites, TV commercials.  Like this Nike commercial:

Lance Armstrong, famous for his exploits in the world’s largest sporting event, the Tour de France, has recently been in the news for less heroic behavior.  Here are some excerpts from recent news articles about Lance and his relationship with Nike:

Nike declined to comment on its endorsement deal with Armstrong or why it ended the relationship other than to say in a statement it released on Wednesday that it made its decision based on “seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade.”

 “Nike is about ‘just doing it’ and that doesn’t mean drugs,” said Atlanta-based marketing consultant Laura Ries. “It means hard work and ethics. And this flew in the face of it.”

Should the sponsoree’s image lose value, or present a liability to the sponsor’s “brand”, the sponsor retains the right to cancel the sponsorship agreement and discontinue support.  Of course this is exactly what happened in Armstrong’s case.  The Lance Armstrong “image” no longer adds value to the Nike, Trek, Giro, FRS, Oakley, etc…brands, and they all have cancelled their sponsorship agreements.

Following are excerpts from some recent news articles on Nike’s sponsorship of Lance Armstrong:

Recently, Nike said that it would end its relationship with Armstrong, a week after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a massive report that detailed allegations of widespread doping by Armstrong and his teams when he won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005.

The move by Nike followed Armstrong’s decision earlier on Wednesday to step down as chairman of the Livestrong cancer-fighting organization he founded. Armstrong, a 41-year-old who earlier in his career had overcome life-threatening testicular cancer, retired from cycling a year ago and announced in August that he would no longer fight the doping allegations that have dogged him for years.

Other companies quickly followed Nike. The beer company Anheuser-Busch, health-club operator 24 Hour Fitness, bike manufacturer Trek Bicycle and athletic products maker Honey Stinger all dropped Armstrong. Meanwhile, Oakley, a sunglass maker, said it would withhold judgment until the International Cycling Union decides whether to challenge the USADA’s findings.

“Based on UCI’s decision today and the overwhelming evidence that USADA presented, Oakley has severed its longstanding relationship with Lance Armstrong, effective immediately,” the company said in a statement. “When Lance joined our family many years ago, he was a symbol of possibility. We are deeply saddened by the outcome, but look forward with hope to athletes and teams of the future who will rekindle that inspiration by racing clean, fair and honest.”

The dominoes started to fall on Wednesday when Nike said it would terminate the cyclist’s contract moments after he announced that he would step down as chairman of his foundation.

That same day, he lost his deals with Trek bicycles, Giro helmets, 24-Hour Fitness and Anheuser-Busch. Radio Shack was more vague, saying that the company had “no current obligations” with Armstrong. Two companies that Armstrong has a stake in, Honey Stinger and FRS, said they would remove him from their packaging.

The following day, his contract with bicycle part company SRAM was severed.

These deals conservatively represented $35 million in future earnings for Armstrong, a source said.

Moving Forward:

All this is to say that I am interested in pursuing sponsorship opportunities.  I am interested in sponsorship as a model for structuring support based upon the following reasons:

  • Sponsorship recognizes value: in the sponsoree, and in the relationship.
  • Sponsorship generates opportunity.
  • Sponsorship is synergistic.
  • Sponsorship promotes autonomy.
  • Sponsorship respects authority.
  • Sponsorship is mutually beneficial.

I am interested in sponsoring individuals who have potential to help me accomplish the Cowart Household Mission.  I am interested in sponsoring individuals who are willing to commit to promoting the Cowart Household “brand” in the marketplace of popular culture.  For more information about that “brand” and its goals, values, ideals, and attitudes, please see the Cowart Household Mission Statement attached.

After reading this statement, if you or someone you know is interested in pursuing a sponsorship arrangement please feel free to contact me.

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