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Giving / A weekly look at those who help

Doing Well by Doing Good

Author and anti-poverty activist Bill Shore believes profit-building principles are just what the nonprofit sector needs.

July 27, 1999|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jacob Marley summed it up pretty well. Or, rather, his ghost did. When complimented by cringing former partner Ebenezer Scrooge for being "a good man of business," Marley's ghost, jaw unhinged, wailed its rejoinder. "Business," he moaned, "mankind was my business. Their common welfare was my business."

Bill Shore--author, social activist and nonprofit guru--couldn't have said it better. Minus the unhinged jaw. And the guilt. Marley's ghost, with its chain of money boxes and eternal wanderings, was a bit of a downer. Bill Shore is none of that. He believes business is good, profit is good, and people are, basically, very good. He believes people want to give, to share, and that it's just a matter of letting them give and share their talents, including their business acumen, as well as their possessions.

A friendly sort of guy, with a direct blue gaze and a firm handshake, Shore is many things.

He is founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-hunger, anti-poverty organization, which organizes--among other things--the annual Taste of the Nation, for which well-known chefs gather in various cities, including Los Angeles, to serve up signature dishes to premium-paying crowds.

At 43, he is an author of "The Revolutionary Heart" (Riverhead Books), about the founding of Share Our Strength, and more recently "The Cathedral Within: Transforming Your Life by Giving Something Back" (Random House).

And increasingly he is speaker and consultant, called hither and yon for conferences and workshops by a philanthropic community that is frantically trying to figure out how to thrive in an economy where about the only thing growing faster than the wealth is the nonprofit sector.

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Shore's message is a bit more complicated than that of Charles Dickens' creation, but they agree about one thing: Helping others is the surest, straightest way to helping yourself, and building a better world.

Marley came to this conclusion the hard way--death and damnation. Shore's path was just a bit easier--presidential campaign politics with Bob Kerrey and Gary Hart. In 1984, while still working for Hart, he and his sister began Share Our Strength. After Hart's campaign foundered, Shore turned his full attention to solving the problem he believes should be this nation's first priority: the unrelieved want in which more than 35 million Americans, most of them children, live.

Shore and his organization, which has distributed more than $50 million since its creation in 1984, operate with the heretical belief that the future of the nonprofit sector lies in the creation of wealth. Business ventures, marketing partnerships, licensing agreements--these are the terms Shore would have join, if not replace, the more traditional lexicon of philanthropy.

"It used to be you graduated from business school and you had to decide 'Do I want to help the public sector or create wealth?' " Shore says. "I want people to realize you can do both."

To make his point, he offers up the success of Share Our Strength. Most of the money is the fruit of business ventures--Taste of the Nation's sponsors include American Express, Williams-Sonoma and Evian. The chefs also offer department-store cooking demonstrations; Share Our Strength collects a portion of the profits from the cookware sold. There are cookbooks and endorsements, there's even a specific Taste of the Nation Calphalonpot. Share Our Strength also organizes Writer's Harvest, an ongoing literary benefit, and maintains other corporate relationships.

But serving as an example is not enough for Bill Shore. After his first book, "Revolution of the Heart" told the world the story of the founding of Share Our Strength, he became a much-sought-after speaker, which brings him to L.A. about every six weeks.

A recent fete for his new book "The Cathedral Within" was held at downtown's Cuidad by long-time Share Our Strength friends and chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. Dee Dee Myers and Arianna Huffington were part of the unusual assortment of folks chatting it up over empanadas and margarita shooters. Emissaries from the fiefdoms of politics and food and Hollywood and philanthropy, all heeding the same counselor--Bill Shore.

"Out of all the organizations we know," says Milliken, addressing those gathered at Cuidad, "SOS is special, because it treats nonprofit as for-profit."

"We can give back in a bigger way," interjects Feniger, "because they've found a way to make profitable your skills. And those are easy to give because that's what you love to do."

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