Case Analysis

Kip Reybitz

Tom Cousins’ utilized his conventional managerial skills and business savvy to realize a vision and mission about which he so passionately cared.  His approach to charity transcended the traditional donation model of giving without regard to outcome and enabled him to not only donate the capital required to begin the change, but also mold the end result.  The East Lake community or lack thereof was given its share of funding and charity throughout the years, but without effective leadership, projects went unfinished and the original community plan fell into disrepair and despair.  Plenty of wealthy donors and government funds existed to aid those in need at East Lake, but a lack of direction ensured that any improvements would not remain sustainable.  Ideas and innovations at work in other communities have come and gone as the leaders who present them find themselves unable to hold them together.  East Lake always wanted a better way of life, but until Tom Cousins’ arrival, neither government or charity organizations were going to help the neighborhood achieve it.  Tom provided a strategic plan, a renewed sense of trust, strong financial guidance, a cross-pollination of stakeholders, and an innovative idea of community to build a thriving neighborhood and directly provide thousands of individuals with a sustainable higher quality of life.

The idea of “high engagement philanthropy”(1) that Tom Cousins practiced with East Lake stems from the need for results that any entrepreneur wants to experience.  Tom’s entrepreneurial spirit of  relentless drive and sense of mission as demonstrated by the Psychological Characteristics Entrepreneurial Model points to the trends that today’s philanthropists, especially the self-made wealthy, strive to be more involved with the organizations they are funding.  “Entrepreneurs have unique values, attitudes, and needs which drive them” (2) and they will draw on their previous experience to achieve a desired outcome.  The desired outcome of social change will take time inasmuch as growing their business took time. Similar measures that have demonstrated success for them in the past will be instituted in addition to their capital donations.  Tom’s successful experience in real estate development allowed him to tap into the foundations of his own success in order to develop a strong organizational infrastructure for the non-profits he created for his East Lake vision.

Cousins was not the only donor responsible for this transformation.  Tom was able to sell his vision for social change at East Lake to other potential donors.  Just as Tom desired results and visibility of his investment so too do others.  No current system exists in the United States to that of an “equity research firm for the philanthropic marketplace”(3) which can potentially lead to misguided, ineffective, or inefficient charities and causes.   Tom was able to present his social mission of East Lake to others in the Atlanta area thus ensuring that their investment would be effectively managed by a trusted partner versus the unknown alternative.  Luring donations to East Lake not only enhanced the project’s chances of success but it also kept the donations local thus feeding into “the multiplier” phenomenon (4).  Community enhancement required the support of all local citizens not just local donors.  Again, visibility was questioned this time by president of the tenants association who suspected that CFF and ELCF were pushing them out.  These proposed changes bred doubt as they echoed the previous attempts and promises of change from the housing authority and other well-meaning organizations.  As “systemic reform requires a relentless and unending campaign that galvanizes the attention of the many stakeholders involved and unifies their efforts around the pursuit of a common goal”(5), continuous engagement with local organizations established a sense of trust and, with it, absolute community support.

As the donations poured in, Cousins was able to effectively manage the use of funds based on the organizational structure which he put into place.  Funds were allocated to their strategic areas of need.  ELCF and CFF were able to avoid the pitfalls of traditional philanthropic organizations as noted by Michael Porter’s observation that “philanthropy is decades behind business in applying rigorous thinking to the use of money.”(6)

An early stage of Tom’s mission to fund the renovation of the East Lake Country Club to attract business and use those profits to support East Lake Meadows demonstrates the ever-important idea of sustainability.  Although our sustainability readings focus more towards conventional ideas of environmental sustainability, we can draw similar conclusions on how to achieve social sustainability.  Cousins achieved with East Lake precisely what the “Road Map For Natural Capitalism” recommends:  “change the business model” and “reinvest in natural capital”(7).  Tom hasn’t simply renovated, he has rebuilt and redesigned mostly all of East Lake.  The previous business model of structural layout and common areas was not working therefore he changed it.  Community commons spaces were part of Cousins’ plan; the public golf course is one example.  The golf academy classes held there represent a reinvestment of the natural capital.  Cousins’ goal of community support illustrates just how important the natural capital of people are.  Striving to gain autonomy over the school system and “encouraging the interaction between the market rate paying residents and the public housing residents”(8) shows just how important “community social capital”(8) is towards ultimate sustainability of the community. The citizens of East Lake now have opportunities for a better quality of life enhanced by this stronger community and its cross-functional ties.

The social mission of Cousins, CFF and ELCF has addressed the issues of innovation, visibility, localism, and sustainability and worked to ensure each issue’s effectiveness thus guaranteeing a successful model for other communities to follow.  As a result, Cousins has not only changed hundreds of lives within the local community, but potentially millions of lives throughout the world.

  1. Van Slyke, David M.; Newman, Harvey K. 2006. Venture philanthropy and social entrepreneurship in community redevelopment Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 16 (3): 347
  2. Class Handout from 10/16.  Summary of Approaches for Describing Entrepreneurship.
  3. Bishop, Matthew. 2006.  The business of giving: A survey of wealth and philanthropy.  The Economist, February 25th: 12.
  4. Shuman, M. 2005. The Small-Mart Revolution.  (San Francisco: Berret-Koehler Press.) pp. 41
  5. Kramer, Mark, R. 2009. Catalytic philanthropy. Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall.  pp. 34
  6. Bishop, Matthew. 2006.  The business of giving: A survey of wealth and philanthropy.  The Economist, February 25th: 3.
  7. Lovins, Amory B, Lovins, L. Hunter & Hawken, Paul. 2007 (1999). A Road Map for Natural Capitalism. Harvard Business Review, Jul-Aug, 172-183.
  8. Van Slyke, David M.; Newman, Harvey K. 2006. Venture philanthropy and social entrepreneurship in community redevelopment Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 16 (3): 361

One thought on “Case Analysis

  1. tlhill2012 November 24, 2012 at 6:10 PM Reply

    Kip – it’s a pretty inspiring story. Amazing what money plus connections plus sales plus organziational savvy plus commitment can accomplish. In many ways, Cousins provides a great example of what Bourdieu called cultural capital – the education and status and belongingness that allows one to take advantage of social connections to get things done. Further, Cousins seems to be committed to helping at least some residents gain that cultural capital along with increased education (human capital) and connections (social capital). (There’s a fascinating study of the role of eating clubs at Cambridge U in developing cultural capital in the new Oxbridge student – ie., ones who are in on the basis of merit, not class).

    As interesting as Cousins is, I do wonder how generalizable is his model. Must we depend on those really rich people who decide to give back? Or can the same approach – targeted development, measurement, assembly of a broad array of resources (not just money), attention to longevity – work without the “great individual” at the center?

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