What? My twenty-fifth birthday?
But I don't even feel eighteen, let alone twenty-one!
My high school friends say I haven't changed a bit. I
like that. By the spring of ninth grade, I earned the
label "delinquent," on my way to the doomed dead-end of
Special Ed where all the other f***-ups were corralled.
Like every other adolescent I've ever met, I have just
wanted to do what I wanted when I wanted. I have wanted
freedom. What gives anyone freedom but a bottomless bowl
This past decade I sought
answers to this question. I lived on a socialist kibbutz
in Israel; I worked for a year with
Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta, India; I lived with an avowed
revolutionary in a burnt-out crack house helping to run
a food relief program; and I worked in an adult prison
and juvenile jail. I've ventured into the written works
of such activists and artists as Emma Goldman, Henry Thoreau,
and Adrienne Rich. Everyone I've ever worked with or read
about has had to figure out how to secure a livelihood.
That struggle for some has been devastating, even fatal.
I've never faced that.
My parents have more money than they need and have always
made it clear that they would help me financially if I
asked. Indeed, on my twenty-fifth birthday, my parents
sat me down to tell me that Dad had invested tens of thousands
of dollars in my name. "Now you can have it," said my
My first reaction was disbelief,
then excitement. My adolescent freedom could be in my
hand! Yet, I told my parents that I didn't want their
inheritance. How could I live off of money I did nothing
to earn? Money is not organic, it does not multiply through
a natural, healthy process, but is accumulated because
someone, somewhere, is laboring. Living off others in
this way seemed evil.
I also feared that becoming
a trust-fund kid would make me soft. Paid work has always
forced me to break down barriers inside myself, to face
truths about my character, my history, and the role money
has played in defining both. My jobs have strengthened
me. Why would I seek to escape the necessity of working?
But the freedom, the freedom!
What am I giving up? A huge part of my heart longs to
live without ever having to do any job again. I could
call up my parents and say, "Let's discuss the inheritance-thing
again." I could try to make arrangements that would allow
me to live a life of no deadlines and no imperatives;
a life governed only by my immediate inclinations.
Yet, I suspect that freedom
is more than just getting to do whatever I feel like.
Following one's every whim isn't freedom, it's fickleness.
I define freedom as the ability to reach for dreams and
to soar up high into unexpected wonders. That takes commitment
and hard work as well as airfare and imagination. My dreams
these days are to be a good writer and a good person.
Money won't do that for me. Effort will.
Questions, circles of thoughts,
bits of frustration still swirl in my head. I haven't
told my parents to give away my inheritance. We plan to
discuss it again when I turn thirty. I've told them I
might want to start a foundation to help other young people
pursue their dreams. They hope I'll buy a house first.
- anonymous author
a Personal Mission
been entrepreneurial since birth. I started my first business
at age 12. My father was paying me $1.50 to mow a lawn
that took eight hours. Not content with this arrangement,
I decided to take the lawn mower to all the other houses
in the neighborhood, and started a landscaping business.
My second business made it into INC magazine's "Inc. 500
companies". I don't feel it is hard for me to take $100,000
and turn it into a million in fairly short order. At age
29 I'm on my sixth business, a medical waste treatment
Some people paint, some
act, some play an instrument. My art is building businesses,
and I'm good at it. My approach is not just to invest
my money. I help to guide the businesses. I am great at
strategic planning and keeping focused on the big picture,
but I'm terrible at running the day to day operations.
I need other people to do that.
I wrote up a personal mission
statement a few years ago, and I refer back to it frequently.
The highlights are to have high ethical standards, to
be creative in what I do, and to be productive in a way
that's good for society. I want my businesses to provide
a service or product that is really needed, and to operate
in a way that does not hurt society. I think about business
ethics all the time; I want to be able to sleep at night.
Within those constraints,
I will build as many successful companies as possible.
It is not that I need a huge fortune to be happy. My personal
needs are quite simple. Partly, I want to prove myself
in the business world, and the accumulation of wealth
is one good way to keep score. Yet, that reason is still
too thin to motivate me deeply. A long time ago, I sat
down to figure out my long-range personal goals. The heart
of my plan is to be extremely successful in my business
ventures with the ultimate goal of becoming a major philanthropist.
- anonymous author
the Ties that Bind
I became wealthy at the
age of 21, when my father died six months after I had
graduated from college. It was hard to make sense of my
life without my dad. I missed him so much. At the same
time that I had to make the biggest choices of my life,
I had to face them without my father's guidance. Was I
going to blow his money? Would I squander it by bad investment
decisions? Would I make foolish career moves now that
I didn't "have" to work?
Over the years, I've tried
to find my own answers and stop worrying about whether
my dad would approve of me. This was especially difficult
in relation to work. I thought the only way to really
be successful was to follow his footsteps and become VP
of a large company. After college, I worked for years
as an accountant in property management and high-tech
companies. I hated the hours and the pressure, and I felt
terribly lonely. No one I worked with shared my values.
Finally, by age 26, I began
to make my own decisions and decide what I most wanted
to do with my life. Although it meant a cut in pay, I
began working as a manager at a natural foods supermarket.
Here, my business skills were so valued that I went right
to the top. I found workmates with similar passions about
health, animal rights, and organic agriculture. I've worked
in the natural foods and herb manufacturing industry ever
since, glad to make a positive contribution to the community.
In many ways I am still
my father's daughter. I really want to have money. It
provides an incredible safety net and opens up so many
life choices. I like being free to leave jobs I'm not
happy with, and to work at interesting, lower-paid jobs
yet still have a nice lifestyle. I'm mostly frugal, but
not interested in living in complete simplicity!
For instance, it was hard
buying my first car. My father had saved all his life
by depriving himself of conveniences, so I felt caught
in a clash of cultures and values: I wanted to buy myself
nice things I've never had, yet at the same time I wanted
to please my penny-pitching father. After some consideration,
I skipped cheap and utilitarian and went straight for
a sports car.
- anonymous author
don't want money to rule my life. I hear about philanthropists
who spend all their time dealing with where their money
comes from and where it is going. I want to make art and
videos, to make babies, to make breakfast in bed. I want
to make revolution. For me, part of that is organizing
with other wealthy women, to leverage our ability to make
Many women with inherited
wealth have archaic relationships with the men who control
it. The men are the fathers, brothers, trustees, lawyers,
and financial advisors that they inherited along with
the money. Women often don't know what their assets amount
to, whether they have stocks or bonds, or whether they're
invested in socially-responsible companies or nuclear
weapons and tobacco. They don't know where the money is
kept, or who besides themselves benefits from it. They
just know that they get a check every month.
But a younger crop is now
coming up, and many of us have feminist moms. From the
start, my mother instilled in me a spirit of independence--tough,
true, and resilient. She is a great model for what I can
do with the money I got from her and from her father.
I've become quite competent managing my own money. Taking
my mom's lead, I've also come to see philanthropy as activism,
and to appreciate the possibilities and responsibilities
that having money and progressive politics entails.
However, just contributing
to social change funds was not enough for me. I wanted
to be a "donor organizer," to expand and develop the progressive
philanthropy movement. As a first step, I joined the board
of directors of the Astraea National Lesbian Action Foundation.
Later, I worked on the board of The Sister Fund, helping
to implement their vision for a more multi-cultural feminist
movement. I was the youngest member on their board.
At thirty, I became the
oldest member of the board of the Third Wave Fund, a national
activist fund for women aged 15 to 30. On our 25 member
board we are black, Latino/a, Asian, Native American,
and white. We are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and straight.
We have different class backgrounds and different kinds
of life work.
Unlike The Sister Fund
and other women's funds, we focus solely on supporting
young women and their work, and we've decided to include
young male allies on the board, something few feminists
who came of age in the 1970's would do. Men, too, can
benefit from a feminist revolution. Our board work also
takes place primarily via the Internet. This has allowed
us to go national as a young people's organization and
coordinate our efforts cheaply and efficiently.
We also approach our internal
discussions about our various class backgrounds differently
than the other funds I've been involved with. We get very
specific and practical. Rather than just tell each other
our stories, we ask ourselves what about our backgrounds
makes it easy or difficult to raise funds or make grants.
We then figure out how to build on these strengths and
overcome our weaknesses together. This approach has been
For the next few years
the Third Wave Fund is focusing its grant-making in several
key areas: providing scholarships for young feminists,
granting loans to small businesses owned and managed by
young women, and fighting for reproductive rights and
providing money for abortions when necessary. We also
support a variety of organizing projects across the country
that fight the Right and help develop young women's leadership.
While we build on the values
and strategies developed by the women's funding movement
over the last thirty years, we hope we are breaking some
new ground. We like to think of ourselves as "a next step
- anonymous author
Overall, I like being wealthy,
having much more than I need to fulfill my basic needs.
It has given me the luxury to leave a high-paying but
unexciting job, to go to graduate school on my own terms,
and to continue my research in biotechnology. I don't
worry much about my money: my mother is a financial advisor
and helps me invest wisely; I live fairly simply, and
I do not spend money foolishly. Besides, my work is in
a lucrative and cutting-edge field that would allow me
to live comfortably even without my investment income.
I sometimes think about
my motives in helping other people. I've been working
with an El Salvador solidarity group for three years now.
Recently we wanted to send a delegation down to deliver
some material aid to a village. It was easier for me to
write a check and go myself than sit through fundraising
meetings. While in the village, I came into contact with
people who didn't even have running water and had risked
their lives to improve their community. The differences
in our circumstances was painful. If I had to work harder
for my money, perhaps I would feel I was giving enough.
As it was, I went down to El Salvador at a time when I
was in the market for a vacation. Is that honest giving,
or just a search for adventure? I ended up considering
Money has a way of changing
people, and I do worry about that. I want to stay as I
am, and not lose my values. I would hate for people to
judge me, either positively or negatively, just because
of what they know about my finances, yet I know people
do make those snap judgments. At school, I am often in
conversations with fellow students who are lamenting about
how to make ends meet. What do I say? I haven't really
touted myself as a rich person. Being African American
makes a lot of folks assume that I have less money than
I do. Ironically, prejudice fools people. They just assume
I am barely making it.
- anonymous author
My Own Race
I was eighteen when I inherited
enough money that I would never have to work for a living.
I felt guilty about having the money and not working for
over seven years. I used to wonder, "Should I give up
the money and just work as a waitress? At least I'd be
free of this angst." But now that I am pouring my strength
into developing an acting career, I'm thankful for my
money every day.
It's funny. Even though
I want to earn top dollar in my work and eventually live
on my own paycheck, I feel comfortable using my inheritance
to help build my career. I've just completed three independent
films, two lead roles and a supporting role! Things are
beginning to take off.
My biggest struggle has
been getting control of my money. My parents are loving
and supportive, but this sometimes shades them as being
controlling and meddling. My inheritance is tied up in
a trust structured so that I don't get full control of
the money until I am 35. Well, I'm 26 and I want as much
control of that money as possible now.
It is hard to find your
own way when everything is provided for you. It is even
harder if you never really get to strike out on your own,
make your own choices, and take the initiative in your
life. I hate subjecting my monthly income and spending
decisions to my parents' approval. If the money is mine,
it should be mine. This has caused lots of conflicts.
Yet, with my father's approval,
I recently gained control over my income and more access
to my principal. We did something very effective. We transferred
the responsibility for managing my trust to a neutral
party. I get advice from my new financial advisor now.
It is often the same as my father's, but his advice feels
easier to take or reject. Now that I am finally free to
go for it, I am running my own race.
- anonymous author
My dad created a fast food chain.
While growing up I would often sit with him, and talk
about the trials and travails of the business, and I became
quite comfortable dealing with money. In 1992, at my instigation,
we set up a Foundation. I became its first director
at age 27.
My goal is to assist community
groups organizing for progressive social change. I do
this through the foundation and through my work with the
wider philanthropy community. I focus on multi-issue groups
which build grassroots power.
While any broad generalizations
risk being inaccurate, the wealthy young activists I know
seem to view money and power differently than most of
our older compatriots on the "Left." We are out to win,
to really make a difference, whereas some of the older
folks I know seem content to stay at the margins. Because
they often choose purity over effectiveness, moral gestures
over strategy, they are not at the tables where key policy
questions are being decided. I have no desire to wear
this "badge of marginality!" I want to get the job done.
That's why I choose to
do some of my work with the mainstream, and often conservative,
Council of Foundations. Progressive philanthropists often
see the Council as the enemy, rather than as a contested
terrain where our voices could make a difference and turn
into millions of extra dollars for community organizations.
If we don't seek a place at the table and speak up, how
can we complain when these organizations ignore our issues
and perspectives? It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we
are not pushing mainstream foundations to get more input
from grantees, to include more decision-making participation
from people of color and poor people, who will?
I would be a more popular
guy if I gave out hundreds of $1,000 to $2,500 "seed grants"
to new organizations every year. But I don't see that
as effective. We don't need more nonprofit organizations,
we need better ones. That's why the McKay Foundation gives
a few $20,000- $40,000 general operating support grants
each year to the very best organizations in the field.
We want to build institutions that will be around for
I don't know if this is
a generational issue, but I've become convinced that wealthy
people should avoid anonymous giving. I didn't used to
To my surprise, being "out"
has made a number of people more comfortable with me,
not less. They don't have to be guessing, "Is this guy
connected to the money?" They see that I'm up front. I
now see that we who have wealth do a disservice to our
communities when we hide. Instead, we need to take explicit
ownership and make ourselves accountable for how we use
- anonymous author
I earned my money. Yet,
a lot of my good fortune was luck: my wife and I both
worked in marketing positions at Microsoft from the late
1980s to the mid-1990s, an extremely lucrative time to
work at the company. We now have enough money, barring
some calamity, that we never have to work again.
Since we grew up in middle-class
families, it was a new experience to have the freedom
to do whatever we most wanted to do. Gloria and I knew
we had to think carefully about what we wanted, because
the default pattern in this society is to let your lifestyle
creep into big spending and thoughtless decisions. We
wanted to avoid that aspect of having money, and use our
money consciously as a tool. After determining our investment
and giving philosophies, we decided to take a year off
from work. Our goal was to volunteer with some charities
and civic groups, and to spend time together before we
had children--something we knew would change our lives
forever in the not-too-distant future.
Now, I'm back at Microsoft.
There are many people like me here, who no longer need
the money but who are excited enough about their jobs
to remain. The personal computer industry is changing
the shape of the world and Microsoft is at the center
of the industry. Employees have a real impact here. It
is a compelling motivation to keep working. Another motivation
is that my grandfather retired from the Navy at around
45 or 50 years old. He lived for another 30 years, but
did very little with his life. He sat around, read the
newspaper, and drank. I don't want to end up like that
just because I can afford to retire.
- anonymous author
a Lot with a Little
You have to be careful
what you wish for in life. I always thought it would be
great to have my work and personal life connected, and
now, working with neighborhood youth, there's often very
little line between the two. The other day I came home
from an eye operation to be with my wife, and four kids
were hanging out and doing their homework in our apartment.
No big deal: I went to my room and crashed out. Youth
work is about building community, and sharing my space
is one way to help that happen. Thank goodness my wife
feels the same way.
This way of life began
a few years ago when I took my small inheritance, my teaching
and business experience, and my love of young people,
and I poured myself into Fresh Youth Initiatives (FYI),
an organization in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. FYI got launched with
one miraculous $5,000 grant from AT&T and a couple
of $1,000 grants. The other ongoing expenses of the first
full year were subsidized by me as our program gained
momentum in the neighborhood.
Having investment money
to dip into has definitely been part of the power I have
drawn on. I started with a $50,000 trust fund that my
parents turned over to me in my second year out of college.
I put it into a socially responsible mutual fund, and
by the time I turned 30 and started FYI, it had grown
to $200,000. The past few years the market has been strong
and my uncle, who is an investment manager, has given
me some amazing advice. So even though I've sometimes
lived on the investment income and used it to catalyze
programs that now serve hundreds of young people in a
15 block radius, my principal has grown to $500,000.
My goals are to build FYI
into a sustainable youth organization and to have one
of the kids in the neighborhood take my job. I expect
I'll live somewhere else but will be on the board. The
ones in charge will be people who have lived in this neighborhood
their whole lives and who will raise their families here.
That's how it should be.
- anonymous author
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