Gift of Faith
giving is an evolving, work-in- progress. Ultimately,
philanthropy is a very individual journey, something between
each of us and God.
a Christian, I had long viewed tithing--the notion that
we owe ten percent of our income to church and charity--as
a good target for my giving. Some years back, I was feeling
pretty good that I had moved up to donating six percent
of my pre-tax income. My bubble popped at a Christian
business leaders' breakfast. The speaker looked us right
in the eye and said his annual giving was now up to forty
percent of his income and he knew he could do even better.
It made me wonder if I could do better, too.
speaker talked about how living frugally enabled him to
give more. Here he was, a CEO of a successful company,
and he lived in the same house he bought when he first
got his entry level job thirty years ago! In the last
ten to fifteen years, I've tried to live in a similar,
low-overhead fashion. I've quit the country club and I
no longer desire to own a fancy new car. This has been
a part of my faith journey. Some philosopher I read called
it "trying to grasp the concept of downward mobility"
in our wildly material world.
when I was a church-goer only by habit, my giving was
nominal and scattered. The idea that ninety percent of
my assets were mine and ten percent of them were God's
was still a stretch, but I liked this division in principle.
But as my faith has deepened, I've come to realize that
God's claim on the financial resources I control is not
just ten percent. His claim is total. Everything I have
is to be used as His steward. Both what I keep and what
I give, including my time, are to be used faithfully and
year I work up a rough plan of how much we think we can
give away, what organizations interest my wife and me,
and which groups we want to support with our time and
money. This practice provides us a time to think comprehensively
about our goals and priorities for the coming year. We
are currently giving about twenty percent of our annual
pre-tax income, and, occasionally, gifts out of our growing
all for planning, but I think it is important to remain
open to chance opportunities for giving. The ability to
give beyond what we've budgeted occasionally has brought
surprising joy to me. I am chair of the endowment committee
for the local United Way. After hearing a report from
the staff that they needed a new computer system and software
to do a good job with office systems and the general campaign,
I leaned over to another family member on the board and
whispered, "Why don't you and I get some of the family
together and help raise the $30,000 needed for this project?"
He nodded, and the matter was quietly taken care of.
lucky, of course. I've got business training and have
worked in financial services for over fifteen years. I
understand numbers, taxes, and investments. I have confidence
that my family has enough and that my giving will not
jeopardize our long-term security. I've also worked with
enough local nonprofits and ministries to know how much
my gifts can mean to their work.
wealthy people don't know how to figure out how much is
enough for them, or have a sense of what can be done with
their money, and they vastly underestimate what they could
safely give away. In my work, I try to help people see
the potential contribution they are sitting on and the
joy that can come from giving to projects they care deeply
about. I'm not pushing guilt, I'm pushing fulfillment.
- anonymous author
The Hand You're Dealt
up as a child in a famous wealthy family meant that I was encouraged to give
from a very young age. My parents served on boards, founded
nonprofits, and talked excitedly at the dinner table about
the organizations they supported. They were my role models.
As a kid, I was also expected to give ten percent of my
allowance to organizations I cared about. In my early
years, this meant putting money in the church collection
plate; by high school I was sending money to civil rights
when I came into my first wave of family money at the
age of 21, I felt confused and insecure about how to use
the resources I now had. I didn't want to be different
from my friends, and was embarrassed to be associated
with a family whom some of the activists I admired called
"capitalist pigs." During this time, my relations with
my parents were very strained.
who got to me with a request would get something. I didn't
have a plan, a clear sense of mission, or even a handle
on my own finances. I also didn't know how to say "No."
In my guilt and confusion, I just wanted the money to
go away. I wanted the contribution I made in the world
to be my work--not my money or family connections. I gave
a good part of my principal away in those years, but in
an unsatisfying and haphazard way. My satisfaction came
from my work running an alternative high school for six
however, I began to see that by learning to play the hand
I was dealt by birth, I could make far more of a contribution
than pretending I didn't have the resources I did. I remember
meeting Oliver Tambo, the president of the African National
Congress in South Africa, during the 1980s. I told him
I wanted to help end apartheid and was considering joining
the civil disobedience campaign against it. He replied,
"Don't get arrested outside the South African Embassy.
We have plenty of people who can do that. What we don't
have is people with connections to the business community
in the United States."
I had started working with my father at the New York City
Partnership, an organization of philanthropic business
leaders, I was able to organize a meeting with some of
them and leaders from the ANC. I realized then that I
was at a choice point. I could continue to do gratifying
grassroots work, or I could plunge in and use my family
connections and access on behalf of people and issues
in which I believed. Ultimately, after lots of life experience
and therapy, I chose the latter path and have since tried
to use my resources to help open doors for people locked
out of the system.
me, this has meant starting the Synergos Institute, which
supports projects to overcome poverty in six countries--Ecuador,
Brazil, Mexico, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and India. I give
30 percent of my income each year, and over half of this
goes to Synergos. I raise funds to meet the remaining
ninety percent of our budget, and work full-time without
pay as a further contribution. I also serve on a variety
of boards and contribute money and fundraising contacts
to these organizations as well.
and most of the nonprofits I support, work with people
and organizations trying to extend their access to the
information, skills, or resources they need. During college
I lived for several months in a squatters' community in
Brazil and I saw first hand how hard people work to solve
their own problems. Poor people have an amazing capacity
to make something of their lives with almost no material
resources by working in close association with each other
in various community organizations. At Synergos we support
such efforts by connecting this creative local energy
to the resources of the government, foundations, and interested
individuals, as well as the local and international business
call this "bridging leadership"--an approach that brings
disparate groups together to solve problems. This investment
in the world's future is in the best interests of everybody,
including the wealthy. I know that as I inherit more money,
or do even better in my business dealings, I'll give even
more to these groups because I really believe in this
- anonymous author
Never Wanted To Be A Philanthropist
grandfather put shares of his newspaper business into
a modest trust fund for his children and grandchildren.
It was worth maybe $7,000 at the time. However, my uncle
turned the family business into one of the world's largest
media empires and our family has become very wealthy.
a fiery, moralistic eighteen year old, I felt uncomfortable
being offered such privilege just because I was born into
a particular family. Nor was I comfortable with how the
money was made. While I've become less zealous in the
last sixteen years, I still feel basically the same. I've
chosen to live the kind of life my peers and neighbors
live. I don't want to drop my community ties to my friends
and colleagues or my work at the grassroots level.
have never lived off my trust money, a decision which
has always given me a great feeling of independence and
self-confidence. Yet, I'm also aware that I haven't done
much else with it either--outside of making some relatively
small donations to environmental organizations--one of
my great passions. I've just assumed that I would figure
out what to do with it all later. In one sense this has
only made my "problem" bigger. In the last five years,
the value of my trust share has doubled. I am now looking
at what to do with over twenty-five million dollars!
I've stopped running away from my money like a wombat
(as we say in Australia), and have begun to network with
other wealthy people. I've joined a wealthy women's support
group and helped start another group of wealthy people
seeking to fund social change efforts. I've needed to
talk about my money to people outside of my family, and
it hasn't proved all that helpful to my poorer artist
friends--or to me--to talk about my financial situation
beyond a certain point. Turning to other rich people has
reaching out to them, I've become clearer about what I
want to do with my untapped fortune and have decided to
create a foundation by next year and put all my trust
shares into it. My big challenge is how to balance my
already-packed working life as an actor and musician with
the demanding task of becoming a philanthropist--a rewarding
occupation to be sure, but one whose job description just
doesn't make me feel as alive as being a working artist.
first solution was to give away all the money to conservation
groups in just two or three years and then close down
the foundation and get back to my regular life full-time
as quick as possible. I now think, though, that giving
so much money away so fast would be unwise and irresponsible.
Still, I don't want to leave a lot of money behind in
perpetuity. I think it is wrong for wealth to be centered
in the hands of just a few people. And, I just don't want
to be a philanthropist for years and years.
goal now is to pay out the foundation's assets completely
in about ten years. I also hope that after establishing
a good governing team for the foundation I can step off
the board in four or five years, leaving the key giving
decisions to people with a stronger knowledge of the conservation
field and from a wide range of economic backgrounds.
to terms with how to claim and give away my wealth has
enabled me to see I just might be able to preserve myself
as a working artist, while still using my resources responsibly.
- anonymous author
to Ourselves and Others
historical legacy in my family has been one of accumulating
wealth, not giving it away. Even though I became passionately
committed to feminist causes in my twenties, and had already
received a significant inheritance, I never wrote donation
checks for more than $500 back then--and that felt like
a big stretch.
my spouse and I made a $100,000 multi-year pledge
to a single organization. We also made other multi-year
pledges for general support to a few organizations and
are backing up our pledges with a commitment to do fundraising
for these organizations. I often accompany staff on donor
visits to help increase the pool of major donors to these
groups and inspire current donors to increase their annual
giving. Over the last dozen years, my wife and I have increasingly
come to see ourselves as "social change philanthropists."
the change? The easy answer is that we now have more money
at our disposal due to the stock market, my wife's success
as a cancer surgeon, and my receiving a further inheritance
from my father's estate. Yet we know people with more
resources than we have who give far less. What I really
think makes the difference is being able to sit down and
ask yourself, "How much is enough?" You have to be able
to look at your assets in the light of your needs and
desires and say this is "Enough," this is "Surplus."
us, finding this elusive line is an ongoing discussion
and an occasional source of friction. Once, Kate commented
"If you didn't give so much of our money away, I wouldn't
have to work!" We were both surprised by this previously
unexpressed feeling. We agreed that if she really wanted
to stop work, we could change our financial plan. The
fact is she loves her work, but when she is tired or overwhelmed
she sometimes feels trapped.
truth, she had approved all of "my" giving, which I do
in both our names. Money definitely provides opportunities
for learning and growth in a relationship.
was certainly the stickler when my wife began to push for
us to buy a beautiful house and remodel it to our complete
satisfaction, regardless of the cost. Coming from a family
of spenders who never seemed to enjoy what they bought,
I don't do well with big and expensive. My wife persevered
and taught me the joy of having beautiful things and in
investing thoughtfully in our own comfort and enjoyment.
all of our differences, we seek a balance between our
giving and our spending. On a recent funders' tour to
South Africa, we were both moved to tears when we realized
that the money we spent on remodeling our home could have
built hundreds of housing units! Experiences like these
haven't prompted us to sell our beloved house, but they
do help us forgo our fantasy of buying a BMW instead of
investing in our 100,000 mile VW so it can last another
5 years. They also make us look regularly at our income
and assets to see if we might be able to give more this
year, and the next.
- anonymous author
The Deductions Around
the past 15 years, I have received more income than I
could ever need, and I have had no legal way to lessen
the amount. Giving has always seemed like the best way
to use this extra money well.
recent years, I've given away between 60 percent to 90
percent of my annual income. It has always bothered me
that I receive no tax benefit for the excesses over the
allowed 50 percent deduction. The law says the excesses
can be "carried over" as a deduction in a future tax year--for
up to five years. But since my contributions exceed 50
percent every year, I've never been able to use the "carryover."
when finding myself with about $8,000 more than expected
to give away, I offered the money to a close friend with
the suggestion that she choose worthy organizations to
receive contributions. She wasn't that keen on this until
we both realized that if she made the contributions, she
would realize the tax benefit I could not.
got me to thinking and I began to envision creating a
"community of giving." The plan is simple. I'll stop making
contributions directly for awhile and make annual gifts
of $10,000 (the current maximum amount one can give without
being taxed) each to several friends instead, with the
understanding that they will give the money to organizations
they believe in. They will then get the tax deduction
and I can use up my "carry- over" from previous years.
Depending on their tax bracket each of my friends will
enjoy the benefit of a reduced tax bill on the order of
$1,500 to $2,800. The money will also be going to a wider
range of worthy causes, and I won't have to give philanthropy
so much time and thought. It's a win-win solution.
- anonymous author
some point in the 1970s, I reflected on the state of our
world, which increasingly looked like the last days of
the Roman Empire, and I was no longer content to be a
novelist. I wanted to be a writer and a philanthropist.
giving began to skyrocket after that. I first gave away
all income from my inherited stocks, then about five percent
of my net worth a year, and finally up to 10 percent of
assets a year. Most people balk at giving away capital,
but the growth rate of my income-producing assets was
well over 10 percent during all these years, so I never
"lost" any money. My principal grew, even at this rate
of giving! I saw my contributions, particularly to conservation
land trusts and intentional communities, make deep dreams
come true, and was motivated to keep giving more.
I moved into my 50s and started doing serious estate planning,
my big question was how much of my wealth to leave to
philanthropic causes, and how much to give to my six children.
I worried that having too much wealth would not be good
for them. I believe that the best things I can give my
children are a strong work ethic and a sense of noblesse
oblige. Without these, any wealth they might gain in their
life will either be squandered or hoarded, wasted in either
I ultimately decided to do was to set up trusts for each
of my children that would get them through college and
give them an annual base income between $30,000 to $40,000
a year--something comfortable, but not really a rich person's
standard of living. As it turns out, the children will
be wealthier than I planned, for they will also receive
money from additional trusts unexpectedly set up by my
parents and grandparents. Because of this, my wife and
I have stopped gifting our older children an additional
$10,000 to $20,000 a year and put that money towards our
philanthropic giving. Believing in the value of giving,
we've also set up a family foundation that our children
will direct after my wife and I are gone.
wife and I see eye-to-eye on all this, yet we both revisit
the decision occasionally and sometimes struggle with
doubts. Our children vary in age from 15 to 48. Will they
be hurt that we didn't leave more to them? Will they resent
the responsibility involved in giving the remainder of
our estate away? Will they make philanthropic choices
in accord with our values? None of this is certain. All
of it, like everything important in life, is an act of
- anonymous author
A Gesture and A Sacrifice
in 1983, I was forty-seven years old, and a financially
successful partner in a large food processing company
in California. One morning, as I was sitting in my office
at work, I read a story in the Wall Street Journal about
a businessman who had begun working with poor people in
his community. I was fascinated by how this man had taken
up the cause of the homeless, spending substantial time
and money in helping people acquire decent housing. Some
of his friends thought the guy was "losing it." But, to
many people, he was a hero.
finishing that article, I put down the paper and stared
out the window. My mind seemed to stop. Suddenly, an idea
came over me: "I want to be my own hero!" I didn't know
exactly what that meant, but I was excited. In that moment,
the question of how much to give became real to me, and
my intuition told me that I needed to go far beyond what
kept this idea to myself for several months, but it became
more firmly lodged in my psyche. Sometime that fall, my
business partner stuck his head in my door and asked to
chat. We talked about business matters for awhile and
then he asked me, "Bob, how are things in your life?"
I replied, "They're going pretty well. Wendy is a marvel
and the kids are doing okay. But you know, Dino, I've
been thinking about things a little further down the road."
paused, considering what I wanted to say. I finally told
him, "I want to get involved in some sort of service project--you
know, helping other people. I want to spend real time
at it, like half my time. I would love to still be able
to work here the rest of the time, but I don't know if
that would work out...." My voice trailed off and I anxiously
studied Dino's face.
he asked. I mumbled back, "Beginning in '86. I'll be fifty
then." Dino lapsed into silence. After a while, I saw
his face lighten. "So, it's 50-50 at 50, eh?" He couldn't
suppress a chuckle over his clever turn of phrase. Greatly
relieved, I echoed his words, delighted with the image
they created. "Yeah, it's 50-50 at 50!"
began to search for a project to get involved in and became
increasingly interested in international development.
I had traveled in Central America
in 1974 and had been haunted by the plight of Mayan Indian
farmers ever since. I decided to investigate what US nonprofits
were doing in Central America by
identifying four of them and sending each a $1,000 contribution
and a request for information. With one exception, all
I received in return was a computer generated thank-you
note and a newsletter. Slim pickings. The one exception
came in the form of a phone call from Ed Bullard of Technoserve,
a development support group based in Connecticut.
Ed was about my age and had left a large family business
fifteen years earlier to begin his nonprofit. He soon
became my mentor and my service partner.
won't bore you with all the details of our work in Central
America, but it took hold of me and engaged
me in a way I never expected. In the years that followed,
I decided I wanted to contribute significant amounts of
my financial resources as well my time. Mind you, I believe
that giving time is a greater expression of one's commitment
than just giving money. When you give time, it's you.
When you give money, the amount may or may not be the
real you. Still, money--if spent wisely--can make a big
difference in the lives of others. I've seen this over
like my friend Lynn Twist's advice, "The right amount
to give is somewhere between a gesture and a sacrifice."
I've found my own point along this spectrum mostly through
intuition and experiments that test my internal money
barriers. I try stretching my gifts to "just beyond" my
emotional comfort level, and then stretch again, and again.
I've learned a lot from people who offer a more systematic
and rational approach to determining their capacity to
give, but for me the big pull has always been seeing the
work itself flower, and imagining what could be done with
just a little more. Relying on inspiration, intuition,
and a little rational analysis, I've become convinced
I can give up to 50 percent of my wealth, still be financially
secure, and do what I most want in life.
- anonymous author
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