There is a common belief that it is not what you take from this world, but what you leave behind is the true test of a life well lived. Part of that philosophy comes in the area of philanthropy… as in… helping others.
The statistics will bear out the facts that the ultra rich give the most dollars to charitable causes… but not the highest percentage of their wealth. That distinction goes to the middle class and those of considerably less means. Yes it’s true… as the old Billie Holiday song God Bless the Child says, “them’s that got shall get… them’s that not shall lose. So the Bible says, and it still is news.” In other words… God Bless the child that’s got his own. No matter how you slice it… it has always been every man/woman for themself in this dog eat dog world.
But, before we head down the road of negativity, let’s stop along the way to recognize some of the luminaries that truly have “put their money where their mouth is” or in proper syntax… where their mouths… are.
Take billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook. He could have easily taken a pass on society and isolated himself behind his fortune, but instead, he recognized the need (or his tax advisors recognized the need to support some cause… any cause)… and the public school system of Newark, NJ was the lucky beneficiary… to the tune of 100 million dollars.
Most of us do what we can… like a few bucks in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time…. maybe a check to the American Red Cross, Easter Seals, the American Cancer Society… or the designated charity of choice. My family’s targeted cause… the GSD Type 1b Research Fund at the University of Florida. The what, you ask? The Glycogen Storage Disease Type 1b Research Fund… Why? Because our granddaughter has a challenge in her life… and we’d do whatever it takes to make her better. You can learn more on my homepage waynemessmer.com by clicking the Friends of Jamie banner.
Mostly, the motivation for giving is personal. We are suddenly motivated because a family member is touched by a disease or a condition that needs our support… so we jump into action to do whatever we can to help. But what about those folks of substantial means who made a commitment that is known as “the Giving Pledge” designed to help strangers… in a very big way. I’m referring to guys like Zuckerberg Gates and Buffett… the real big-time money guys?
Actually, it was the idea of Warren Buffett along with Bill and Melinda Gates… all of whom have answered the age-old question of how much is enough? That answer may have come several billions of dollars ago.
The idea was born in the summer of 2010… and the movement has gained momentum. To date, sixty-nine rich… and by rich, I mean… really rich folks have hopped on the “Giving Pledge” train.
The concept may shock and surprise a lot of people… it simply states that these well healed individuals and families have committed to giving away the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their lifetime, or in a bequest. Did you catch that? I said, the majority of their wealth… not just writing a nice generous check every now and then. Wow!
Cynics point out that it’s probably no more than just another tax loophole for the wealthy… or that the “Giving Pledge” is not a binding contract… but the fact remains that many of these billionaires are making a real, measurable difference, and it’s often being done without the headlines and the stuffed shirt poses with the well-coiffed co-chairs and cameras running.
Take Bill and Melinda Gates for instance. They are the champions of the cause of education and improving the health of children in impoverished conditions. Their commitment to and support of the cause of immunization and maternal and child health cause in India, is nothing short of remarkable, both monetarily and in the scope of the good that these funds have brought to countless lives already.
Again… the critics sound off… “There are people in this country that need help too!”
Oh, you must have not noticed the $290 million dollars that the Gates’ have given to support the school systems in Tampa, FL, Memphis, TN, Los Angeles, CA and Pittsburgh, PA. Yes, critics and cynics have a way of overlooking the facts if it fails to support their argument.
Actually, since 1994, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated almost 24 billion dollars to the cause of global development and global health in the United States and abroad. Stop for a few seconds and let that figure absorb.
Not that long ago, sixty-one individuals gathered in Tucson, AZ for the “Giving Pledge” conference to renew their pledge commitments.
Sometimes Robin Hood can take a few weeks off and not have to rob from the rich and give to the poor. Some of the rich are already doing their part. For that, they deserve a good round of applause.
The concept of philanthropy is certainly not a new phenomenon by any means. Researchers have traced the idea of taking from the rich and giving to the poor back some ten thousand or so years. But the great American tradition of taking credit for nearly any good idea has plenty of historical precedence. The captains of industry of the late 19th century… giants like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller lent their names to foundations that still continue to give… many decades after their passing.
The notion that we are all obligated to give something back… or pass it forward, if you will, seems to be ingrained in human nature.
So then, what is the difference between philanthropy and charity? It has come to be understood that charity is just the act of writing a check… philanthropy is actually getting involved with the cause after writing the check, it requires a lot more effort and energy. One of the “Giving Pledge” individuals Eli Broad, the founder of Sun America, Inc. points out that philanthropy means a whole lot more than just giving away money, it means investing in the things that will make the situation or condition that initially caused the concern, to get better. It often involves creating things that would otherwise not have existed.
This whole philanthropic movement is not without expectation of an ROI… a Return on Investment. Yes, I said investment. The new phrase is philanthrocapitalism. It means that for the money spent, they want some measurable results. Things like advances in technology, improved test scores, a decrease in childhood diseases, an even playing field for students… and where a disease is concerned… a cure.
Sounds great, right? All we have to do is become a billionaire and we can hang out a fancy desert resorts with the other rich guys and talk about giving away our money.
To quote the gifted lyricist Ira Gershwin, It’s nice work if you can get it… and if you get it, won’t you tell me how?
So, what about the typical American family… you know… like you and me, with mortgages and college tuition and the full compliment of life’s expenses? Many people say that they want to give, but they just don’t have it available to give away.
Well, here’s where the rampant sarcasm gets tossed aside for a rousing round of applause for the great American family. Of the more than 303-billion dollars donated to charities back in 2009 an amazing 75% came from individuals. That makes up an impressive 75% of the total amount. It totals more than $227 billion dollars, or, to break it down to a family, that would be an astonishing $1,940 per household. Sure, a whole lot of monies came from foundations, corporations and bequests, but you have to admit that the generosity of the typical American family is quite impressive.
Wealthy individuals give more dollars, but it’s the middle-class and poor people who are giving away a higher percentage of what they have. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase… give till it hurts?
According to the National Philanthropic Trust whose job it is to tally such numbers, even when the market was down by 50%, giving was only down 15%. That says a whole lot about who we are as a caring society of caring people.
Churches and Schools are still the biggest benefactors of the kindness. Religious organizations get a little more than a third of the contributions, a fact that come as no surprise since they’ve held the top spot for fifty-five years. Education comes in as a distant second at 13%... according to the group “Giving USA 2010.”
With the shrinking Earth thanks to the omnipresent electronic media, the need for help is addressed quicker than ever. The emergency siren blares louder than ever before to help signal the word across the globe in laser speed. When a Tsunami hits or an earthquake strikes, the world knows about it almost instantaneously, and the call for help is heard louder and faster… and mercifully, so is the response. No longer do you write a check and mail it in. Now, you can instantly, in real time, e-mail or text your donation in a matter of just seconds… not weeks or even days.
If we follow the simple rule to put your money where your time is… and put your time where your money is, you’ll soon make the discovery of what motivates and inspires you. From there, you be able to decide which approach it is that you feel is best going to get the desired results that will satisfy your efforts and your dollars. And finally… you make the decision of how those results will be measured.
Philanthropy means getting some mud on your hands once in a while.
So, whether you’re giving away millions, or a designated portion of your hard earned cash, it comes down to one thing… making a strategic choice and a commitment to supporting a cause where you feel that you can truly make a difference.
Yes, one person, one step at a time really can change the world.