Generosity

Have you noticed the growing number of billionaires who are publicly announcing their intention to give away most, if not all, of their wealth during their lifetime?  Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and the most recent addition Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and the notorious and vaguely fictional character in the movie Social Network, along with 50 other donors who have signed what is being called the Giving Pledge. Loosely stated, the Giving Pledge is the idea is to put their names on a document pledging to give the majority of their money to charity instead of to heirs, where it’s many times wasted, according to an article in The Daily Nation. What I found most interesting in this new trend is that it makes just as much sense for the super wealthy as it does for wealth creators and high net worth individuals even though your asset base doesn’t include quite as many zeros.  At first I thought:  well this is easy for the super rich to do because they have gobs of money.  Not so fast.  In reality it’s likely harder emotionally the more money you have. 

Guest post written by Heather Tuininga, Advisor It’s that time of year when our mailboxes are full of letters from charities who are doing good work in our community and around the world.  They appeal to our hearts, our conscience and our wallets, with hopes that we care about their cause and still have room for another charitable contribution before the end of the year (to improve our tax situation). As you read through the deluge of appeals, do any of the following questions come up for you?
  1. Do we want to give?
  2. How do we decide which organizations to fund?
  3. How do we know if they are using our funds wisely?
  4. Are there other organizations/people that need our funds more, but can’t afford to send us a fancy end-of-year appeal letter?  If so, how do we find them?
  5. Am I giving out of guilt or joy?
As I sift through the letters, I find myself thankful that my husband and I put together a “generosity road map” back in January.  This annual plan enables us to direct our giving funds to the causes and people we care about all year, therefore alleviating any guilt or panic in December when the appeals start arriving and our financial picture/tax situation comes into clearer view.  (If John invites me back, I’ll share more on how to develop a generosity road map in a future blog post.)

I was having a wonderful conversation with one of my long-term clients about his passion for "his community" and the intentional impact he is seeking.  He wants to see his money being used in a way that can influence a better community and living experience for himself and others. I asked if he would share his passion here on the blog, but more importantly, share with us how to help other wealth creators impact their community and why it matters.  Our interview is scripted below. Mark, what makes "changing your community" so important to you?  Should it be important to all of us and if so, why? We live in an imperfect world.  I believe that if every person goes out of their way to put other individual’s needs ahead of their own, that the world becomes a better place.  The ”community” can be defined in many different ways – neighborhood, city, planet, school, civic group, religious group, etc.  What is important to me is recognizing that I am a part of many communities and that I feel it is my responsibility to make constructive change within as many of these groups as I can. It seems to me clear from an ethical and common sense perspective that it is an inalienable responsibility of all humans to be a responsible and giving community member.  We have the ability to shape or own destiny as a species.  We are capable of self evaluation, of rising above selfish and individualistic concerns.  I believe that working for the general betterment of our species and our planet is simply the right thing to do. What would be included in "changing your community" for those of us who don't think about it as much as you do? Changing community is about solving problems.  Changing community is about celebrating life and allowing others to celebrate their lives.  Changing community is about allowing all people to reach their full potential. I believe in supporting organizations that provide fair and equal access to education, the arts, healthcare, a healthy planet and whatever contributes to any individual’s happiness (as long as that happiness is not acting to the detriment of others).  This could mean serving on a committee or a board of an organization.  This means acting responsibly as an individual each and every day.  It means supporting the “good work” of others with financial contributions, strategic brainstorming, and connecting like-minded individuals.  There are so many people with good will in their heart, with energy and perseverance I have found that one can achieve great things just by matching the talents and passion of the right person to the right cause. For me changing community is being able to take stock of one’s actions periodically – if one does that, and can say that they made life better for other people and for the planet in a way that is broadly accepted as beneficial, one has been successful.

This time of year many people of means are preparing their end-of-year charitable donations. Most people I know have favored charities or regular giving plans. But a new service I came across in the Wall Street Journal's Wealth Report blog by Robert Frank presents an intriguing new idea for people of...