The December 2010 issue of Money Magazine has a great article by Dan Kadlec about philanthropy. "How To Give Like A Billionaire" chronicles the things that Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, and other uber-rich do when they support worthy causes. Recently Buffett famously urged his peers to give away half their wealth, and while the average person cannot part with half, there are lots of things we can do to have a greater impact in our charitable efforts.
Several years ago I approached a famous local philanthropist at a networking event and asked how I could help with a local cause, of which he was spear-heading the fund-raising efforts. He asked me if I could write a check for $10,000 (or more). When I replied "No", he turned his attention to others in the cluster of people, as if I had just evaporated into thin air. No "big check" meant I was invisible to this man and his cronies.
This exchange hurt my feelings and put a sour taste in my mouth about philanthropy for several years.
Three years ago I gave it another try. When I became a professional speaker and started earning extra money from my presentations, training workshops, and EmCee-ing events, my wife and I decided that we wanted to connect our successes to a worthy cause. We approached the Dell Children's Medical Foundation (the new Dell Children's Hospital was just opening its doors in Central Texas). We selected this charity because our youngest daughter, Kate, had been born with a medical condition that required major surgery when she was an baby. We had to look out of the area for the best level of doctors and facilities, because Austin did not have a "state-of-the -art" children's hospital at that time. With this new medical center, other families who faced similar issues in the future would not need to travel to find the best care.
The staff of the Foundation were wonderful, and helped us set up the "Kate Singer Endowment for Cranio-Facial Research". We pledged 5% of the money I earn through speaking fees to this cause, and by making small donations consistently over three years the money has added up. This year we met our first giving milestone, and have directed our giving to a similar endowment at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego (where Kate received her treatment 8 years ago). When we reach an equal amount in donations we will split our efforts to 2.5% to each hospital into the future.
Had we given small amounts to many random charities (who call on the phone at dinnertime) we could never see the impact that our donations can have in the long run. By selecting one or two causes and being dedicated to the giving plan, you can better understand how your dollars add up over time.
The Money article sights several things that regular folks can do to borrow a few pages from the playbook for the super rich, and do more for favorite causes without giving away a fortune:
*Write bigger checks to fewer charities
*Plan out your giving for the year and take the time to research charities
*Give away highly appreciated assets
*Round up your like-minded friends and pool your charitable resources (we do a fundraiser on this blog every February to raise money and awareness for Dell Children's Medical Center).
*Work giving into your estate planning
*Open a donor-advised fund to spread your giving over time
*Give time to your favorite cause.
I hope that people will not feel that giving is reserved for the rich, and that negative experiences like I had with that wealthy "philanthropist" will not sour them on the idea of making a difference. Additionally I want charities to look beyond the "elephant hunting" tactics of seeking only rich donors. Seeking to make connections with average people who will consistently give, and then cherishing their contributions as much as they do the "big checks", can have an even greater effect on an organization than simply getting money.
Have A Great Day