More Than Money
Issue #28

Who Knows You're Rich?

Table of Contents

“Beyond Fear”

For a long time, I wasn't even "out" to myself about our wealth. Our money grew gradually, so it seemed normal. My husband has worked for more than a decade at Microsoft and we have wealth through stock options. Many of the people we associate with also work there and have significant wealth. We don't feel different among these friends. But when I first read the statistics in More Than Money Journal about the wealthiest one percent, that caught my attention. I often think of it now when, for instance, I go to Costco. Knowing I have more resources, on average, than most of those people milling around - yet I blend right in, standing there in my jeans…it's mind boggling.

The responsibility of being in that top one percent is what has helped me start to overcome my fears of being public. Most people we know well realize we are wealthy. The part we haven't been "out" about is a million-dollar donation we made to a local organization. We are deciding whether or not to go public about it. Our main motivation would be to inspire more donations to this charity.

My husband and I are very private people. It's a big step for me to say, "This might help someone else so I'm going to share my story." Feeling that I have a responsibility to use my wealth well and to be an example for others is making me increasingly willing to grow beyond my fears.

One fear I have is that extended family members may resent the fact that we have not helped them more. Our family knows we're wealthy, but no one knows our net worth. They have never been noticeably judgmental about our wealth, even those who struggle making ends meet. However, I still worry what they might think. It was a big step for me to tell my mom that I made such a large donation. The humbling part was that she gave almost no outward reaction. She had already figured it out!

But it's not just a fear of being judged by other people. I second- guess myself. Sometimes I think, "Oh my God, I spent this on someone other than my extended family." There's a guilt factor there for me. We have helped them in many ways financially, but there is always more we could do, right?

I also have a fear of the general public finding out that I'm wealthy. I remember my mother telling me as a child about a wealthy woman in the community being kidnapped. Although that's a highly unlikely occurrence, this fear for the safety of my immediate family is there. Also, since I have the "disease to please," the idea of many people and organizations asking for money sounds especially daunting. I am learning how to say no-I am practicing that. I've started making a giving plan that more closely aligns with my own interests.1 This helps me say no to requests I don't truly want to support.

At parties we attend, conversations often revolve around people's new homes or cars. I've never been in a conversation about philanthropy. I recently did something bold. I wrote an unobtrusive letter about More Than Money and sent it with a couple of More Than Money Journals to fifteen of my wealthy friends. I've already heard back from a few of them. They wrote me long emails about some of their thoughts and experiences. I've opened up a valuable line of communication!2

The organization I donated to had a fundraising event. I asked the executive director if I could speak to the audience of 700 people. I had zero public speaking experience! I was going to talk about the donation, but realized I wasn't ready to do that yet; so instead, I did a funny, inspirational speech. The whole thing was out of character for me, but I received great feedback. I'm continuing to do things that are out of character- things I feel I'm called to do in order to make a difference. I keep asking myself what the right course of action is, in terms of my deeper purpose. Being public or not is becoming less about what are my fears and what's my personality, and more about what can I do with my wealth to make more of a difference? The more I approach it that way, the more what I'm doing on the outside and what I feel on the inside are aligned. I've changed so much from what I was a year ago-because I'm allowing myself to change.

--based on an interview with Pamela Gerloff

1 Creating a Giving Plan: A Workbook by Tracy Gary and Melissa Kohner offers a step-by-step approach to developing a personal giving plan. It is available for purchase through Resourceful Women.

2 Read Jackie's letter to her friends here .


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