More Than Money
Issue #26

Effective Giving

Table of Contents

“Learning to be a Philanthropist”

I used to give small contributions to groups I knew about-from the PTA at my daughter's school to Greenpeace. Then one day I learned from my mother that I had a charitable lead trust of $20,000 to give away that year. It seemed like an unbelievable fortune. None of my friends had that much money. No one I knew-not even me-had even heard of a charitable lead trust. My mother had always been considered irresponsible by her wealthy family. They gave her an allowance, but had kept us in the dark about any trust funds set up for us.

When my daughter's school needed financial support, I was happy to put some of that trust money to good use. Then, suddenly, I became very popular. "Would you like to lead the auction committee?" "Would you like to be on the board of the school?" I was soon asked to be on other boards. The asks continued.

Each year the amount to give away increased. "How do I give this money responsibly and well?" I wondered. When I heard about the Philanthropy Workshop, a year-long philanthropy course at the Rockefeller Foundation, I decided to take it. But I was nervous about what kind of people were likely to show up. I didn't think I'd fit in.

The Philanthropy Workshop provided great networking opportunities, taught me how vital site visits are for smart grantmaking, and how to make a funding plan built around my own interest in girls' issues. The best lesson I learned from the course is that a philanthropist's job is not simply to be kind, but to be diligent, and to honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses of any project. After the program, I gave myself four years to seriously learn about philanthropy. I became experienced with site visits by joining the grants allocation committee of the New York Women's Foundation. After we discussed all the written materials from the grant applicants, teams of three to five women would meet with the executive directors, board, and staff members. "What keeps you coming here? What's your biggest challenge? Who are your funders? Do you find it easy to tell your story to potential supporters? What sustains you day after day?" Those were the kinds of questions we asked.

Next I joined a national group of women philanthropists called the Women Donors' Network. I was inspired by many of the energetic women philanthropists there, who marched forward with such incredible abandon. Now I'm proud to hear people say that they, too, are inspired by my example. Ten years of giving has added up. I've funded economic development, women's health, girls' programs, environmental concerns, and juvenile justice. While I enjoy this diversity, I also have a lens through which I focus my financial support. I ask myself repeatedly: What will raise and strengthen the voices of girls? This single question serves as a powerful guide as I choose how to support my many interest areas.

I used to think significant support equaled big donations, but it doesn't. It is not the amount that is important, it's the relationship. I know from a totally egotistical view what I want from my giving: I want to be a charter or initiating member of a group, and I want to help people be successful. I check in with my executive directors once every month or two and try to find out what they most need. I also pay for trainings, send chocolates on Valentine's Day, and ask if they are getting vacations.

It has taken me an inordinate amount of time to come to terms with the fact that I am still a good person, even though I am rich. I had Cruella DeVil (that rich villainess from 101 Dalmatians) in my head, along with multiple stereotypes of wealthy women. Now I take full pleasure in having a lot of money. There are such wonderful things to do with it! I figure I have only one life to live now, so why not give boldly? If I don't have any funds to give next year, so what? I draw about $300,000 per year- 4.5% of my assets-and have a lot of fun. I have to remind my money managers to keep me to that percent so I don't get my family too upset. I love philanthropy. It's like sharing with an extended family.

- anonymous author


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