The Giving Pledge was first announced several years ago as “a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.” At that time, I shared my thoughts about the difference between philanthropy and charity and the tremendous potential impact of directing mega-giving to human service organizations as well as colleges and universities, cultural institutions, and major hospitals and research institutions. Many of the Giving Pledge supporters have indeed directed their generosity toward solving global human rights problems, massive K-12 educational deficits in this and other countries and providing direct service to people in dire need.
In the same span of years, I have also evolved my view on the value of giving which does not expressly serve the needy. I recently had the privilege of meeting with a true lion of philanthropy, one of the earliest signers of the Giving Pledge. Talking with this donor about his hopes and aspirations for one of his favorite causes, one where he is actively involved as a Board member and volunteer fundraiser, I realized that his intent is not just to support a worthy cause; rather, he’s building something meaningful for generations to come.
Philanthropists are people who effect change out of their love for humanity. They endow institutes at colleges and universities because they know that the pursuit of knowledge advances society. They support cultural institutions for their mission as well as their economic impact. They back risky medical research on the faith that thousands of lives may someday be saved.
The ultra-wealthy do not have a monopoly on the good feeling that comes from this kind of giving, however. When schoolchildren mailed in their pennies to restore the Statue of Liberty and when aging veterans sent whatever they could spare to help create the World War II Memorial, they were building something important for our nation. When Millennials text to give $10 to the Red Cross after a natural disaster, they are building hope for victims, bit by bit.
Doing your part is one of the most quintessential American values. If nonprofits can demonstrate to donors – at any level – that their giving can make a lasting difference, our tradition of giving will continue to be a hallmark of American life and a force for great social change in our nation and around the world.