April 28th, 2011
April 28th, 2011
When I was 44, I could have received a substantial inheritance. Instead, I persuaded my dad to change his estate plans so nearly all the money went directly into a charitable foundation. In the years before and after my father’s death I’ve enjoyed the challenge and satisfaction of seeing that money support positive change in the world.
It took several years of conversation and some excellent lawyers to convince my father that this was an acceptable choice for his hard-earned money. Dad was a successful Washington lawyer and smart stock investor whose beliefs about money had been painfully shaped by the Depression and World War II: no amount of money could ever be too much for the protection of his family from potential disasters.
My brother and I felt differently. The two of us — as well our children — already had more-than-ample trust funds from my parents. Maybe we felt secure because we were shaped by a different era. I was certainly shaped by my work as an anti-war activist, then as a river rafting guide and environmental activist. I had my introduction to philanthropy through an inherited wealth support group at a progressive community foundation. I knew that my family and I already had enough, and I knew what that additional money could do in the world.
In the end, what mostly convinced my dad to go along with leaving the estate to our foundations (I had set up the Appleton Foundation and my brother had his own fund) was the approximately 50% inheritance tax in effect at that time.
I wanted help to wisely distribute all that money. So I invited several local activists to serve with me on the Board, choosing them for their intelligence, integrity, and experience in the areas I wanted to fund. I staffed the foundation for the first few years, and then hired a smart and committed Foundation Manager for ten hours a week – much better! . Now the only solo decision I make is how our annual grantmaking money gets split among the three funding areas. Beyond that, the five of us make all funding and investment decisions together, each bringing a docket of projects to the table. Around 2002, at my initiative we made the decision to distribute all the foundation’s money over a period of 18 years, giving much more than the required 5% per year payout. We felt that the need for our funding was now, rather than in some distant future.
In collaboration with the Fund For Nonviolence, Appleton supports nonviolent social justice movements in the US and in Latin America. Our other main funding interest — and the area of my own greatest involvement – is turning back the efforts to genetically modify humanity. For the past eleven years we have been the primary donor for the Center for Genetics and Society, which leads the campaign to ensure that we have a truly human future, without human cloning or genetically engineered “designer babies.” CGS and its partners also work on connected issues such as patents on human genes, commercial trafficking in women’s eggs, practices that exploit poor women who serve as surrogates in developing countries, privacy concerns about fast-growing DNA databases, and animal cloning, all from a perspective that is progressive, pro-choice, and supportive of responsible science. CGS and its partners also sponsor The Tarrytown Meeting each July near New York, which brings together activists, academics and funders from around the country and the world on these issues.
Some people shy away from being a group’s primary funder or think they “shouldn’t” fund an organization for more than a few years. But to me it’s been an honor to be involved since the very beginning in something so important, under-noticed, and under-funded. Appleton has enabled thoughtful, smart, concerned people to do great work and begin to build a movement on an issue I believe is of huge importance. To start tinkering with humanity on a genetic level, to imagine we could engineer people (and the rest of nature!) to be better than they are now, is pure hubris and insanity.
I love running, walking, and swimming in the fields and forests and rivers and oceans of the earth, and enjoying the beauty of my fellow human and animal and plant creatures (I’m a slightly fanatic birder). I hope I have passed on these appreciations to my now teen-age kids. I think current generations are very lucky to have the gift of human hearts and minds and bodies that haven’t been genetically tampered with, and future generations deserve the same.
Posted on April 28th by Barb Oakes
After I shared the quote I saw painted on a building at a Heifer project in the 9th ward in New Orleans, I googled it and found:
If you give me a fish, you have fed me for a day. If you teach me to fish, then you have fed me until the river is contaminated or the shoreline seized for development. But if you teach me how to organize, then whatever the challenge I can join together with my peers and we will fashion our own solution.
- Ricardo Levins Morales, labor artist
This really expresses how the community development aspect of Heifer International works. www.heifer.org