October 20th, 2011
September 18th, 2014
Giving 100% and More...
October 20th, 2011
Deciding to give it all was easy. I was an early partner in RSVP, the first tour company to give gay and lesbian people a spectacular and harassment-free vacation. After 16 years in the business I sold my share to one of the partners. The very day I knew the sale would go through, I went to my husband Mark and said, “Look. We could keep it all and never have to work again. We could keep half and work for 5 more years. Or we could give it all, and keep working for 15 years ‘til retirement.” Without skipping a beat he said, “Let’s give it all. It’s the right thing to do.”
And so we did. Our bank is in the same building as The Minneapolis Foundation. The moment we received the check, Mark and I – along with my mother! – rode up to the 8th floor to establish a donor advised fund. In addition, we gave money to two long-term employees and started a micro-loan program in Cuenca, Ecuador. The giving together added up to 60% of our net worth.
Why was my mother along? She and my dad were my philanthropic inspiration. I was raised a Reorganized Latter Day Saint, where 10% tithing was a fundamental part of life. On Thanksgiving and Christmas we served meals to mentally handicapped people. Mom started the Minneapolis chapter of Amnesty International, and helped to successfully lobby Amnesty to defend the rights of gay and lesbian people world-wide.
We named our donor advised fund the Mark and Charlie Gay Lesbian Fund for Moral Values. No joke! No matter what we give to, we want it clear that this is gay money. Our funding priorities are economic development in local communities of color and international human rights. We’re energized by the goal of giving the entire amount within 15 years. That’s our 15-15-15 life plan:
- 15 years to pay off our house,
- 15 years before retirement,
- 15 years to spend down the fund.
Certainly some other causes need endowed funds – but our aim is that 100 years from now, special funding for gay rights won’t even be needed! We’re set up for impact, not longevity. The time to give is now.
Being funders gives us special leverage to push the boundaries of narrow thinking. For example, my parents loved volunteering at “The Cookie Cart,” a program that teaches work, life and leadership skills to young people in North Minneapolis. Mark and I got involved as funders in their annual event, which included publicizing all the backers, but the local radio station refused to name our fund. Finally a couple of local power-brokers called the owner of the station and said, “Get over it.” That did it!
Now The Cookie Cart is running a capital campaign, and we’ve put up a $25k matching grant with the condition that the other $25k needs to be contributed by the GLBT community. That’s my driving mission these days: to help gay and lesbian people step up and become visible as givers, both to GLBT causes and to the wider community. The current statistics are abominable. Fewer than 5% of gays and lesbians even give to national GLBT organizations, and quantifying what our community gives to mainstream organizations is near impossible. Many gays and lesbians have been isolated from the places where most people give: communities of faith, children’s schools and organizations (scouts, band, etc.) A group of us are strategizing about starting something like a gay and lesbian United Way or a gay-oriented, multi-issue online giving platform, so the GLBT community can step up and be known as the generous people we really are.
Five years ago I started a new travel consultancy, Forward Motion Travel. Imagine a cruise ship with 2,000 passengers who get to meet real people in the villages of Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras. These travelers can actually witness global issues such as clean water, micro-finance and fair trade. An average ship has about 1,000 staff, most from the Global South. Instead of cleaning passengers’ rooms twice a day, how about cleaning every other day and using that extra staff time to foster genuine conversations between the workers and guests about life back home and what’s needed to bring dignity and prosperity to their villages? And these travel experiences can be offered at prices that allow people from across the economic spectrum to participate.
Now that my work life is confluent with my philanthropic life, I can’t wait to go to work!