Charly: My wedding ring and Lisa’s bracelet are engraved with our most important values: “Integrity – Courage – Fun – Joy – Passion – Impact.”
Lisa: These values guide our decision-making, whether we’re talking with our two kids, our colleagues, our grantees or our advisors.
Charly: In 1999, I was working as a high tech executive manager in Silicon Valley, and Lisa was working as an architect. We each had investments in several startups, and when those investments became liquid – we were shocked! We had far more money than we ever expected or needed. We never saw ourselves as the sole creators or owners of this wealth, which grew so much from the hard work and talents of others. Rather, we saw ourselves as stewards, in charge of using the wealth wisely for our family and for the wider community.
Lisa: By working with a financial planner, we figured out how much our family needed. This freed us to put 70% of our assets into charitable instruments. Some we are giving now through our family foundation. Other assets we put into charitable remainder trusts, where the money will be given to designated charities after both of us have died.
Charly: Our work now is running the foundation. We fund social entrepreneurs globally with a focus on rural communities. For instance, we co-founded a project in India called Social-Impact. This program trains about 15 entrepreneurs each year helping them to scale social enterprises. Thousands of meaningful jobs have been created through this project and others like it around the world.
Lisa: To amplify our foundation’s impact, we invest its assets in investments aligned with our mission. There is a myth that you have to sacrifice financial return when you do social investing, but it’s simply not true. We select our social investments on the basis of its ability to perform on par with similar investments without a social aspect. Particularly over the last 24 months, we have found that many of our social investments are truly uncorrelated to other asset classes, a highly desirable feature in today’s market. Our foundation was down 17.5% for 2008 compared to 30 –40% for other foundations. We performed in the top 10% when compared to other foundations.
Charly: We leverage our impact by encouraging other investors to do mission-related investing, too. We work with peer groups of investors who are interested in committing millions of dollars to social issues and the environment.
Lisa: People don’t knowingly invest in harmful things; they usually follow the advice of their financial advisors. These advisors have not, historically, focused on social impact as a desired characteristic of a portfolio. It took some work to build the tremendous team of advisors we have now. We began by asking people for recommendations, then researched and interviewed candidates until we found just the right match.
Charly: Of course, the team has changed over the years. We push our advisors to go beyond the norm, to challenge the myths around philanthropy and investing. And we have never been shy about replacing team members if we felt their goals were not aligned with ours.
Lisa: Our children are in their early twenties now. Although they’re not directly involved with the foundation, we believe that their paths have been informed by our experiences with philanthropy. Family trips have been organized around researching sustainable projects in rural and poor communities globally. This helped our children see the world from a much broader perspective. Twice a year we spend a weekend with a family coach, reflecting and building on our values around wealth, careers, and philanthropy. When they were teenagers, they were pretty resistant, but now they really engage in the discussions and look forward to the experience.
Charly: Lisa likes to say that philanthropy beat compassion and patience into me. Philanthropy also made me examine my beliefs and values in a way that I couldn’t when I was working so hard as a high level executive. I can’t imagine a better life than the one I have. If you love what you do, it isn’t work.