September 19th, 2013
In 2007, at 20 years old, I got my first job as an engineer. When I opened the offer letter from Google, I realized that my starting salary of over $100,000 would be more than anyone I’d ever been close to had made. I knew for sure that I didn’t want to structure my life around that salary, because then I would come to expect that lifestyle. I wanted to do something good with the money I didn’t need to live off of, but I wasn’t sure what.
I started giving in my first year at Google. They offered to match up to $3,000 in gifts and I wanted to take advantage of that. It was a little overwhelming to figure out where to give. I wanted to support progressive causes in the United States that would be transformative, rather than just address basic needs. I also wanted to give internationally because the US economy is based on taking disproportionate resources from the rest of the world. I wanted to give something back. I’m also passionate about addressing violence against women. But I really didn’t know how to translate those interests into particular organizations to give to, so I just started doing my own research and asking friends for ideas. The book “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded” had a profound influence on my understanding of the non-profit world.
No matter how much I give away, the amount I earn creates a power difference between most everyone I am close to and me. I had started to feel really isolated in dealing with money and giving when I found the organization Resource Generation. Getting to know other young people with wealth was a big shift in my life. Being able to talk with others who also feel like they have more than they need helped me get unblocked. I created a giving plan, and have been increasing my giving every year since then. I was so moved by the change that being a part of Resource Generation made in my life that I have become a volunteer leader with them - organizing other young people with wealth to join us and to do great things with their giving. I never have imagined myself being this type of leader…I’m an engineer!
Through a friend at Resource Generation, I learned about Social Justice Fund Northwest. Their model of shared decision making among donors and activists felt like a good fit for me. I have come to think of myself as the steward of most of my money. Sure, a certain percentage of what I earn is directly linked to my hard work. But beyond that, I think that the large salary I get is the result of my white male privilege, and a history of the oppression of many people and their resources. I immediately resonated with SJF’s decision-making model as part of healing from that oppression.
In 2010, I joined the first SJF Giving Project – a cross class group of people who come together to fund organizing in the Northwest. We pool our money, fundraise to increase that amount, and then make grantmaking decisions together. Each of us contributed a stretch gift, and I found so much satisfaction in the joy that comes from asking myself to give more than feels initially comfortable. The amount isn’t necessarily what feels good - being willing to push through the emotional hesitancy of a stretch feels really significant. The project was such a success that we have created new giving circles each year, and I spend a lot of time helping and encouraging people to join one.
My salary has continued to climb every year, and yet I live on $36,000 and feel like I live a very, very comfortable life. I take my resources seriously. I save $16,000 every year, and give away about 40% of my income. I give a third of that money through Social Justice Fund Northwest and a third through Grassroots International. The final third goes to a list of organizations that either support my passions or are groups my friends or family ask me to support.
Early on in my time at Google, I asked my mom Nance if I could pay her back for my college tuition, or if she’d rather give away money with me. She picked giving, and so we made a plan to give away $5,000 a year together for 5 years. That level of giving was new to her – and to me! When I began fundraising for the giving circle at Social Justice Fund Northwest, my other mom Suz was the first person who contributed. When I consider why I am so clear that I really only need modest resources to be happy, I know that it’s about the way I was raised. My moms offered me unconditional love, and so I learned that I don’t need money to fill that need. They also showed me that I could live comfortably with modest resources – I never had a feeling of scarcity.
I think a lot about money. I could be taking a very different path. I could decide that I want to get rich, and I’d probably be good at that. But so many people are trying to get rich – not nearly as many people are using money to create change in the world! So the opportunities are huge. There’s so much to be done. Recently, I switched jobs at Google. I’m now the engineer for the Corporate Social Responsibility Team. We’re just getting started, but I’ve already led workshops on making a giving plan, and I believe we can build a really strong culture of giving at Google. I know that this opportunity wouldn’t have been available to me if I hadn’t plunged in and started giving boldly.