Growing up, I was taught to give Tzedakah, which means giving for justice (not charity). My family always had a little blue box for the United Jewish Appeal on the table. So when I inherited millions in 1995, I knew right away I would give most of it away, even though I was living on $12,000 a year.
When I first inherited wealth, I didn't want anyone to know I was rich. I thought I hated rich people. But I soon joined the Threshold Foundation, met progressive rich people, and realized there are kind and compassionate rich people. I gained a lot from peer mentorship. It was Personal Growth with Money 101.
I became open about my money in order to encourage others to give generously. I'm still uncomfortable talking with people where I live about my wealth. People look at you differently if you're wealthy; they think you don't have any problems. But in almost every wealthy family I know, the money was amassed at great emotional cost, such as an absent workaholic father.
I’ve been moved to be actively involved with projects and people I passionately believe in. For years I had been appalled by sweatshop conditions. So I donated to the Maine Clean Clothes Alliance. I helped them in other ways: holding a fundraising house party, and spoke at hearings at the state house to help pass key legislation changing how Maine did business with certain companies.
When I learned about how far genetic engineering is tinkering with the food we eat, I was horrified. I’ve funded the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to do public education.
I’ve also given to individuals. It is not always easy to give money to friends without embarrassing them. I gave several three-year grants of $10,000 to artist friends. Recently I helped an Iraqi man get his family out of Iraq.
Although my budget is now tight, my greatest joy has been to give money to many organizations and people during the last 12 years. I still feel blessed to have more freedom of choice and ability to do giving than most people in the world.