My father's life resembled a Horatio Alger story....from rags to riches. He was a modest farm boy who put himself through college during the depression. Through perseverance and hard work, he managed to amass a billion dollar fortune in his lifetime. However, his financial success came at a great cost. Workaholism always takes its toll on the rest of the family members. I have been attempting to make these sacrifices meaningful by using them to try and make the world a better place.
My inheritance came about 13 years ago after my father's death. I have never had the feeling that this was "my" money. I did not earn it; my father did. My philanthropy is a way to make all of his hard work significant. I know that he would be proud of the lives that he has touched. I have always felt that I am simply a conduit for his money to be used for the good of humanity. Since receiving the inheritance I have been giving at least 60% of my personal annual net income to not-for-profit causes. Last year I gave 90%.
The first grant that I made when I got my inheritance was a million dollar donation to our local land trust. My personal giving has become concentrated in the areas of peace, social justice, the environment, election reform, and politics. Our family foundation focuses on the areas of education, environment and quality media.
The world is hurting right now....preemptive wars, global warming, water shortages, poverty, and political and corporate corruption. I feel a sense of great urgency. How can one hoard their resources in such dire times? I am a grandmother and would like to feel that there will be a planet left for at least seven more generations. In order to sustain the earth, we need to recycle, recycle, recycle; we need to recycle monetary wealth as well.
It has definitely been my experience that givers gain and takers lose. Generosity seems to beget generosity. I don't necessarily get repaid by the people I've helped, but I always get paid back in a meaningful way: friendship, loyalty, respect, or simply a feeling of being connected to the world. The ultimate payback for me would be to be able to look back at the end of my life and see that I've actually made an effort to make a positive difference in the world... and that just maybe my life mattered.