I got started young in philanthropy and service. I was seven when I organized my first fundraiser, a lemonade stand with neighborhood kids. My parents, who required all of us children to contribute 10% of our allowances to charity, were very philanthropic. Towards the end of her life, mom gave away about 50% of her income to health care causes.
At 24, I was ordained a priest, seeking to "help" others as well as to distinguish myself from my father who was a business man. I served in parishes in the U.S. and abroad. Wanting to have more of an impact, I went to work first as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill, then entered law school, and after graduating represented poor people in civil cases (housing, health care access, domestic violence, public benefits, legislative advocacy).
With money from my family, I helped start a foundation focused on economic development and educational projects in West Africa. All funding decisions were made by local leaders. I joined several foundation boards, including the Fund for Southern Communities, The Lesbian and Gay Liberation Fund, an AIDS service organization, and served on the advisory board of a non-governmental organization providing health care advocacy and medical care for people in the Middle East.
I always lived comfortably. Then, inspired by a fellow philanthropist who lived on her earnings and donated all her income from an inheritance, I resolved to further simplify my life and give more away. I "downsized" and eventually answered a call to the monastic life. At age 55, I have given away a total of about $1.25 million -- most of what was left of my discretionary assets, although I still have a modest income from a family trust.
Inheriting money gives you a lot of freedom, but giving it away is what really makes you free.