When I was quite young, my father found $100 by a roadside. He brought the money home. Over dinner he asked the family, “How should we give it away?” I’ve been tremendously fortunate to grow up with inherited wealth in a philanthropic family, and I’ve been on a journey to give a substantial portion away. Serving on the adjunct board of the family foundation that my grandfather founded in 1959 helped me learn about the nonprofit world and giving away resources strategically. It was my sister, however, who inspired me to give more than 50% of my income to nonprofits, political candidates and people who can benefit. She shaped my philanthropic purpose, forever changing my life. With the Rocky Mountains as my backyard, I’ve observed the degradation of the planet’s ecological systems that make life possible. This decline drives me to protect the integrity of those systems as the universal number one priority. Three statements encapsulate my thinking:
- How we source and use energy will determine whether humans remain a viable species.
- Work on the environment comes first. Anything else is like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
- If we don’t control human overpopulation, we ultimately won’t control climate change, and if we don’t control climate change, human overpopulation will be controlled.
Environmental problems require unique attention in public policy-making, as developing the needed long-term solutions comes with great challenges. Think of protecting the environment like a lawsuit. If you don’t show up in court, you lose by default. Money directs today’s policies. Treating corporations like individuals perpetuates a broken political system where environmental advocates are continually outspent. There is a lot of misinformation being fed to the public, especially around climate change, to retard action that is sorely needed. “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it,” said Robert Swan, OBE (Order of the British Empire). The urgency and importance are immediate. If not now, when? If not us, who?
The more we rely on an oil-based economy, the more we exacerbate global warming. You can have an energy focus and still diversify your investment portfolio, which is why I’m heartened by the Divest/Reinvest campaign - divesting investments in fossil fuel companies and investing in energy efficiency and renewables. First, consume less, and then accelerate energy production from renewable and alternative sources. I’m on a personal mission to expand socially responsible investing, searching for the like-minded to set up donor advised funds to work together in our community through environmental affinity groups and population affinity groups, and positioning foundations to align their investments with their values in grantmaking.
In 2004, I founded the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado to get leaders in the non-profit, business, government and education sectors to work together to develop and implement sustainable solutions. The goals are to encourage collaboration, increase efficiency and effectiveness, and minimize duplication. The Alliance provides connective links across organizations, overcoming roadblocks through policy change and public education for an environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically prosperous future. The physical manifestation of this ideal is the Alliance’s Alliance Center, a Multi-Tenant Nonprofit Center, which provides office and meeting space for progressive non-profits. The building co-locates groups that address some aspect of sustainability and provides a place to envision, work and collaborate.
The most joyful experience of bold giving is supporting and empowering people, keeping what’s essential and giving the rest away - living simply so others may simply live. Along with being born with financial resources comes the responsibility to use them to help others. My grandfather’s legacy was to invest in people: find those with innovative ideas, give them financial support, and help enact their visions.
Just as my sister encouraged me, I encourage others not to wait, to give boldly now, while they’re alive and can enjoy the results of their giving. Our problems are here current, and we should be shoveling our funds into the engines of change. I don’t have the key to unlock “what needs to be funded”. Each person needs to find his/her own key, recognizing what’s important, and boldly deploying their resources.
I don’t care about my legacy. My financial resources were brilliantly earned by others and simply transferred to me. I take no credit for that. In fact, I routinely request anonymity - unless there’s some value to an organization in having a name associated with a contribution. Immortality doesn’t come with one’s name on a building; rather it comes through the example we set and the positive influence we have on others.
What I care about is how we treat each other. I remember a time in the 80’s when I picked up a couple who were hitch-hiking. Their possessions had been stolen by someone who had given them an earlier ride. The wife had a severe toothache, so I arranged free treatment with my dentist. She demurred. She wanted to push homeward, several states away. Forever influenced by my father’s family exercise with the found money, I stuck a $100 bill into their remaining travel bag for them to find on their journey - and for me to come full circle.