Bolder Giving - Give More, Risk more, Inspire more
Nick Beckstead and Mark Lee

| Northeast | 40 to 59 Years Old | Under $1M | at least 50% | Profession | Joy |

Comments (6)

Posted on April 4th by Molly Stranahan

Mark, I totally endorse your hope, and appreciate the ongoing dialogue.
Anne, I really enjoyed reading the stories you steered us toward, thank you for making those connections.
Bolder Giving is a great place to go for inspiration and thoughtful 'conversation'!

Posted on April 4th by Mark

Thanks, Molly.
You are right - I would be myopic to just take my paycheck and subsequent donations as a measure of my impact. (Corporate litigation is perhaps an area that risks causing harm, and I'm inclined towards safer sub-fields.) I must remain alert to the broader consequences of my philanthropic pursuits. My aim is to help others as much as I can, and giving is just one dimension to consider.
Another is inspiration. You raise the important point that impact extends beyond individual contribution. Indeed, my 50-90% giving (depending on how much I earn - I won't adjust my standard of living up whenever I get a raise) will be relatively insignificant if I inspire others to give boldly. Perhaps your own resonating story and generosity strategy have had positive effects surpassing even that of your very significant giving.
I hope that by sharing our stories and messages, we can all contribute to promoting a culture of compassion and beneficence.

Posted on April 4th by Anne Ellinger

Love this dialogue! Just the kind of exchange we wish to see on the site.
Mark and Molly -- you both might enjoy reading the stories from two lawyers who are Bolder Giving stories:
Bob Hadley:
Brad Seligman:
I'm also reminded of Phil Villers:
Phil told us that many of his colleagues who went into business with the intention of doing good with their money gradually lost their conviction as they were drawn into the business world. Sounds like Molly's concerned the same thing could happen to you, Mark, and that you're determined it won't. Not only that, but you aim to help other lawyers hold onto their moral convictions as well. That sure would be great!
P.S. Phil's longer story is in our book We Gave Away A Fortune,

Posted on April 3rd by Molly Stranahan

Mark, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I certainly know many lawyers who are not fulfilling their hopes and ideals for improving the world, whether they were originally drawn to use the law to help the underserved, or to change laws to better achieve the future they want to see. The field would certainly be served by someone who hangs onto his or her ideals and finds ways to live them while earning an impressive salary.
I am, however, reminded of the dilemma of foundations and individuals who ignore the impact of the companies their funds are invested in, saying that they just want to maximize their returns so that they can maximize their giving. Sometimes they earn their money by investing in a company whose practices are exacerbating the very problems they are trying to ameliorate with their giving.
I think of a good-hearted friend who wound up working at a law firm in Washington that lobbies Congress on behalf of big corporations (tobacco companies and companies wanting to gain ownership of water rights). Her work was directly opposed to her values. While she ultimately left that job, she has not been able to find work as a lawyer that uses her time to express her values AND supports her financially.
I think it is important to think about how we trade our life energy (including our time and skills) for money. I hope that if you work as an attorney, you will be as happy and fulfilled as a person as you would be as a philosophy professor.
Personally, and this is as a person who has been able to give away several hundred thousand dollars, and who has been involved in foundations that have given away millions of dollars, I think how we live our lives is what is most important. I believe making our everyday life choices in alignment with the values that are most important to us is the most impactful thing we can do to make the world a better place. And of course that means giving money to alleviate suffering.
Don't underestimate the impact your presence through Bolder Giving has had on others. (By the way, I am more impressed by you and Nick giving 10% of your current earnings as graduate students than by the pledge of 50% of future earnings.) As thoughtful spokespersons for Giving What We Can you are having a lot of influence, it just won't be very measurable to you.
Thank you, Mark and Nick, for being the thoughtful, inspiring people you are.

Posted on March 31st by Mark

Thank you, Molly. Indeed, my desire to make a difference motivated me to switch career paths, and I agree, it may not be obvious how law better satisfies this desire than philosophy. After all, teaching philosophy courses to students - helping them to think critically and independently - can have immense value, and teaching ethics courses in particular can help students think about how to live well and rightly. The ripples of this influence may extend far. In fact, my own giving was influenced by the philosopher Peter Singer.
But there are also considerations in favor of a career in law. I'll just mention two here, to keep my post short-ish, but I'm happy to discuss others.
There is first of all the greater ability to donate that a law career affords - the starting salary at top firms roughly doubles the peak salary of most professors. Given the awesome power of effective giving to transform lives, this is no negligible factor.
There's the example of the highly-paid individual who volunteers at the homeless shelter / soup kitchen / etc. each weekend, but who could have done even more good by instead working just a few hours more at her regular job and donating the proceeds to the shelter (or [name favorite charity here]). There is nothing wrong with her working at the shelter - indeed it is highly laudable, may be more heart-warming and rewarding than writing a check (being able to directly help and see the people helped), and in any case does not exclude donating. Also, people sometimes have negative associations with writing checks, thinking it impersonal and amounting to 'throwing money at problems'. Nonetheless, considering for the moment just the helping of the homeless (which is her primary motivation), writing the check can have a much larger impact, and that's one strong consideration in its favor. I think this is an important insight, and I've chosen to make earning and giving a more central part of my strategy for helping others. Many people think of cutting back on expenditures to have more to give, but fewer think of earning more to have more to give; I think both are good ideas.
Second, setting an example in law as a professional donor can inspire others - there are few well-known precedents for my path. In addition to being around more affluent colleagues to share my passion for giving with, there's the fact that a lot of young people enter law school with high hopes and ideals, and really want to make a difference, but somewhat lose sight of that as the rat race continues. It would be great to have a group of like-minded friends continuing to support each other in keeping that flame alive. This is the motivation behind the openness and publicity of Giving What We Can - setting an example, showing that giving significantly and effectively can be done, and supporting each other at every step.
Hope that clarifies things somewhat.
All best,

Posted on March 25th by Molly Stranahan

Thank you, Nick, Mark and Anne, for your inspirational call yesterday.
Mark, I believe you said you have decided to leave your program in philosophy to go to law school (congratulations on being accepted at Harvard!). I think you said that a desire to make a difference is part of what motivated this decision, but as I was telling my husband about the call, I realized I don't understand what made you choose law. Do you have an idea of how a law degree will help you achieve your life goals?
With gratitude,