I’ve been hemming and hawing about writing a post regarding the Giving Pledge that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett kicked off this past month. Mainstream media and philanthropy bloggers have been covering the pledge and its various aspects for the past few weeks. If for some reason you’ve missed the news, here’s a few of my favorite pieces here, here, and here – to bring you up to date.
In my opinion, the Giving Pledge really brings philanthropy back to the place that we were at pre-recession. Thinking back to the hey day of 2006, when Buffet pledged his wealth to the Gates Foundation, & we began living in the 2nd golden age of philanthropy. (Arguably, this began earlier, but Buffett really took it to another level.)
With the Giving Pledge, we are back. Donors with wealth, too sizable to really imagine, are committing to giving half of it away. This is meaningful. In speaking with a friend in advertising, this makes the actual act of philanthropy something that folks have to have, have to be a part of. Branding philanthropy, the act itself, is in stark contrast to buying a t-shirt that you have to have – even if the proceeds go to a philanthropic purpose.
The challenge to the Pledge and its impact is that it is still one-sided and small-scale. It addresses the donor-side and a only small percentage of donors.
My first comments to the bloggers posting on this topic were “Great! And what are we going to do with this sudden influx of money?” (“We” being the sector.) I wasn’t overly keen by the simple or non-responses, “The Pledge doesn’t deal with how the money gets dispersed.” Right, I understand that, but that’s not good enough. That is only half of the answer.
It’s only been in the past few weeks that folks have started answering the questions on my mind:
Hey, philanthropy are we going to make sure we’re ready for an influx of cash? Are the non-profits going to be ready? Is the money going to be given effectively? Or in ten years, are we going to say – where’d it all go? What actually changed? What did we solve?
In my mind, these questions are the ones that complete the circle. We’ve asked the donors for their accountability, or at least for a Pledge. Now, what Pledge are we asking from the sector?
Boldly, I think we’re asking for systems changes – or moving more rapidly in areas that are currently in development (i.e. evaluation, collaboration, impact, social enterprise). If we are going to have big money, something we keep saying we want, what exactly are we going to do with it?
And that brings me to my final thoughts…us. Does this even have applicability for folks like us? Absolutely. I don’t have a billion dollars, not even close – so you can imagine the look my finance husband gave me when I said, “what if we gave a half of it away?” And more realistically, “What if we were giving 1% away per year?” (Written about here.)
Is that a latte a week? A Coach handbag? A two week vacation? A plasma TV? A new RV?
As a Partner in SVP Calgary, you are already taking a step. I challenge you to take it further. What would an individual Pledge mean for how you live your life? What would it mean for how you engage in your community?
Ask this question at your next dinner table, what would it take to give half of your wealth away? More interestingly, where can you be involved to see that your wealth is distributed in a meaningful way? Or are you just going to throw it up in the air and hope it lands somewhere good?