The Giving Pledge and Local Philanthropy

Monument 2Posted by Elizabeth Murphy.

Today’s guest post comes to you from Elizabeth Murphy, president of Leadership Fairfax.

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership in effective philanthropy in this fast-changing world. Who is showing us the way in terms of personal giving?

In the DC area, we don’t have to look far to find philanthropist David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group. He has done tremendous and effective giving in our area – notable examples include the National Archives, the Kennedy Center (he funded the new organ in the Concert Hall and an expansion to the building), the National Park Service for the restoration of the Washington Monument after the earthquake, and to the Smithsonian. I’m impressed by the specificity of his gifts, and by his quick and enthusiastic nature – he clearly loves giving his money away, and I love hearing what his latest project is going to be. The institutions that have been the recipient of his largess are surely fortunate, and, no doubt, there are hundreds more waiting for his return phone call.

Mr. Rubenstein is one of the signers of The Giving Pledge, an effort started by billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates where wealthy individuals pledge to give away a certain amount of their wealth to charitable endeavors. Right now, there are 114 billionaires who have signed the pledge. It’s a remarkable idea, and one that is more remarkable for who isn’t on the list. Check it out here – http://givingpledge.org/

So where are the rest? What would inspire others to give fortunes away? As someone who never expects to be in this position, I wonder how much money is so much that you can donate vast quantities, millions at a time, with delight.

At this point, I have to stop and say – I’m caught up in the amount of Mr. Rubenstein’s gifts, which are overwhelming. Can truly effective philanthropy work on a smaller scale? Of course it can, but it looks different. The majority of us need to remember that our impact is felt, not through a huge contribution to an organization, but through consistent support of a non-profit that means something to us. Are you moved by stories of homeless families who work with a great non-profit to find housing? Do you support your faith community? Are you an arts lover? My advice is: follow the example of Mr. Rubenstein and others who are part of the Giving Pledge. Enjoy giving your money away to those causes that speak to your heart, even if it’s only $100 instead of $1,000,000. Give happily and enthusiastically. Don’t think that only grand gestures make a difference – without consistent smaller donors, many organizations couldn’t do what they need to do to fulfill their mission.

And hats off to those billionaires who have taken the pledge – they are leaving a legacy of philanthropy that will inspire us for a long time to come.

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