The Philanthropist’s Field Guide
how to be a maximally-effective agent of change
What can you as an individual or foundation of great wealth do to help reunite our classes? What is the future of effective philanthropy? If you truly desire to catalyze maximum impact for good, how should you approach it?
Here’s a quick list of ideas and guidelines, to be approached humbly and with serious commitment:
- Own your perspective and its limits!
You don’t know what the people know just as much as we don’t know what you know. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but something to be honest about. You folks tend to meet in penthouses. We meet in basements. You convene at summits, retreats, and in conference halls. We gather in the streets. From the penthouse we look like ants, and from the street you look like vultures. Neither is true. From the penthouse our struggles look like a chess match, and from the street it looks like carnage. Both are true. Let’s meet in the middle.
- Give us a break with your zen!
Many of you present yourselves in public as admirably balanced, emotionally-speaking, thanks to devout practices in yoga, meditation, personal time, and a whole bunch of such endeavors that the rest of us don’t seem to be able to find the time or money for. But your calmness and self-confidence don’t necessarily equal correctness or fitness for the work that is needed. Be mindful that people on the frontlines aren’t just visiting the carnage to bear witness to atrocity and lend a hand. They’re living it, breathing it, they were raised in it, and they’ll possibly have their already hampered lives shortened a decade or two by it. Don’t expect them to tone down their urgency to meet your centeredness. But they do know what exactly is happening, what needs to change, and how badly, better than you possibly can, and they do need your help.
- Prioritize system change!
I commend the philanthropic impulses that lead you to react to the ills you see in the world, but philanthropic impulses today are too often band-aids to treat symptoms of a greater condition, and they do not address the fundamental dysfunctions of our systems. Yes, continue to provide aid to those struggling here and now, but also direct a significant percentage of your giving to the long-term by seeking to reform the structure of our society. Just like a parent preparing a child for the world, philanthropy’s overarching purpose should be to eventually become obsolete, to help create a world that doesn’t need philanthropists. First and foremost, this means affording every human being the freedom to pursue happiness and contribute to the commonwealth. It certainly means putting significant support behind UBI and universal healthcare, for example!
NOTE: If you want guidance in how to support the fight for UBI, feel free to reach out to me, and I’ll be happy to advise.
- Spend it down!
As a friend of mine likes to say, “Put that money out of its misery!” Get it out of your hands! Don’t look to extend or grow your philanthropic foundation indefinitely. Explore how quickly and impactfully you can spend it down or phase it out of necessity. Every philanthropy should have as its ultimate objective to make itself obsolete and unnecessary. So make your splash a tsunami. And do it now so that you get to watch the change happen and experience that profound joy of being a cause.
- Set your limit!
Ok, here’s a controversial suggestion for the radically motivated among you: pick a personal wealth target, a cap if you will, and get yourself and keep yourself under it. Draw a line in the sand. I don’t care if it’s 10 million or a hundred million for you, just pick something and get under it and keep yourself there until the person in last place is doing ok. As long as anyone has nothing, having a billion dollars has to be embarrassing to you. Find ways to give back faster than you accumulate.
NOTE: Again, write to me if you need guidance in finding an effective and impactful way to fulfill a daunting Giving Pledge. If you’re ultra-wealthy, it’s an almost impossible task, but a UBI model could be a way to spend down a fortune effectively without having to create and run a bureaucracy the size of a national government. There are enormous and groundbreaking possibilities here.
- Give up control!
When it comes to what you support and how you support it, trust the experts and the people living the realities on the front line! If a movement is a car, and you’re passionate enough to want to be part of the journey, then gas that thing up and hop in the back seat! Don’t try to drive or even to navigate. Remember that you’re not the only smart person in the room and that you certainly don’t know anywhere as much as the people in the trenches. Listen!
- Give yourself a promotion!
Basically, look to take yourself out of the equation in the long term. It’ll be hard to do, because it’ll feel at first like you’re willfully choosing to matter less when you cede some control, when you give over power to the people, but it is necessary. And know that if you don’t give it up willingly, it will eventually be taken, whether it’s taken from you or from your great great grandchildren, because humanity will eventually rise. You can choose to be a proactive agent of that change, however, and if you do, you will have truly made the greatest impact. Even if by today’s warped measures of importance (e.g. total assets) your status will seem to decline, you will be one of the leaders who made the future possible, and we will owe you a far greater debt than dollars. Remember that this is not a demotion from God to human being. It’s a promotion from false idol to human being. Claim your position. You deserve it.
Want to read more? Here’s a handy list of links to all my Medium pieces on basic income.