Danaher co-founder Mitchell Rales speaks at a ceremony last week on the Potomac site where he plans to build a museum for his collection of modern art. Behind him is a sculpture by Jeff Koons that contains 27,000 plants. (Bonnie Jo Mount/WASHINGTON POST)

What would you do if you had a whole pile of money?

I hear that question a lot whenever the Powerball jackpot grows big. Like a lot of suckers, that’s when I buy my ticket. Who needs one of those run-of-the-mill million-dollar payoffs when a true, IRS-defying, change-my-life score awaits?

I could pay off debts. Buy my mom a house on the beach. Travel. Give some away.

Lately, I’ve begun to realize I think too small.

Take last week, for example. There was Mitchell Rales, the multi-billionaire co-founder of Danaher, the Washington-based manufacturing conglomerate, talking up plans for a new, private museum in Potomac to house his extraordinary collection of modern art.

Rothko. Alexander. Calder. Willem de Kooning. Jackson Pollock. Henri Matisse.

Some say the temple could top $125 million.

Or consider the subject of this week’s cover story: David M. Rubenstein, co-founder of Carlyle Group. He’s dropping big bucks on many of the region’s true landmarks.

The Washington Monument. Mount Vernon. Monticello. The National Zoo’s pandas.

He owns a copy of the Magna Carta!

I once sat with Microsoft’s Bill Gates as he described in a methodical, analytical way how he planned to use his vast wealth to rid the Earth of certain infectious diseases.

The audaciousness of it all.

Discovery Communications founder John Hendricks is not nearly in their league; he’s merely rich. But still he saw fit to plunk down millions on ranches and tracts in Red Rock Canyon country southwest of Grand Junction, Colo., placing more than 4,000 acres in permanent conservation easement. He eventually went on to develop a resort for others to enjoy.

It is probably no coincidence that such expenditures come from people who figured out how to scale corporate heights many of us find hard to imagine.

What should you do if you had a pile of cash?

I like the line often attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”