Why, when, how and to whom do wealthy people give?
It’s a core question for charitable organizations confronted with an uncertain economic climate while in search of donor dollars. A new video series produced by the nonprofit consulting firm Bridgespan Group offers some answers.
On Tuesday, the firm, which was founded in 2000 by former Bain & Co. chief executive Thomas Tierney, launched “Conversations with Remarkable Givers,” a series of video interviews with some of the nation’s biggest philanthropists, including AOL co-founder Steve Case and his wife Jean, Peter and Jennifer Buffett, media mogul Ted Turner, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein and actor Michael J. Fox. Each of the more than 50 participants was asked a series of questions about their strategy and insights regarding their philanthropic work. The edited video responses range from 30 seconds to four minutes long.
The questions cover a range of topics, with each respondent exploring their own lives, viewpoints and desires in relation to their philanthropy.
There’s the question of when they deem time a better commodity to give than money.
“Very often wealthy people don’t like to ask other people for money,” says Rubenstein of his work raising money on behalf of charitable groups. “So, I have found that’s something that I’m comfortable doing.”
How do they approach their giving when the cause is personal?
“If I hadn’t had Parkinson’s or the diagnosis, I wouldn’t be doing this,” says Fox of his charitable work, “and so that makes me think realistically and honestly, is it self-serving, is it something I’m doing just for me? And the realities of it disabuse me of that notion really quickly.”
Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991 and has since founded The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, goes on to describe a hypothetical day when he’s watching others receive a cure, forgetting that he, himself should get in line too.
“I don’t know if [we’ll] find the answer in time for me,” says Fox. “It’s not about me.”
When do they decide to stamp their name on a cause?
“I’m not looking for any credit or anything,” says Turner regarding when he chooses to put his name on his philanthropic efforts, “virtue is its own reward.”
Turner, who started the United Nations Foundation to help make up for the United States’ being behind in its U.N. dues payments, places his name on organizations that solely give grants from him or his family.
And, of course, what effect does their philanthropic work have on their lives?
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ wife Melinda takes this one on.
“Philanthropy’s had a profound impact on my life and on Bill’s life in a way that I don’t think either of us would have predicted,” she says of the couple’s work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “I certainly didn’t think that we would orient our entire lives around our family and philanthropy, but that is what we have done.”
The Gates foundation is among Bridgespan’s clients, along with Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network. Meanwhile, Bridgespan’s Give Smart initiative was also funded through a $5 million multi-year grant from the Gates Foundation. The Give Smart initiative aims to raise awareness among donors of better giving practices and includes a Web site and book along with other original content. The site, GiveSmart.org, features the roughly 400 video clips — a database that is expected to expand to roughly 1,200 over the next several months.
The series launch occurred on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, which a number of charitable organizations led by the 92nd Street Y are attempting to claim as “Giving Tuesday.” Charitable groups, including Turner’s United Nations Foundation, Bridgespan, The Case Foundation and Microsoft, seek to capture the revenue-generating magic of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” and transform it into donations for nonprofit organizations.
“As far as we know, there is no content like this available anywhere—and while it focuses on the wealthy, most of the insights and lessons are broadly applicable,” said Bridgespan’s Tireney via e-mail Tuesday. “So all those participating in #Giving Tuesday, indeed, all those thinking about their giving this season and beyond, can benefit from the insights and inspiration offered by our interviewees. By drawing attention to ‘giving’ with our videos and on #Giving Tuesday we both recognize and reinforce the public spiritedness that makes America so special—and provides so much value to our communities.”