Message in a Bottle: Three Keys to Effective Philanthropy

Message in a Bottle: Three Keys to Effective Philanthropy
(For a soulful season of giving)

by Steven L. Meyers

I like to think about the Three Keys as if it were a forgotten fragment – a message in a bottle – written by a philanthropist long ago. It was sent (floated) by the author in the hope it would be found by the People Who Want to Make a Plan, but too often have come up against the crush of reality. Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans (John Lennon). Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face (Mike Tyson). Whether you are a philanthropist or a fundraiser, the message resonates for people seeking to understand and act on their charitable impulse. This message in a bottle seems relevant all year long, not just at this season of giving.

  1. Give with a warm hand – My friend said it was better to give with a warm hand than a cold one. She meant it, and did it. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase from Warren Buffett, “Giving While Living.” Giving with a warm hand is the Big Idea behind that. It also shapes the Giving Pledge, which has encouraged so many philanthropists to designate at least half of their estates for helping others. So, if you feel charitable, it’s up to you to decide what you want to happen with your gift. Go ahead and make your statement. You do not have to defer or leave this important life-defining decision to someone else.
  2. Give with a warm heart – Besides giving while living, you can give as you live, with passion and a warm heart. Share that. To something meaningful to you. Start now. Aim high. Scale-up and go long. Make a habit of giving. You can achieve much more by combining current with future gifts for something important to you. Most charities will allow you to target or restrict your gift. The really enlightened ones encourage it. You can start with something do-able now and yet grow the impact of your support with each additional gift.
  3. Give with a cool head – Give smart. Not just from your heart. Employ powerful tools and smart advisors who can show you how. It’s possible and even OK to benefit your loved ones and yourself from your giving. Bequests, foundations, charitable trusts, gift annuities, charitable insurance and retirement plans. Especially bequests. Find out about virtual endowments and how to build equity in your endowment. This way, you can create a lasting legacy, but it can begin now.

They say this is how philanthropy used to be done. This is how it will be done in the future.

Steven L. Meyers, Ph.D. is Vice President, Center for Personalized Philanthropy at American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science. He can be reached at