Where the “Billionaire Giving Pledge” Meets the Rest of Us

by Stephanie Risa Stein

By now, I am sure you have heard about the Giving Pledge. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, along with 38 other billionaires, have set a remarkable example for mankind. Making a commitment to donate half of their fortunes to charity is more than admirable, and beautifully exemplifies what positive things people can do for the world with their hard-earned money.

Many of the wealthy elite who have taken the pledge have been active in philanthropy long before this, and rightly so. Because of their financial success, these billionaire families have a unique opportunity, some would say even an obligation and responsibility, to give back to their communities and help those less fortunate. But what about the rest of us? I am sure there are individuals who, upon hearing about the Giving Pledge, figure the world’s pressing issues are now being taken care of by the rich and therefore, they are absolved of responsibility. Surely this is not the case.

This exciting and unprecedented initiative begs the question, can the Giving Pledge be translated to the masses? Charitable giving is a basic value for everyone, not only for the wealthy. But how can ordinary people involve themselves in a meaningful way? Since most people are not billionaires or even millionaires, for that matter, how can we, as a society, follow the Giving Pledge within the framework of what we can afford?

Think micro, not macro, and embrace the small donations. Even what may seem like a minimal gift to one person may be a significant percentage of income for someone else. No matter how large or small the donation, if it is put to good use by a nonprofit organization, important things can be accomplished. Even a small contribution can make a big impact on someone in need. Our mantra at Philanthropic Capital Advisors is, “You always get more than you give.” Research shows that making a donation of even just $1, volunteering your time or simply doing a good deed that touches another person’s life in a positive way, can be as beneficial to your heart and soul as it is for the actual recipient. The simple act of giving, whether of money or time, is in itself a rewarding experience.

“We do not have to be super rich to participate in philanthropy,” says Eli Shaharabany, an expert in global fundraising and family foundation management. “Today, with the interconnectedness of the world through the Internet and technology, every dollar is part of a bigger campaign and each person can make a tremendous difference.” The fundraising efforts in response to the tragedies in Haiti and Chile earlier this year showcased the potential of “e-giving”, with its use of text messaging, YouTube videos and Facebook applications. These modern innovations are a powerful way to rally donors wherever they are, as well as to reach a growing number of younger givers, who have less dispensable income but who are just as passionate.

The power of the collective was also on display after the earthquake in Haiti when the entire world joined in to help – through donations, humanitarian aid and efforts on the ground. The dramatic outpouring of support from across the globe was truly inspiring. People from all walks of life – musicians, teachers, CEO’s, farmers, actors, union workers, you name it – all felt part of a global campaign regardless of whether they donated $1 or $100,000 or $1 million. Jane Smith from Main Street with her $10 gift felt the same sense of satisfaction as the famous singer and rich philanthropist who each gave a six-figure contribution.

So I am proposing a new effort that follows in the footsteps of the 40 billionaires, but scales it down for the rest of us. Let’s call it the “Everyman Giving Pledge.” (Or, for the women out there, the “Everywoman Giving Pledge.”) Here’s how it works: Make a pact with the people in your life to donate time or money to a worthy organization that you choose together. It will be more fun and effective if you do it as part of a group or social network. Engage your family and loved ones in the spirit of giving at whatever level is comfortable for you. Become a role model and lead the way to making philanthropy a tradition among your circle of friends, relatives and colleagues. Ask folks from your community, synagogue, church, workplace, golf and tennis club, children’s school, book salon or weekly poker game, to sign on and join you for the “everyman” version of the giving pledge.

Regardless of the dollar figure, the new vision for philanthropy sees charity as an investment – an investment in making the world a better place. Become part of something bigger than yourself, share what you have with others, show you care about our planet, influence the people in your life to do good … and give, give, give. Commit to donating $1, $10 or $100, or volunteering a few hours a month – any amount of time or money that feels right for you. Do it in person or on Facebook – wherever, with whomever. Just pledge to do it and then make it happen. You will be glad you did.

Stephanie Risa Stein is the Founder and Managing Director of Philanthropic Capital Advisors (PCA), a global management firm that specializes in venture philanthropy and charitable investments. Through her work with PCA, Stephanie brings family foundations, corporations, philanthropists and NGO’s together to do good.