Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Friday, August 06, 2010

What's Better than 40 Billionaires?

There's been a lot of media attention this past week for the Giving Pledge, an effort organized by Warren Buffett and Bill & Melinda Gates "to encourage the world's wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy." The publicity and many of the news stories focused on the first forty billionaires to sign the pledge, and the approximate dollar value of those pledges (at least $120 billion).

Of course, this is wonderful news, and we all applaud each of the billionaires signing on to the pledge. but, as Jeremy MacKechnie points out on, Small Change Adds Up to More Than a Billionaire's Bucks. Jeremy writes,
"While some of the money will go directly to nonprofit organizations, the majority will end up in the private foundations that the donors started themselves, like The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and will then be funneled into other nonprofits through grants or used to support the foundations' programmatic work."
Of course, the full potential of $120 billion won't be donated to those foundations at one time, and once endowed, the actual payout of it as grants may be over the course of many decades. So, yes, this may increase over-all foundation spending ever-so-slightly, but it's not the immediate cure-all donation that some of the media hype is implying. In the idealist article, Jeremy has another important reminder:
"Individual donations (like yours) currently make up 75% of U.S. philanthropy while foundations make up only 12%. Collectively, individual donations are more than six times larger than those of our friends in the billionaires' club."
So, what does that mean for you and your nonprofit, and more to the point, does it mean that the Billionaires Pledge is worthless to us?

No, the Pledge is still of great value to all of us in the nonprofit sector, if we put the appropriate spin on it when asked by our donors or the media how it will effect us.

The key is that Gates and Buffett never intended for the billionaires to cure all our problems. Their intention was to lead by example and to encourage giving by all, not just billionaires. As Larry Ellison said in his statement, "Warren Buffett personally asked me to write this letter because he said I would be 'setting an example' and 'influencing others' to give... I hope he's right."

So, when you get those questions about whether your organization will benefit from the Pledge, remember its purpose: "To encourage giving." Your message must be a positive one thanking all your small donors, and recognizing that they're your strength, not bemoaning that you can't get your hands on all that billionaire cash.

Of course, even without the prodding from Buffett and Gates, research has borne out that regular folks have always been more generous than the wealthy when it comes to charitable giving. So, with a little more encouragement from the Billionaires Club, who knows what you can do with your individual giving plan this coming year!

Bottom line, 40 billionaires pledging to give half of it away is really very nice, but small, individual donors are still the backbone of any fund development plan. Of course, if you need help with the fund development plan, you can check out my book on the subject ;^)

Reminder, I'm now on twitter under the name NonprofitKenG.

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