I was recently paging through the new Forbes magazine. This year the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans has dedicated a large part of the magazine to how the wealthy invest their money in nonprofits and charities. This issue not only lays out the facts but shares an insider’s look at how the wealthy are getting more involved in giving. They share how many of these billionaires are investing in our society and help provide insights into how the big donors make their decisions. It’s really a great resource and for less than $8.00 you can see how these individuals think and what they want in the organizations with whom they work. A thought came to me as I read the article. That is, the world of philanthropy and giving is changing. Whenever there’s change, some people see the opportunities and others see only loss. The people that see opportunities also find success in the new reality. It seems to work the same in both the business and nonprofit worlds.
Bill Gates starts the discussion with laying out what he sees happening and even begins defining this new discipline as Catalytic Philanthropy. I worked with Microsoft leadership back in their heyday and I can tell you once Bill creates a vision in his mind many people follow. He is a relentless person in advocating his world view. He has a secret weapon in his philanthropic work that he didn’t have at Microsoft, his wife Melinda. She provides an emotional charge that moves people in ways that Bill might be awkward doing. To be clear, I’m not saying Bill isn’t passionate about what he wants to accomplish but he’s always more about getting things started, innovating, and then implementing for early success. Melinda, on the other hand is very capable of moving people when sharing the vision of the collective future they both see. She talks about responsibility and the role philanthropy has for people who have the ability to make such a huge difference in the world. Talk about a dynamic duo, WOW. And I’m not talking about his bridge partner.
Now if that’s not enough, you can see how Warren Buffet looks at making a difference and why. If you’re a regular reader you know that I started my career in the Berkshire Hathaway family and have spent the past 30 years working with Warren’s many different businesses leaders, including Ralph Schey here in Northeast Ohio. Ralph served on the leadership team at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. His work helped take a strong medical organization to a world class medical institution while building a team of trailblazers to help shape medical leadership moving into the future.
Warren’s quote should be a challenge to all serving leaders everywhere. He said “You should be doing things that can change lots of lives. And you should be doing things that have some real chance of failing.” Doesn’t that remind us why we do what we do for our clients? A great quote may inspire but Warren’s financial contributions continue to change the face of modern philanthropy. They also talked about the person that inspired Warren to be so giving and I don’t mean Bill and Melinda. A little known fact about Warren is that he was inspired by another lesser known person who helped change the world with his philosophy of giving similar to how Benjamin Graham shaped his investment philosophies. His name was Abraham Flexner and he changed the way Warren looked at giving. When you have time check out his biography I think you will see several interesting similarities. All great givers and business leaders have strong philosophies behind what they do. Uncover the philosophy and the rest is easy.
Let’s see how this might apply to another great giver, Oprah Winfrey. Here a quote from this same issue, “When you go to Nelson Mandela’s house, what do you take? You can’t bring a candle.” How do you think you work with someone who sees the world this way? Would you go and ask for something small and insignificant? This world changer is looking to be involved in projects with world changing implications but of a highly personal nature. Look at the school she launched and you can see a project that gives you another clue to her personal philosophies. You knew she couldn’t fail and she would stick to it until it was successful.
The final thought I would share with you is that the innovators see change as a great thing. Change leads to new opportunities that no one could imagine in the past. The coming years will challenge you to be more than you ever thought possible. We are entering a golden age of business and those who can’t see the possibilities doom their organizations to failure. It will not be a matter of money that you lack but a vision for your organization that others will embrace with all their hearts, minds, and energy.