A full year of writing grant applications for a nonprofit taught me that people have a variety of motivations for charitable giving. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, two of the top billionaires in the world, started the Giving Pledge in 2010. This was meant as a way to inspire wealthy people to give a bulk of their net worth to philanthropy, either during their lifetime or posthumously.
While it is more a moral commitment than a legal contract, 141 wealthy couples and singles have pledged. These include Sara Blakely of Spanx, Arthur M. Blank of Home Depot, Richard Branson of Virgin, Larry Ellison of Oracle, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan – the list goes on.
The Russian billionaire, Vladimir Potanin, told ABC News that by participating in The Giving Pledge, he is protecting “his children from the burden of extreme wealth, which may deprive them of any motivation to achieve anything in life on their own.”
Manoj Bhargava, CEO of 5-Hour Energy, also stated, “My choice was to ruin my son's life by giving him money or giving 90-plus percent to charity. Not much of a choice.”
Is this idea of super-giving only for the super-wealthy? Could this percolate down and leave its impact on millennials?
I know of no one in my circle of friends whose parents would ever withhold money from their children. I also don’t think that the idea of giving most of one’s wealth away works for anyone other than the super-rich.
Let’s look at some middle and upper middle-class facts: in 2010, the median net worth of married retirees was about $308,000. With debt, a mortgage, and living expenses, it’s unclear how much of that a couple could leave to their kids after they die.
Many people see giving money to their kids as a sign of love. After all, they worked hard to provide for their children. As such, it’s natural for them to give much of their assets to their kids rather than to charity.
Besides, if the couple were to live into their 80s or 90s, they may need a lot of their cash to live on. People are living longer, and the cost of living is always going up.
Personally, I don't know of any reason I would refuse to pass my assets on to my kids.
My grandparents were first-generation Americans, and my great-grandparents worked hard so that – despite poverty – my grandparents had a chance to succeed in this country. My grandparents did the same for my parents. With each generation, more education led to more wealth. My grandparents grew up in poverty, but hard work and a sense of responsibility made their situation much better than their own parents.
My maternal grandfather was the only one of my grandparents to attend college. But both my parents and all their siblings went to college. As each generation passed what they had built on to the next, more success followed.
Why would I give everything away when my great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents worked so hard for me to succeed?
I’m a big supporter of charitable giving – and even those who are living paycheck to paycheck do sometimes give to a church or food banks – but I believe in doing so within your means.
Normal people do give, but they don’t do the Giving Pledge. They don’t give away 90-plus percent of their net worth. I will gladly donate time and money to causes I care about, but you won’t see me donating a majority of my net worth anytime soon. I think that is best left to the billionaires.