Solid Advice for Philanthropists

Too many people want to spend your money.  Don’t let them.

James Piereson wrote a great column urging innovators not to succumb to the urgings of people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, state and local governments, and other people who think they can spend your money better than you can. Mr. Piereson highlights the example of Robert Wilson, who gave away $500 million of his own money to the causes he supported while rejecting Bill Gate’s desire to influence his philanthropy.

Wilson wrote Gates “When I talk to young people who seem destined for great success, I tell them to forget about charities and giving.  Concentrate on your family and getting rich–which I found very hard work.  I personally and the world at large are very glad you [Bill Gates] were more interested in computer software than the underprivileged when you were young…  Which rich people reach 50 and are beginning to slow down is the time to begin engaging them in philanthropy.”

Not only does this make sense from a financial point of view, it makes sense from a long-term view of helping the world.  I admire some of the great things the Gates Foundation has done to make the world a better place, but none of these efforts come close to the benefits Gates helped usher in with the rise of the personal computer.  This does not mean people should be selfish – I personally am teaching my children the 10/80/10 rule of giving 10% of their income away, living on 80% or less, and saving 10% – but that while people are young and creative, they should maximize their creativity.

Mr. Piereson’s philanthropic advice may be summarized as “Donate to causes you care about, think long term, and remember it is your money.”  Let’s hope people read his words and follow his advice.