When we told Tracy Gary that this issue would be devoted to philanthropy, she responded with something akin to glee. Is there something particular about philanthropy we can share with our readers? we asked. The short answer: Yes.
“What we have in this country is a culture of giving. More than 61 percent of Americans are volunteering, at the rate of 3.3 hours each week. And more than 70 percent of Americans give about $1,500 in an average year—and 80 to 90 percent will give during their lifetime. Our taxation system encourages us to create a volunteer society for the public good—and we’re the envy of other countries that see, and sometimes benefit from, our compassionate spirit. Think of the rush of giving after 9/11 or in the wake of the tsunami last year or now after Hurricane Katrina. We are a community that reaches out to each other.
“The vast majority of giving is emotional—and much of it with no strategy or theory of how to effect change. There are 1,700,000 nonprofits in the U.S.—up from 235,000 when I started out in this field 15 years ago. It’s very complex for people to choose what they want to support. Is it a bad thing to give passionately? Of course not. But you also need to think about outcomes.
“A giving plan gives you a framework for your philanthropy, for both your emotional and your intellectual giving. You need to ask yourself about what you want your giving to accomplish:What is the difference I’m trying to make during my lifetime? What are some of the changes I’d like to see happen? How can I make a greater positive impact? Who will be better off from my time here in the world?
“Ask yourself these big questions for reflection. Then ask, ‘What am I doing toward making this happen—and what’s holding me back?’
“Your plan will take your lifetime, and you will see results. But your plan needs to let you be spontaneous from time to time, to give on whim, on impulse. The key is to create a plan that has flexibility.
“People lose the joy of giving. They need to feel that they’re putting money—or time—into something that will have impact, fulfilling their vision for a just society. Maybe it’s supporting your college, because we need to nurture the school so that it can continue to teach and inform us through its amazing web of influence. That’s one way to align your values and your intentions.”
Tracy Gary ’73 has been a donor activist and philanthropist for more than 25 years. Gary supports and educates donors, family foundations, financial service organizations and nonprofits about the stewardship of money, leadership and philanthropy through Community Consulting Services, which she founded in 1978; she has also founded 17 nonprofits.