Editor's Note: This post originally appeared here.
Since its creation in 2010, the Giving Pledge has been signed by 154 billionaires — ages 30 to 100, from 16 different countries, with combined wealth of nearly $800 billion — a sum greater than the GDP of most countries.
These individuals have generously promised to donate at least $400 billion of their money to help others.
Many other wealthy individuals and families who fall below the “billionaire” threshold also contribute large sums to philanthropy — without compromising their ability to take care of themselves and their loved ones in their chosen lifestyles.
Nearly everyone can give
But what about the rest of us? The vast majority of Americans cannot afford to give away half of their net worth and still be in a position to meet their essential needs.
The original intent of the Giving Pledge was not only to create a group of billionaire philanthropists, but also to encourage, by example, increased philanthropy at all levels of capacity.
Robert Rosen, the director of philanthropic partnerships at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, encourages people across the financial spectrum to consider making a “pledge” to philanthropy. He says:
“Not all of us can give away half of our wealth, but the idea of the Giving Pledge can help encourage an important conversation with your spouse or family about what’s possible in terms of generosity and the positive impact that giving can have on society.
“Making a commitment or a pledge also means that you’re more likely to be proactive – deciding what your philanthropy budget is, exploring what causes you feel passionate about, and researching which organizations can ensure that your donations have the greatest impact.
There’s no one size fits all for philanthropy, but most of us can find ways to be more thoughtful and intentional about our giving, which is really what making a pledge is all about.”
Personal giving pledge
Soon, the holiday season will be upon us. Families will gather to give thanks, celebrate and give each other gifts. Online charitable Giving Days will be held and many people will make year-end donations to their favorite nonprofits.
At this time of the year, I encourage individuals and families to make a personal “giving pledge” that takes into consideration their financial and volunteering capacity as well as their willingness to make a deeper commitment to help repair the world. Consider the following:
- At Thanksgiving dinner — or sooner — lead a family conversation about what issues or causes are most important to each family member. Then, make a pledge to give less “stuff” to each other as gifts. Designate the money that would have been spent on those gifts to a charity that reflects the family’s values.
- At holiday and other celebrations (such as birthdays and weddings), pledge to request that guests make a donation in your honor to a specified charity rather than purchasing gifts.
- As an individual or family, pledge to volunteer a certain number of hours to a favorite charity over the holidays or in the coming year.
- Pledge to evaluate your philanthropic capacity, with the goal of increasing your giving to the highest level that still allows you to reach your personal financial goals. Your financial advisor can help.
- Finally, pledge to be more thoughtful, informed and strategic about your philanthropy — engaging all generations in your family in an effort to make a difference in your community. As part of this pledge, approach your giving with the same rigor as you do your other investments, to help ensure that you’re achieving your objectives.
The Giving Pledge has been successful in encouraging philanthropy among the ultra-wealthy. However, this good idea should not be restricted to billionaires. Each of us can make a personal, achievable pledge to receive less — and give and do more to help address society’s urgent problems.