Two years ago I did volunteer work in Pokuase, Ghana, a small village outside the capital of Accra, where nearly all the people I came in contact with lived in homes without bathrooms or electricity and had to purchase clean drinking water.
There has recently been a lot of news about the Giving Pledge, the effort by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to get America's billionaires to earmark half of their net worth for charitable causes. It's a noble endeavor, not to mention a sensible one. It's unlikely a billionaire will be able to use (or even enjoy, I'd surmise) all his or her assets, while a fraction of just one billionaire's wealth can make an immeasurable difference to thousands, maybe millions, of people in the form of the very things we all take for granted.
Amid all the media hype surrounding this initiative, it surfaced that 40 of this nation's wealthiest individuals and families agreed to the request and penned letters explaining their decisions and urging others to follow suit. But it was unclear how many people Gates and Buffett had to approach to recruit 40 people. Disappointingly, we find the world to be increasingly selfish. As we all know from spending careers in the financial services sector, charitable giving is rarely just about giving. It also carries numerous benefits for its donors, including hefty tax breaks, estate-planning efficiencies and adoration from the press and one's peers.
It's also important to remember that much can still be done by those below the billionaire wealth level. If someone worth $1.2 billion can give away half their net worth, why can't someone worth $875 million? Or someone worth $430 million? As advisors to the ultra-affluent, how many of you would urge your clients to consider such beneficent philanthropic agendas? And, in turn, how many of your clients would give your request serious consideration?
As Albert Einstein said, "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." And while the genius may have used the term "others" as a substitute for family members and loved ones, he most certainly didn't exclude "others" that fall outside our immediate social circle. I mean, really, where's the harm in helping those who are less fortunate than we are experience a higher quality of life (that might include a hot, disease-free shower once in a while)?