Philanthropy: Make Your Mother Proud

No matter how old we get, or what status we achieve in life, we always want to make our mothers proud.

Recently, we had the opportunity to meet with David M. Rubenstein, co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms. Since Mr. Rubenstein co-founded the firm in 1987, Carlyle has grown to manage more than $180 billion from 36 offices around the world.

He and noted American journalist and political commentator Steve Roberts were with us to preview a live interview they will give this summer before 2,000 fundraisers at an educational conference.

Rubenstein and Roberts focused much of their time on The Giving Pledge, a Bill & Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett initiative launched in June 2010. The Pledge aims to address society’s most pressing problems by encouraging the world’s wealthiest individuals and families, specifically billionaires, to commit to giving more than half their wealth to philanthropic or charitable causes, either during their lifetime or in their will.

Bridge Digital Ad_WebMore than 140 individuals and/or couples have signed the pledge, including Rubenstein. As he told Roberts, although he makes a lot of money, his mother never called and said, “Good job, you made a lot of money today!” Only when he started to give his money away in earnest did she call to say how proud she was of him.

“I was born and raised in modest, blue collar circumstances in Baltimore,” Rubenstein recalled. “Making large sums of money was just not on my radar screen. My goal was simply to do well enough in school to secure scholarships to college and law school to practice law, and to fulfill a long-time desire to move back and forth from the practice of law into various public service positions. And I was on that course.”

After a few years practicing law following a stint at the White House, Rubenstein decided to try something else. He opened a small investment firm in Washington—a rarity in the late 1980’s. He and his partners spent many years trying to get investors, and others to take them seriously; the firm is now one of the largest in the world, and its partners have achieved enormous wealth.

Roberts asked what first sparked Rubenstein to make philanthropy a fundamental part of his life.

“I spent little time on philanthropic matters until I turned 54,” he answered. “I then read that a white male, on average, would live to 81, meaning that I had already lived two thirds of my life. I did not want to live the other third and then ask someone to give away my accumulated resources as they saw fit.”

So Rubenstein began supporting a variety of performing arts, educational, medical, literary, public service, and cultural causes and institutions. As he grew more experienced, he recognized that to have a significant impact, he’d need to concentrate his resources and make transformative gifts.

“And I am heading in that direction, and hope—if I do get to 81—to have made many such transformative gifts by that time.”

Asked why The Giving Pledge was the right decision for him, Rubenstein cited three reasons:

1) To the extent that individuals of considerable resources are publicly committing to give away at least half their wealth, others in their position may be inspired to do the same.

2) It will inspire individuals with modest or average resources to make similar pledges—to themselves, to their families, or to the public. “The giving away of money should not be seen as only an obligation—or as a pleasure—restricted to the wealthiest (and most fortunate) among us,” he says.

3) And because philanthropic activity is, unfortunately, more of an American phenomenon than a global one, “My hope is that the Pledge will inspire similar efforts to get under way abroad.”

Rubenstein pointed out that philanthropy doesn’t mean just rich people writing a check. “In fact, the etymology of the word is Greek and it means to love mankind, in ways that involve more than money.”

In that spirit, Rubenstein revealed that he serves on several nonprofit boards and is currently working on six different capital campaigns! His one regret: not having been philanthropic earlier in life.

Roberts asked Rubenstein about the qualities of a good fundraiser. “They should be very proud of the work they do. Fundraisers have to start with having a concern for people or a cause and be able to listen, motivate, develop deep relationships with donors, and love what they do and why they do it.

“While being a fundraiser isn’t a career that children dream about, our work has global impact and the world would be far worse off without the efforts of fundraisers,” Rubenstein concluded.

David and Steve will resume their discussion as the keynote speakers at the 11th Annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising Conference, Thursday, July 14, at 9:45 am. It should be a fascinating and informative discussion … and one that would make any mother proud.



About the Authors:

Tiffany Neill, CFRE, Partner Lautman Maska Neill & Company balances empathy for the non-profit viewpoint with an analytical view to help organizations realize their vision of a better world. It’s a unique combination that helps her recognize that every penny spent on fundraising initiatives is a resource that nonprofits must pull from their existing program and service budgets. She has consulted with many organizations, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, House of Ruth, PCRM and Ronald McDonald Houses. A frequent speaker at industry meetings and seminars, Tiffany is a member of the DMAW and AFP, and is past Chair of the Board of the Association for Direct Response Fundraising Counsel (ADRFCo). A graduate of Stanford University, she earned an MBA from Johns Hopkins University.

Pamela Clapp Larmee, CFRE, is the principal of Strategic Philanthropy Services, a consulting firm founded in 2006 to provide fundraising, volunteer management and strategic planning services to a range of local, national and international non-profit organizations. Her clients include: Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Dance Place, District of Columbia College Access Program, Duke Student Publishing Company, Junior League of Washington, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, National Academy of Sciences, Washington Architectural Foundation and Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts