This is a guest post from Katherine Lorenz of The Institute for Philanthropy. Katherine is the organization’s US Representative in the Institute’s New York offices, which is based in London.
By Katherine Lorenz
What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning? For most people, it’s a job, a means to an end, a way to pay the bills and survive. All you can hope for is that you don’t hate every minute of your work day and that you might actually find some sort of pleasure or meaning in what you do for a living.
Well, how does that change if you don’t need the money? What gets you out of bed in the morning if you have every opportunity in the world, the best education money can buy, and endless possibilities but no need to earn a paycheck? If you don’t have to go to work every day, why would you? That is the challenge many young people with inherited wealth face.
All of us have different ways of dealing with the wealth. Some of us hide and deny it, trying to fit in and be “normal.” Others flaunt it, focusing on social status, parties, and fancy clothes. And some of us see it as a responsibility, taking on some of the world’s biggest challenges head-on in an effort to create change.
On a personal level, doing my best to make a difference in the world is what gets me out of bed in the morning. Motivated by a sense of duty, I find that, along with peers from similar backgrounds, I am uniquely positioned to help confront some of the pressing issues of our time. From climate change to global health to social justice, the needs are endless, as are the possibilities to make a tangible difference. Like many others in my position, the difficult question has always been, “How?”
In my own quest to do my part to improve the world, I found myself bouncing around Latin America trying to understand the endless cycle of poverty in rural villages around the world. This led to my co-founding a non-profit in Oaxaca, Mexico focusing on food sovereignty, nutrition, and economic opportunity by promoting the cultivation and consumption of a highly nutritious native grain. Living in the developing world helped me understand some of the complexities of poverty and the many causes and effects, while starting an NGO taught me many lessons in the realities of running an effective organization. And, of course, living abroad helped me flee my own background, establish an identity, and follow my own calling outside of my family.
At the appropriate age, I was then invited to begin participating in my family’s foundation, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, as we went through the process of establishing an effective governance structure and zeroing in on the key issue area we wanted to impact with our giving, environmental sustainability. As a part of this process, I also went through The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW), a donor education program helping philanthropists be more strategic and have more impact with their giving. Effective philanthropy is not as easy as one might think; while there are plenty of charities out there that need money, having true impact in the areas you care about is both difficult to do and difficult to measure. TPW helps donors learn hard skills to give more effectively while also providing a personally transformational experience.
Like so many other TPW alumni, I was deeply moved by my TPW experience. It helped me narrow my focus and really think about how I could be most effective as a philanthropist. Upon completing the course, I realized that maybe the most influential place I could be to have real impact on people’s giving and leveraging their resources to create change was through working with The Philanthropy Workshop participants. I was then offered a job there. It is so deeply fulfilling to watch other donors figure out how to better invest their resources for social good.
This fall, we will launch another program called Next Generation Philanthropy, similar to The Philanthropy Workshop but focused on inheritors age 18-30 looking to make change through their philanthropy. As a person who would have greatly benefited from such a program, I am thrilled to be a part of bringing this program to the US. There are so many needs in the world and so many young donors who want to make a difference but don’t know how. I hope more of them will put their minds to changing the world and seek out the tools they need to do that effectively. TPW and NGP are two of the many options; the important part is just to get started.
This is a very interesting post as it focuses on those who have the means to contribute in a way that others cannot. One aspect I’d like to emphasize is philanthropy is not always about the “world’s problems”. While, I think it is wonderful when someone can help those outside of their home country, sometimes the problems in our own neighborhood are a good step forward for making a global impact. My god-sister recently wrote a book about how the younger generation can get involved in philanthropy and make a difference – as she did. It’s called Young Revolutionaries Who Rock. She started a charity of her own at 14 to teach girls how to defend themselves after a number of abductions in her surrounding area. Three years later, she and her charity are making a global impact.
That is great that you can focus on helping those unfortunate people in other countries but I am seeing first hand how hard the times can be. Unlike you I cant take a shower in the morning and get a drink of water. I have been without running water for over a month and cant afford to get it turned back on. I am young and disabled and the little bit of money I get from SSI is garnished by student loans. I make it on around 11 thousand a year but cant sit around like you wondering what to do with money I don’t have. I guess if I was rich I could sit around and think about who I would like to help too. Once your poor and in constant pain from an accident like me you can be happy just to have $1 in your pocket.