Recently, Mark Zuckerberg publicly announced his decision to give away 99% of his Facebook shares to charity. His decision aligns him with several other significantly wealthy individuals who have decided to do the same: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Ted Turner, and others.
And their decision aligns them with countless wealthy individuals who have done similar things in the past. “A man who dies rich, dies disgraced,” Andrew Carnegie once said while giving away 90% of his personal fortune (almost $14b in today’s dollars).
I think these stories are important and I am glad they make national headlines. Some will try to discredit them or argue ulterior motives, but I don’t care. The more examples of generosity around us the better.
I will admit, however, there is one problem with these headline stories.
They are almost completely unrelatable.
When most people read about billionaires giving away money, their first reaction is typically, “Well that’s easy for them to say… if I had that kind of money, I would be generous too.”
And to an extent, they are right. When you begin talking about net worth in the billions of dollars, things seem to function a bit differently. For example, it was Neil deGrasse Tyson who first conjectured that, comparatively speaking, Bill Gates would have to stumble across $45,000 on the ground to discover the same amount in relation to his net worth that you or I would discover if we found a quarter ($0.25).
Of course, mathematics and emotions can be very different. Just because somebody has a vast amount of wealth, generosity does not necessarily come easy. In fact, some studies would seem to indicate that the more money we own, the more difficult it is to give away.
But nevertheless, “That’s easy for him to say,” is still the most common reaction to news stories similar to the one of Mark Zuckerberg. As a result, even though those stories are shared widely, they often leave us unchanged. How many people do you know went out and made a donation to charity after reading Mark Zuckerberg was giving away 99% of his wealth? Probably the same number as me: zero.
In other words, Mark’s story actually does very little to inspire generosity among a society.
But I think this might change if we start championing different stories.
For the past several years, I have been traveling this country speaking on the benefits of owning less. And I have met some amazing people along the way. Recently, I am being asked more and more often to speak about our new nonprofit organization, The Hope Effect. And whenever I do, something amazing happens… people begin sharing with me their personal stories of generous living.
People are quick to open up about the charities they passionately support. They share with me the experiences they have had volunteering at various organizations here and abroad. Many will come up to me afterwards and explain how and why they chose nonprofit work as their career. It is encouraging, it is amazing, and it is inspiring.
In fact, during an interview a few weeks back, I was asked, “What has been the greatest lesson you have learned starting a nonprofit?” Among the dozens of ideas that came to my mind, I answered with this one, “By far, the greatest thing I have learned over the past year is that there are generous, giving people everywhere you look. I have met so many people who are passionately committed to the care of orphans and other important causes, I almost can’t believe it. Everywhere I go, I meet people making sacrifices so they can live passionately generous lives.”
Unfortunately, nobody is talking about them—at least, they aren’t making national headlines. And I know why: their stories don’t convert to metrics like Mark Zuckerberg’s story.
A column about the adoptive mother in Minneapolis who dedicates two evenings/month serving on a nonprofit board placing orphans in loving homes doesn’t sell many newspapers. The full-time blogger in Nashville who fathers a family of three and makes a $5,000 donation to a cause he believes in doesn’t trend on Twitter. The middle-class family who gives away 10% of their income every week to an organization they trust doesn’t drive much Internet traffic.
But these are the stories that need to be told. Because these are the stories we can see ourselves in. These are the people with whom we can relate. And these are the people that can inspire us the most.
They have sacrificed in order to have time and money to give. And their stories challenge us to do the same. Unfortunately, the stories we need to hear are often the hardest to find.
I think we should try to change that.
During this season of giving, I think it is appropriate for us to recognize the people in our lives that have inspired generosity in us.
When you think of a generous person, who comes to your mind first? In the comment section below, would you draw attention to that certain somebody?
Comment and mention specifically the one person (or the one family) who has inspired you the most to greater generosity? My guess is, when you do, very few will mention celebrities or philanthropists. Instead, we will think of family members, neighbors, co-workers, or members of our faith community.
When you add your comment below, their stories will live on and their example will inspire even more individuals.
Practically speaking, I encourage you to be as specific as possible. Who has inspired you to generosity? Why? To what causes were they generous? What sacrifices did you see them make so they could give more? And in what ways did you see them dedicate themselves to others?
Their story may never be published in a major magazine. But today, you can champion it for us—because these are the stories we need to hear.