Earlier this summer, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Forbes Magazine Summit on Philanthropy in New York City. It was exhilarating, informative, inspirational and humbling. Humbling because of the life-changing projects that individuals and companies are involved in. Forbes Editor Randall Lane said it best: “These are the kind of people that inspire us to leave this world a better place than we found it.”
Speakers included Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Dr. Buzz Aldrin, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Chobani Founder, Chair and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya, Napster Co-Founder Sean Parker and others. Topics ranged from clean energy to cancer to the refugee crisis to turning kids into philanthropists.
While we have tremendous examples at the local level of people and companies who care passionately about our communities, they brought a global perspective, and what we can learn from these extraordinary speakers and their inspiring stories is that all of us can make a difference through time and effort.
The good news is we’re moving in the right direction. In 2015, according to Giving USA 2015 as reported by the National Philanthropic Trust, Americans gave $373.25 billion, a 4 percent increase over 2014. In 2015, individuals accounted for the largest source of charitable giving at 71 percent or $268.28 billion. Also in 2015, corporate giving was up 3.9 percent from the previous year while Foundation giving was up 6.5 percent.
Yet there is more to be done. To be that change agent, we need to utilize the skills that already make us successful in business and in life:
Business acumen: Apply the same principles that made you successful in business to your philanthropic endeavors. But understand that not all solutions work. In fact, Warren Buffett counseled, “In philanthropy, if you don’t fail, you’ve failed. Do something difficult and significant, something other intelligent people have failed at. Think about 10- to 15-year or longer horizons.”
Passion: What drives your philanthropy? Is there a problem or issue you want to tackle? Take Miami native and Baltimore Ravens star Elvis Dumervil. The son of Haitian immigrants, Dumervil is building 58 homes (his jersey number) in Haiti for those who are still displaced following the devastating earthquake in 2010. He is working with New Story, a nonprofit that builds life-saving homes in devastated areas to create sustainable communities.
Network: Meet people, forge relationships and establish partnerships. Be open-minded and flexible. Most of the speakers talked about the importance of collaboration and working together to meet a need. That allows for maximum efficiency and less redundancy for both organizations and donors.
Creativity: Bill Gates gave the example of a project his foundation has launched in impoverished nations. The locals are given chickens and are taught to raise and breed them. They use the waste to grow their gardens, sell the chickens to create commerce and use the chickens as a source of food. You get the picture. It’s taking a simple idea and creatively broadening it to make a life-changing impact. Bill Gates cited other efforts the Gates Foundation is making that demonstrate how philanthropy can lead to profitable business opportunities.
Lead by example: Effecting social change takes strong leadership. It starts at the top. Don’t be afraid to take a risk. As leaders, we must be invested emotionally and financially. We must be willing to be disruptive, roll up our shirt sleeves and get things done. If we want to encourage passion, effectiveness and responsibility, then we must bring it first. None of us can do it alone, and it starts at the top. At the highest level, Gates and Buffett can and do lead by example. They initiate and support numerous philanthropic enterprises both here and abroad and have signed the Giving Pledge, a campaign that encourages the world’s wealthiest people to contribute half of their wealth to philanthropic causes.
We are fortunate to live in a philanthropic community. But we should never be satisfied. We should always push ourselves and each other. Working together we can continue to be the change agents in South Florida.
Andrew Ansin is vice president, Sunbeam Properties/Development