I remember when Ray Lyne would dramatically put a $20 bill on the table and ask, “What’s its value just sitting there?” Of course, it made people laugh and joke, and someone would eventually say something like “Let’s order a Pizza,” which perfectly demonstrated Ray’s point. The $20 bill had no value at all… until it was used.
This week, I came across an article that effectively demonstrates this point. You are familiar with J. K. Rowling, author of the blockbuster Harry Potter series. For years, Rowling struggled to survive. A single mother, she received financial support from the British government to make ends meet. Seeing the difficulty her children had growing up poor, she created a fantasy story where a poor boy named Harry, who lived as an unwanted orphan in his aunt and uncle’s home, discovered he had an exceptional gift.
She published the story as her first novel, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. “
The public response was remarkable. The first Harry Potter book has now 500,000,000, (yes, that is Five Hundred Million) copies, and put J.K. Rowling on the Forbes list of Billionaires in 2004. Ensuing books, movie rights, peripheral books and even theme park rides kept Rowling on that list for seven years.
But for Rowling, her fortune was of no value except for how it could be used. She donated large sums to charity, such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and to build of a regenerative neurology clinic in Scotland. Additional gifts support Lumos, a charity she founded to help provide care for orphans and children in need of medical attention. Then came this news:
“In 2012, Forbes announced that Rowling had fallen off of its billionaire list because she had recently given an estimated $160 million, roughly 16% of her fortune, to charity. Combined with Britain’s high tax rates, Forbes cited her as no longer having her ‘billionaire status’.” —BBC News
Rowling’s website explains:
“Poverty, discrimination, war or natural disaster are all factors that can cause children to become separated from their families. For many desperate parents seeking help, their only option is to put their child in an orphanage or other institution. With support, most families could care for their children. And children without families could be looked after in family-style environments, or community-based services, where they can be provided with the care to meet their needs.”
Rowling had more than she could personally use, so she put the money to work to support her passion for needy children, born out of the difficulties her own children faced.
Having your name on a powerful magazine’s list of billionaires sounds like a dream come true for many, but Rowling found no value in that alone. She had no interest in sitting on a pile of cash. Instead, she has found fulfillment in selflessly putting that money to work for charity.
Perhaps this is the most important lesson to be learned from the tales of Harry Potter.