The Giving Pledge

This morning I read an article at the Chronicle of Philanthropy that revisits the Giving Pledge, an agreement among some of the richest people in the world to change the way people give. Meeting in 2009, financial superstars like Bill and Melinda Gates, George Soros, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, Ted Turner and more came up with the pledge to kickstart philanthropy. Their hope was that as people saw them give away billions of dollars, they too would be inspired to join in on the giving. 

Big gifts were made with big headlines as many wealthy families signed on. In the first year, 90 philanthropists signed the pledge… and then interest in the biggest pledge drive in history dried up.  The Gates Foundation continues to inspire, but many of the causes saw their assets tumble–the United Nations Foundation assets fell from $210 million to $5 million. 

So what happened?  Why didn’t it work? 

It is hard to tell, but I have a couple of ideas. First, I think about how Jesus showed His disciples the difference between giving for show and giving humbly:

   Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”  —Mark 12:41-44

Watching people give out of wealth does little to inspire lower economic earners to give. It is hard to be inspired to charity when people compare their lack of wealth to the fortunes of billionaires.

Secondly, a large segment of individuals with substance prefer to give without recognition. Making a show of it seems braggadocious. Yes, there are generous people who get a kick out of seeing their name on a building… but it can backfire. Just last week one wealthy benefactor began to publicly encourage students to walk out of class in protest of a University policy regarding abortion. Imagine his chagrin when the University refunded his gift and removed his name from the building!

Third, many of those who first signed the Pledge were politically minded, supporting causes and political candidates that proved to be divisive.  Potential members saw little benefit in signing on; it could appear that they agreed with the politics. They either give privately, or not at all.

The question then begs to be asked: What does work?  

Frankly, I have seen nothing as influential on the act of giving as the philosophy we have espoused for years:  Nothing changes a person’s view of wealth and giving more than the understanding that God is the true owner of all, and we are His stewards.

God shares His wealth with us to provide for those who are dependent on us, and to carry His Word and Will forward.  This is not just a message for a few wealthy people, but one that we have seen embraced by individuals from all economic levels.  Once people understand God’s teaching, generosity flows. 

© 2018 Gwendolyn Clemmons Irvine, CA·Posted Jun 17, 2019

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