For Example — Stories of Giving

More Than Money

When charitable giving in pursuit of building a legacy becomes a lifestyle instead

I suppose, like a lot of women my age, I was a product of my times. Born in the sixties and reared in the seventies, I was constantly being bombarded with messages about a woman’s changing role, you know … about, “You’ve come a long way baby” … and about how it was possible for a young woman to have it all. Like a lot of my friends, I just assumed I’d have both a career and, at some point, I’d meet a nice guy, marry him, and start a family. Then I’d decide whether or not I wanted to return to work and continue my career, or stay home and raise the kids.

Well, you know what they say … the best laid plans. For a whole lot of reasons, things just never really worked out the way I envisioned. So I focused on work and listened to my biological clock ticking louder and louder each year.  At some point, I guess I just let it all go. I already had a great life with two wonderful sisters, amazing nieces and nephews, and some of the most loyal and remarkable friends anyone could ever ask for. And, oh yeah, I became very, very rich!

“I realized that not only could I do something good with my money, but I might also make some money while doing good.”

My sisters and I had inherited a significant amount from mom when she died in ’82. I took my share and invested in real estate when it seemed just about everybody was trying to sell, and commercial real estate prices were as low as they’d been in years. Before I knew it, the market turned and I found myself sitting on tens of millions of dollars’ worth of office and retail properties.

Meanwhile, in my day job I was promoted to head of the marketing department, and with this promotion came stock options. Over dinner one night, someone asked me how I wanted to be remembered. I didn’t think saying that I had a very well-managed diversified investment portfolio was the right answer, but it got me thinking, what would my nieces and nephews say about me. I decided I wanted to … I don’t know, “Ensure my legacy.” I wanted to leave some trace that I’d once lived, and had done something with my life that mattered.

“I have to admit, this is not necessarily the life I envisioned I’d be living, but to be honest, it feels pretty good to be connected to something bigger than myself.”

Right around that time an attorney friend of mine said she had just started working with a philanthropic advisor who was helping her make sense of her own charitable giving so that what she was giving would be more strategic and effective.

When I met with the firm, I told them that I really had never given much thought to charitable giving until now, and I didn’t really know where to begin. They basically put me through a deep dive into philanthropy and helped me bring my interests into focus so that we’d have a starting point. We began to look at how to support two key areas of interest for me: arts education for disadvantaged kids and homelessness.. Because I didn’t have any vehicles for giving—I’d been basically just writing checks if someone asked me to make a contribution—we worked closely with both my attorney and my wealth advisor We ended up creating a Donor Advised Fund and a Charitable Remainder Trust, with my nieces and nephews as the beneficiaries.

The philanthropic advisor identified organizations, and I spent time getting to know what they were doing. Actually, I’m now on the board of one of them. With the Donor Advised Fund, I don’t have to make immediate decisions about what I’m going to do with my money, but I also don’t want money just sitting in the fund when it could be making a difference for a whole lot of people.

Managing my philanthropic investment portfolio has almost become another full-time job for me. I love reading the reports organizations send about the work they are doing and knowing that I’ve played some small part in their success.