For Example — Stories of Giving

“I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know”

An entrepreneur explains the value of having an experienced partner

I’ve built my career on getting results. For decades I’ve launched businesses and taken them public. I’ve always been a hands-on kind of person. At one time or another I have handled every functional area of a business. Sometimes, at the beginning, that was necessary because I didn’t have a lot of staff and I needed to know what was going to be involved when I did hire staff. That’s just who I am and it has worked for me.

After my most recent IPO, I found myself with more time on my hands, and more money as well. I started thinking about philanthropy. I figured it was a way to avoid a hefty tax bill while also making the world a little better. And giving money away has to be easier than making it, right?

Not so fast. Looking into my options gave me headaches. I didn’t want to just throw money at a problem; I wanted to find the best ways to make effective, measureable change. But I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t have a sense of the landscape—who would make the best use of my money? Finally, I admitted to myself that this was one thing I couldn’t do on my own. A business partner suggested I talk to a philanthropic advisor. “Let the experts do their job,” he said.

Giving money away has to be easier than making it, right? Not so fast. This was one thing I couldn’t do on my own.

The philanthropic advisor I met with asked about my goals. My mother died from complications of diabetes, and the growth of the disease in this country and around the world was a serious problem So I said, “I want to cure Type II diabetes,” I’ve learned that you have to be ambitious to make a real difference. Why not aim high?

This was a pretty tall order but the philanthropic advisor took my goal seriously. When we next talked, he informed me that while I don’t have the financial resources to fund a cure all on my own, I could support significant progress toward a cure.

One of the best parts of having professional counsel, whether it’s legal, financial or philanthropic, is that you don’t feel stupid not knowing what to ask or what’s involved. With the right professional guidance you get answers often before you even ask the question.. The advisor could tell I was a numbers guy, I guess because he gave me all the key metrics I needed to compare organizations, just like I do with investment opportunities. I learned about the key players working in the field. One organization, in particular, made a big impression. They were smaller than the big players, but they were taking bigger risks with their research. I would never have found them on my own. But they were the ones I decided to work with.

The key to success is finding the right partners, the people who know what you don’t.

Outcomes are crucial to me. I can’t stand wasted time or wasted money. The philanthropic advisor arranged for me to meet the researchers I was going to fund and helped me structure my gift with conditions attached. The organization would give me regular reports so I could keep tabs on progress. I’d be able to tell what my gift was doing, rather than just donating and hoping something good would happen. We are early in the process, but I’ve already reviewed one report and I’m confident we’re moving in the right direction.

In business, one key to success is finding the right partners, the people who know what you don’t. I realize now that’s just as true with philanthropy. A smart partner can make all the difference in the world.