Perpetual Philanthropists

Yesterday I lectured at a Brigham Young University course titled “Spiritual Issues in Management”. This course is taught by the incredibly talented Yvette Arts and provides 2 religion class credits and 1 business credit. I wonder if any other university offers a course such as this.

I was asked to address the topic of ethics and wealth. I discussed my own experiences in entrepreneurship and raising venture capital and the challenge of overcoming negative feelings against others when the company I founded ended up being controlled by others.

The key for me was reading in the New Testament one morning where the Apostle Paul said (speaking of his very successful missionary labors), “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase; therefore, he that planted is not anything and he that watered is not anything, but God that gave the increase.” (This is my paraphrase)

When it struck me everything we do that prospers is only as a result of God’s gifts to us, and that we should take no credit, I was humbled and immediately freed of my negative emotions about people whom I earlier thought were taking away from me the company that “I had founded.” (Whenever those negative feelings creep back I force myself to think of the powerful spiritual experience I had when God said to me, through his Word, that I am not anything.)

Since then, I have carefully watched how some entrepreneurs and inventors and innovators do give God all the credit. Being freed from the “I built this company and I deserve the most money for doing so” attitude is a wonderful thing. If we give God the credit, and the glory, then whatever we end up with (in terms of material things) is satisfying and full of gratitude. If we end up with nothing, then we can say as Job did, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away: blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I intended to spend most of my lecture talking about my philanthropic heroes, but I had to rush through them in just a few minutes.

My philanthropic heroes are those who give gifts that are perpetual–gifts that bless the world forever. Namely,

  • Sir Thomas Bodley, who donated money for the original library at Oxford, now the world-renowned Bodleian Library. King James I quipped once that his name should have been Godly and not Bodley.
  • James Smithson, who never set foot in the U.S. but donated the 100,000 pounds to endow what became the Smithsonian Institution
  • Leland and Jane Stanford, who built and endowed Stanford University
  • Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, who in 2002 publicly said he would give away 99% of his wealth over the next 20 years, much of it to the Omidyar Foundation.
  • The LDS Church recently instituted the Perpetual Education Fund, patterned after the 19th century Perpetual Emigrating Fund which helped tens of thousands of impoverished immigrants come from England and Scandinavia to Utah, to start a new life. (One of the immigrants was 14-year old David Eccles, whose family borrowed 70 pounds, and settled in Utah. Within a few decades, David became Utah’s first multi-millionaire. At the time of his death, David Eccles owned 27 businesses and was worth between $10-20 million. There are now a half dozen foundations named after Eccles family members whose total assets exceed, I believe, $1 billion.)The Perpetual Education Fund has already provided loans to about 15,000 students, who on average raise their income levels by 4 times. After repaying their loans, the funds are available to more students. Since education is the key to opportunity in life, this program is centered directly on the thing that has the greatest potential to change and bless the world–increasing human capital.

I can’t fail to mention the Gates Foundation, which I believe has $17 billion in funds and will perpetually bless humankind; or Mohammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and micro-credit lending pioneer which has lifted millions of people from poverty since the 1970s.

There are many, many others, including the Academy for Creating Enterprise (founded by Steve Gibson) which operates presently in the Philippines and has helped more than 600 people learn how to start their own business.

In our own way, small or large, each person has the opportunity to endow a fund or donate to a program (such as PEF) or give a gift to bless our future posterity or the world at large. It might be writing a book containing life lessons and experiences that generations to come will treasure. It might be volunteering or teaching and changing but one life. Everyone can choose to leave a legacy that will be perpetual and thus be immortalized.

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One Comment

  1. Colleen

    I love the idea of giving back, especially in perpetuity. So nice, the gift that keeps on giving.

    I do think there is a slight danger in omitting the importance of “working clean” to amass the fortune that funds the future. I am woefully ignorant of the backgrounds of the philanthropists you mention (thanks for the links!), but I remember well enough the horrific shock I experienced in high school reading about the not-so-pretty labor practices of the late 19th century robber barons who endowed all sorts of lovely things. Pyramids built on the backs of slaves, and all that.

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