The Golden Age of Philanthropy?

It would be hard to argue that the 1870’s to the 1890’s were not the golden age of philanthropy in America. In a little over two decades, the number of millionaires in the United States grew from 100 to 4,047.

Mega gifts from philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie, Ezra Cornell, Johns Hopkins, John Rockefeller, and Jane and Leland Stanford made their marks on some of America’s leading institutions. Mr. Rockefeller boasted that his $50 million gift to the University of Chicago was the best investment he ever made.

More recently, many would claim that the growth of the stock market and giving in the 1980’s culminating in America’s first billion dollar campaign at Stanford marked a second golden age of philanthropy.

Now this month, 60 Minutes is trumpeting a new golden age of philanthropy triggered by the terrific trio of Melinda and Bill Gates and Warren Buffett who challenged fellow billionaires to give away half of their wealth.

This comes hard on the heels of a report from Paul Schervish and John Havens at the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy predicting $6.3 trillion of bequests between 2007-2061. It’s an update of their 1999 study which forecast a huge inter-generational transfer of wealth.

All of this with Stanford completing a campaign that raised $6.2 billion and Harvard and the University of Southern California launching campaigns with $6.5 billion and $6 billion goals respectively.

I have no idea whether we are experiencing THE GOLDEN AGE OF PHILANTHROPY as compared to the closing decades of the last two centuries.

But I do know giving is increasing handsomely and many of the donors we talk to are eager to make a difference in their giving at significant levels.

Since I can’t turn the clock back, as far as I’m concerned this is our golden age for philanthropy.

So, as Nike encourages, let’s just do it and get out there inviting people to respond to our noble causes.