Massive Philanthropy

The Practical Philosopher talks about large-scale philanthropy and how to become a philanthropist when you don’t have money.

Ten or twelve years ago I gave Michael a few sessions for pain relief. Michael was in the last stages of cancer and so I worked with him for only a short time before his death. Michael lived on his own in a rather large house in Oakland, with very high quality furniture and a lot of art. The sessions I gave provided him with relief from his frequently intense pain as well as an opportunity to talk about any topic that weighed on his mind.

Before we were introduced to each other I was told that he was a very wealthy man and that proved to be true. During his sessions it became clear that what concerned him the most was that he will not be able to continue with his philanthropic work. Philanthropy was his main interest in life, the thing that kept him interested in the world and connected with people. I think it was the one thing that made him happy during his painful illness.

As we talked about his concerns I was surprised to learn that he was a member of a philanthropist support group, so I asked him what the support group was for. Privately I wondered: What kind of support group do you need if you have so much money that you can just give it away?

His response was that no matter how much money he was able to give away (there is a limit because you don’t want to touch the principle), there will always be more requests for money than there is money available to give. So inevitably he has to refuse many requests and that is a very difficult thing to do. In the meetings of their support group the members would talk about how to deal with the feelings that come up, as well as the guidelines by which to decide who to give money to and how do detect bogus requests. He also told me that there was quite a lot written about the topic in Jewish literature since the 15th century. I didn’t even know there were philanthropists that far back.

His story got me to thinking about his situation and I began to wonder what would be the best use for a philanthropist’s money. I also found out that there is a relatively small number of philanthropists and I wished there were more of them. And then it occurred to me that the best thing for at least some of a philanthropist’s money is to go toward creating more philanthropists! Helping those people who are ‘on the cusp’ of becoming philanthropists actually become ones.

Then they too will be able to do the philanthropic work, and if they spent some of their money on creating more philanthropists then the group will grow and will be able to do more good. This way they will gain more members because they helped create more members, not because someone else happened to become a philanthropist, but on purpose. They can build a culture of philanthropy!

The benefits will be that with increasing numbers they can combine their power, have more mutual support, and help each other transition in their ways of thinking, perspective, and action.

Philanthropy requires surplus. Surplus is the basis of prosperity*. Prosperity is born of the knowledge that ‘I have more than I need, according to my own definitions’. You can probably imagine that there will be prosperous people who have very little and not-prosperous people who have a lot according to your definition (but not according to their own definition!).

Later on it occurred to me that there can be other areas of philanthropy. Volunteers, as an example, donate their time so they are time philanthropists. They might also give of their knowledge so they may be knowledge philanthropists. Some give freely of their skills, so they are skill philanthropists. In fact you can be a philanthropist in any one of the 8 resources**.


How to use in everyday life:

You can help build a culture of philanthropy by looking through the 8 resources, figuring out which one you are prosperous in, and giving away the surplus. If you do this with other people who are of like mind you will be able to create a philanthropy group in which each person helps the others in the group. Working together like that can bring very rapid improvements in your prosperity and life in general.


Peace and Health,


*Productivity can lead to prosperity, prosperity can lead to philanthropy, and philanthropy can lead to peace. This is not an automatic or guaranteed progression, but it can be done. If you want to you can join prosperity groups or create your own.

**The 8 resources are: Time, knowledge, ideas, skills, space, money, materials and energy. You can build surplus in any of them and you can become a philanthropist in any of them. Even if you don’t have money you can still be a philanthropist in 7 areas!!

***Please read my blog “My Own Economy” for more.

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Les Bain September 12, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Ofer, thank you for sharing your knowledge, wisdom and insights. You are indeed a "knowledge and idea philanthropist". There are some philanthropists that are doing what you have suggested. The Giving Pledge is an effort by the philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to exact a formal commitment from the nation's richest Americans to give at least half of their wealth to charity. They are signing up billionaires to take the pledge. Their website is here: http://givingpledge.org/
cameron mccord September 12, 2012 at 07:28 PM
Great insights, Ofer. We each can help build a culture of philanthropy by assessing our own resources to determine which we are prosperous in, and give away the surplus. Our resources are: Time, knowledge, ideas, skills, space, money, materials and energy. You can build surplus in any of them and you can become a philanthropist in any of them. Even if you don’t have money you can still be a philanthropist in 7 areas. (Cribbing shamelessly from your words)
Ofer Erez September 12, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Cameron, thanks for your reply. Let's add action to insight, for as we know insight is necessary but insufficient to change life. Let me know if you want to do more. Peace and Health, O
Ofer Erez September 12, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Les, thanks for the info about the Giving Pledge foundation. I encourage everyone to look at their website and be inspired. If I had any influence over the decisions they make I'd have them support the creation of a surplus-based economic system. I believe it is the only system that can be sustained over long periods of time. Peace and Health, O


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