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Philanthropy Blog

Philanthropy Blog 2017-06-19T15:01:07+00:00
2202, 2017

Beyond the Portfolio: An Investor’s Approach to Charity

Like any investor, I could talk for days about the importance of diversity in one’s portfolio, how to approach difficult investment decisions, and when the promise of reward is or isn’t worth the risk. I’m also one of a growing number of investors to whom philanthropy is incredibly important—and not necessarily on its own, but as a reflection of my investment philosophy. I’ve found that an investment-minded approach to charitable giving can maximize altruism by intelligently allocating donations where they will create the most impact.

The traditional mindset approaches charity as an extension of consumption: we give to make ourselves feel better, giving a limited amount to causes we think are important. The consumer isn’t concerned with the impact of what they spend, but what the product itself can do for them right away. And charity as a product is different than charity as an impact: it’s a good feeling or bragging rights, but it’s ultimately ephemeral.

Investing is different than consuming, even though the idea is similar: both decrease your funds, and both can provide happiness and satisfaction. The difference is that investing promises a tangible reward in the future, while consuming (or spending) offers immediate satisfaction. If you’re buying food, you’re consuming, yes, but also (potentially) investing in your health. In other words, investments are more than products: they have an entire life-cycle of fluctuating value.

When charity acts as a form of consumption, the benefits end right where they begin, at the warm, fuzzy sensation (the product) you feel when you give. When you treat charity as an investment, by contrast, you’re taking into consideration long-term benefits. It’s a difference in due diligence, efficiency, and outcome.

A shift from consumption-minded charity to investment-minded charity would be beneficial all around, especially considering the number of fraudulent charities out there, and the discrepancy between causes that need funding and those that actually get it.

How, then, should an investor or investment-minded philanthropist approach charity? A good start is to screen charitable organizations as thoroughly as you would a company you invest in. You can seek out third-party evaluations and even tax returns to make sure they are spending donations to your liking. You might also check out GiveWell, which conducts in-depth charity research to identify high-impact giving opportunities.

Second, perhaps it makes sense to find charities that have a measurable impact that you understand and can be kept informed of. Evidence-based nonprofits are great for this, because they can show you the exact correlation between your money, what they do, and what the result is.

Next, don’t buckle under the pressure to give. Take your time, and choose causes that align with your goals and values. If you’re buying any product, you want to know it’s the best for you, rather that throw money at the first salesmen who knocks at your door. Investigate and make informed choices.

Investors might also consider investing in humanitarian startups that integrate societal good as a core value while also retaining the ability to scale and turn profit. Doing so gives you ROI, but just as importantly provides transparency about the difference your money is making along the way. Your investment isn’t a donation in this case, but it’s an investment driven by philanthropic appeal — the best of both worlds.

Lastly, starting a private foundation is an intelligent way to streamline charitable giving and leave a lasting legacy through endowments. Private foundations can employ loans and equity investments as forms of giving, making more out of your philanthropic capital overall. There is also the added bonus of an upfront tax deduction that lets you make charitable gifts over time, without pressure, and according to your unique values.

Whatever the case, it seems clear that the more all of us treat our donations as investments, the greater the overall results will be. A strategic approach to both generating wealth and giving it is the only true way to truly get what we give.

3009, 2016

The Nature Conservancy’s Mashomack Preserve

The Mashomack Preserve is “a museum of life in process.” It comprises one-third of Shelter Island, part of Long Island, and is located just 90 miles from New York City. Featuring miles of coastline and acres of salt marshes, freshwater wetlands, tidal creeks, and oak woodlands, the Mashomack Preserve has been called “The Jewel of the Peconic.” It hosts a concentrated population of breeding ospreys as well as nesting populations of the endangered piping plover and least tern. In a long-term effort to maintain the delicate biodiversity of the grasslands and oak forest, the Preserve is replanting indigenous flora. But not so long ago, this thriving, fertile land was at risk of development, endangering its natural charms and isolating its beauty from the public.

The Mashomack area was originally inhabited by the Manhanset, a tribe related to the Algonquian people. This parcel of land was bought by William Nicoll in 1693 and stayed in the Nicoll family for two centuries, until in 1923, “Miss Annie” sold off part of the land. A German developer acquired the entirety of the land shortly thereafter, in 1925. Referencing Where They Go by Water by Muriel Porter Weaver, the Shelter Island Reporter describes a very different-looking Mashomack during Prohibition: “‘a grand game of cops and robbers, glamour and cold cash,’” as it funneled alcohol delivered by ships from Canada and the Caribbean.

The German owner Otto Kahn lost the land in the crash of 1929; it was acquired by another real estate firm in 1934. For the next several decades, the land was mainly used as hunting ground by exclusive clubs. In 1966 Mashomack almost became part of a national seashore park, by way of a pitch to the Department of the Interior. Community opposition shut down the initiative, however, until another proposition came along in 1973. Investment group Mashomack Forest, Inc. proposed a scheme carrying a large price tag, to build out the land into a ritzy residential complex including an airstrip, golf and yacht club, marine village, riding paths and playing fields. However, that plan collapsed in 1979, at which point the land parcel was bought by The Nature Conservancy, with half of the necessary funds raised on-island, and some coming from “‘the Fords, Rockefellers and so on.’” Thus, the Mashomack Preserve was born.

Mike Laspia, a caretaker of Mashomack since its creation in 1980, observes that the land went from an exclusive club that raised animals for the purpose of hunting them to a public nature preserve. “It was an interesting shift. This place had always been very private, patrolled. When I was working the club part of my job was patrolling the beach and property, and if I found someone who wasn’t a club member I asked them to leave. Now we’ve had a total reversal of that; since about the mid-1980s it’s been fully public.”

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In addition to preserving an ecologically important area, the Mashomack Preserve seeks to educate people about its natural resources, particularly children. As the Shelter Island Reporter describes it, “While children are being taught the principles of green living, their involvement with the environment begins and ends, in many cases, in the classroom. ‘There is a real disconnect between young people and the outdoors,’ said Mr. Laspia.” The Mashomack Preserve, along with the Nature Conservancy, recognizes the need to instill a love of nature at an early age and to unite locals with the land through programs like “No Child Left Inside.” The Mashomack Preserve also hosts numerous research projects. Its focus on indigenous plant life makes it “a great control area,” according to Laspia.

The success of the Mashomack Preserve is indicative of the mission of The Nature Conservancy: to preserve the natural ecosystem and counteract the negative effects humans often have on their environment. With over a million members, The Nature Conservancy has saved over 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide, overseeing preservation and marine conservation projects in all 50 states and more than 30 countries. The Mashomack Preserve does a tremendous job fundraising through a 1,700-strong Friends organization.

As a Long Islander, I am proud to support the Preserve, for its commitment to protecting our increasingly threatened natural resources and for its service to the Shelter Island and Long Island community. I want my children to grow up immersed in nature so that they can become better stewards of our planet’s resources. “Mashomack” means “where they go by water,” and that is what the preserve allows us to do: witness the wildness of the land encountering the untamed ocean. Thanks to the intervention of The Nature Conservancy, the tireless work of the Mashomack Preserve, and the generosity of supporters, these 2,039 pristine acres will return to the land and remain available for research and recreation.

709, 2016

Why I Support Northwell Health, a Community Health Network

Northwell Health, formerly known as North Shore LIJ, has done a remarkable job for healthcare in my community. My family has many friends who are board members, overseers and trustees for this network of health care facilities, and I’m proud everyday to support the work they facilitate statewide.

Almost every adult with children understands the stress of bringing a child to the hospital. I myself have been there many times, but luckily whenever I’ve brought my children to Northwell Health we have left feeling extremely taken care of. As with all parents, our children mean the world to us, so it’s important that they are treated well by kind and qualified professionals.

Most recently, my father was taken care of at Northwell, and I felt he was in the safest, most caring environment imaginable. Whether you have children, aging parents, a sick spouse or a medical condition of your own, it eases the mind and heart to know you have a good hospital with caring doctors at your disposal.

My experience with Northwell aligns almost exactly with their mission. According to their website, Northwell “strives to improve the health of the communities it serves and is committed to providing the highest quality clinical care; educating the current and future generations of health care professionals; searching for new advances in medicine through the conduct of bio-medical research; promoting health education; and caring for the entire community regardless of the ability to pay.”

Northwell Health was officially founded in 1997 when the North Shore Health System merged with LIJ Medical Center. The merger created a network of what is now 21 hospitals, an institute for medical research, rehabilitation and nursing facilities, a home care network, hospice network and more. It’s the largest integrated health care system in New York state, and the state’s largest private employer.

Northwell Health was rebranded this January, but its commitments remain the same in spite of its name change. They are dedicated to community, quality, research and education, and aim to be not just a good health provider, but a leader in national health care. This shows in everything they do.

Supporting local hospitals and health providers, to me, is a moral thing to do, and an easy thing decision provided you have the resources. Without quality hospitals that push the envelope and provide cutting-edge care, our own health and that of our families and friends could be at stake. We should never take this kind of care for granted, which is why my family and I will continue to support Northwell Health. We support them so they can support us, and just as importantly, countless other patients in need.

2107, 2016

The Value of a Liberal Arts Education: Hamilton College

It’s common knowledge that education is one of the most important tools on the road to success. But when it comes to which kind of education is useful, and which is not, it seems to me we’re splitting hairs. I’ve observed that the value of a liberal arts education is underplayed, even when there is ample evidence to its import.

Like many others before and after me, I studied liberal arts. Years later, I’m proud to say that I’ve become a successful businessman. In fact, I believe my English degree from Hamilton College was a foundation for my business acumen. The broad spectrum of knowledge this education provided me proved especially helpful in communicating and networking in the business world.

STEM disciplines are worthy areas of study, to be certain —you’ll even find that parents counsel their kids to pursue them in hopes of better job prospects down the line. Jobs in STEM fields can be great, but there aren’t actually more, and they aren’t necessarily better. Specialized skills come with the risk of more competition for specific jobs, and less flexibility for branching out to meet other needs.

Liberal arts, on the other hand, are not just nice-to-have, but critical to success in every economic sector. They are the foundation for learning in every professional field, and though advanced or specialized degrees are helpful, they go a long way by equipping students with skills like critical thinking, teamwork, cultural sensitivity, and emotional intelligence.

These days, most people will have six to 10 jobs over the course of their careers, a figure that could increase in our lifetime. Liberal arts majors are the most adaptable to new circumstances, and are a great grounding to build upon in any industry.

Don’t believe me? Well, take this into consideration: We now know that a third of all Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts degrees, including CBS leader Leslie Moonves (Spanish degree) and the CEO of Starbucks (communications).

Long story short, these skills are increasingly in demand across the world. Business and work can’t be all about numbers or molecules; you need to understand people and society to excel. They say that work will be roboticized within this century, and while this may be true for some, workers with deep-rooted understanding of personability and communication will not be taken down easily.
I owe my career to my education at Hamilton. There, I was given a platform to speak on my feet and think critically. In the world of business, doing so is tantamount to success. I believe we should concentrate on lifting up those that wish to pursue liberal arts educations, instead of attempting to steer them away.  

2007, 2016

Fighting Cancer With Theater: The Damon Runyon Foundation

Most families have dealt with cancer in some form, whether in the loss of a loved one or other personal struggles with the disease. Cancer can dramatically alter family dynamics and lifestyle by shrouding normal life with fear and grief.

DamonRunyonThe Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation is an organization that helps early-career scientists get the freedom and resources to pursue the next breakthroughs in cancer research. Named after iconic sportswriter Damon Runyon, who passed away from throat cancer, the foundation has a unique connection to the theater world: Runyon’s stories were transformed into the Broadway hit Guys and Dolls.

Many members of my family have a keen interest in theater, which is what makes the Damon Runyon foundation such a great fit for us. My father-in-law, wife, and especially my daughter, Katie, have always been involved in the art and theater in particular. From a very young age, I can recall Katie’s earnest attempt to see as many Broadway musicals as possible. Naturally, we had to buy a lot of tickets.

The Damon Runyon Foundation was the perfect answer to our ticket needs. Purchasing tickets through this organization means that for every spectacular performance, a tax-deductible donation can be made to the cause. We’ve been buying tickets through them for 23 years, and I couldn’t be prouder to be a small part of such a wonderful program.

Alongside us are some big names that have been involved in the foundation over the years. Celebrity supporters, which include Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, have all led efforts in fundraising.science-1336664_1280

Since its founding in 1946, the foundation has invested over $300 million in more than 3,500
exceptional scientists. These talented researchers have made extraordinary breakthroughs in every area of cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Moving forward, Damon Runyon is looking ahead to support the next generation of emerging talent in the sciences to continue nurturing such advancements.

As much as my family loves theater, the real joy comes in making a difference. Though buying Broadway tickets is only one of many ways to get involved, I recommend that when you finally get around to seeing Hamilton (or any other show!), you do it through the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. This way, a live show can save a life. 

2706, 2016

Why I Take an Active Stance Against Bullying

My children grew up in a unique time: the internet had just been popularized, and kids were using it not just to chat, but to bully one another. The dawn of cyberbullying was strange to experience as a parent. Things were being said online about my kid and their friends that my wife and I had no control over.

I have always tried to teach my kids how to stand up and be a leader in certain situations. Cyberbullying may be new, but bullying is age-old, and when it comes down to it the impulses are the same.

Luckily for my family, all of my children attended Friends Academy in the North Shore of Long Island. When my wife and I first heard about this school, we knew it was the place we wanted our kids to go. We made the move from the big city to the suburbs and never once regretted it.

There is a lot to like about Friends Academy, and one of them is their policy on bullying. As a Quaker school, they have a no tolerance stance. In fact, my kids have seen many classmates asked to leave the school because of it.

As parents, we’ve tried to instill in our children the power to stick up for themselves and others. It’s great to have a school that instills these same values. Friends Academy also builds community service into the kids’ weekly schedules, so that they learn the value of helping others when they are in need.

My kids have more knowledge of social media than I ever will, I hope that they can apply this wisdom to the world wide web, where the impacts of bullying can be amplified in a dangerous way.

Besides my family philosophy, I’m also lucky to be involved with people and groups working to combat bullying in all of its ugly forms. Along with my son William with Bucknell’s Men’s Lacrosse Team, I work with a program that goes to local public schools around the town of Lewisburg, where we speak to students about bullying. We take a full packet of notes and teach them numerous things: for example, how being a bystander to bullying is just as bad as bullying itself.

We also reenact certain types of bullying to students and have them respond with what they would do in any given situation. We try to show them that they should feel comfortable speaking to their parents, teachers, and other authority figures about bullying in schools. Most importantly, we give them ideas on what to say to a bully as a pacifist.

I cannot emphasize enough how important these tools all. Bullies and victims may only make up a small percentage of any given group, so there is a lot of power in the hands of those on the sidelines. But empowering the would-be victims also goes a long way.

My oldest daughter Katie knows this all too well. She is involved with music and theater therapy for people with developmental disabilities — individuals who are often misunderstood and targeted just for being who they are. She gives them a platform to feel confident in a safe environment, which we hope will translate to outside these activities if and when they are confronted with aggression.

Obviously bullying is a topic close to my heart, and I think that any program or school that teaches children how to combat it is actively worthwhile. After all, our children are the next generation. It takes good parenting and sometimes a little charity to impart the notion that all people are worthy of respect. Whether it’s happening behind a computer screen or between classes, bullying is a cowardly act that should never be accepted as the norm.