Details About We Can’t Wait
to Give Away A Lot Away
Felix Kramer outlines his thinking:
1) I’m starting to give $1 million away.
That’s a big chunk of what I have. But I’ve figured out I can prudently part with it. And I’m not waiting any longer. If you’re reading this, chances are you know our emergencies on democracy, climate, species extinction, injustice, racism and inequality already put us in an all-hands-on-deck era.
I’m asking a question:
How can I get a lot of money (for me) into the hands of worthy people and effective organizations, in the service of urgent causes and essential solutions, to invest in the future we want -- now?
I know most people can’t afford this. But I’m fortunate that I can. And there are many like me, who live comfortably without having to struggle every day. While still insuring themselves against catastrophes, they could significantly step up the all-essential scope, scale, and speed of their giving.
I’m starting to give to the causes and campaigns I care about most. I fervently believe if we stretch to give organizations our maximum support now, we still have a chance to create a thriving, abundant, flourishing future. Groups and leaders can inspire us earthlings to stop plundering our world and exploiting each other. And we can work for lofty goals: to create much safer, healthier, more equal, and more just environments, societies, and cultures.
I’ve dedicated myself to these goals for 55 years. Now I’m ready for one more consequential step: to end my own Business As Usual approach to my assets.
I don’t see this as a sacrifice. It feels great to give! Already I find it helps me enjoy even more in the first years of what I hope will be two more decades before I die.
Brainstorming with leaders of groups I work with is leading to ways this spirit can go beyond wealthy donors.
Could organizations and campaigns communicate the urgency and promise of our times and imagine raising their fundraising goals ten-fold? At the same time as many of their supporters 10X their giving?
Groups could spotlight those who publicly or anonymously commit this year: wealthy people to give $1M to causes, including substantial support to their chosen group; well-off people to give in five figures to that group; the rest of us to dig deep, giving “all we can” in the hundreds or thousands.
2) From “give away eventually” to “share now”
Thinking about my assets & goals
Most people reading this recognize the urgency of our multiple crises and the critical years we’re in. After the most direct and unequivocal international climate assessment made news everywhere, Margaret Klein Salamon, the new director of The Climate Emergency Fund and a longtime colleague, connected the dots and concluded Only Emergency Mobilization Can Protect Humanity Now. (I’ll add at least another link about the big picture about our unprecedented time we’re in and the possibility for transformation.)
As I thought about the resources needed to mobilize people to act, I asked myself, “I do as much as I can. Why don’t I also give all I can ASAP?” I welcome your thoughts as I explore ways to maximize my impact.
In my email signature, I describe myself as Writer-Ideator-Networker-Solutionary. (Here’s a link to a short overview of my life in activism, startups and missing pieces.) And I sign off, "Together in grief and hope, with radical determination" (which I refined with Anna, my 24-year old ActiveAllies colleague).
I continue to live in dread, and in bewilderment and frustration at how most people respond to global crises they understand well with indifference (thanks Umair Haque) and feelings of powerlessness. At the same time, I’m personally inspired by bright sparks. And I often wake up happy, with enthusiasm to act! Now, along with climate projects that fuel me, I want to add a different way to give and invest my money.
Meanwhile, up in the stratosphere, MacKenzie Scott is shaking up the slow world of philanthropy. In her statement at the Giving Pledge, where she doubled the usual “50% in my lifetime,” she quoted writer Annie Dillard: “The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it [money] now.”
With >$50B in Amazon stock, at age 51, she’s begun to “give the majority of my wealth back to the society that helped generate it, to do it thoughtfully, to get started soon, and to keep at it until the safe is empty.” Her team calls up Executive Directors and says, “no strings, no reporting, go for it!” It seems so yesteryear to look for surprises coming at readings of wills. And Scott has gotten many people thinking!
Dialing down from her 11 figures, I’m focusing on the tens of thousands in the San Francisco Bay Area with assets over $10M.
If you’re in that category, and you share my great sense of urgency, is it possible you’ll do the numbers about what you need and conclude you don’t have to wait, and join me in giving at least $1M away in 2022?
If so, please let me know you’re in on the “soft pledge”. (Your commitments will be private for as long as you want.)
We Can't Wait!
We’re ready to have a real impact on our emergencies on democracy, climate, species extinction, injustice, racism and inequality.
To respond to urgent causes, advance essential solutions, and invest for a flourishing future, we will consider giving away a lot, to the bold and effective organizations we already support, at one of three levels:
$1,000,000 in the coming year.
Or we will dig deep: $25,000 or more to the single organization we want to support most.
Or what we can spare — ideally ten times as much as we've ever given to that group
Timing is everything
It may help you to hear how I got here. At 72, I’m fit and healthy. I hope to be around for another 20 years. And we’ve become grandparents — our son and daughter-in-law just became parents of a son who could live to 2100.
And I’m fortunate! I already know I have more than I need to live comfortably for the rest of my life. (Of course, it’s easier to know that at 60 or 70 than when you’re younger.) Even after setting aside funds for the most extreme personal and medical catastrophes. (As for the potential consequences of extreme weather and other climate disruption: if we don’t take transformative action, in a decade or so, I expect having money won’t actually help much…) And conversations with advisors and friends have led me to feel confident that I won’t be risking my own future if I stretch now to give $1M away.
Why not start now?
People who have assets over $50-100M often have family offices (see Wikipedia). People with less than that often set up trusts, and get immediate tax write-offs with donor-advised funds while taking their time deciding where to give money. (BTW, I don’t have to take into account appreciated assets. Long ago, I did well in the stock market. When I decided to sell everything, for philosophical reasons, my state of mind improved significantly.)
How will I give? I’m at the very low end of what people describe as wealthy. Plus, I’m not prioritizing avoiding taxes, and I’m not looking to create a perpetual giving machine. So I’m envisioning individualized ways to contribute as much as possible to causes and groups, accelerate my gifts to people, and invest the intentionally dwindling remaining assets.
3) The large opportunity
Could others in the San Francisco Bay Area join in giving away a lot ASAP?
As you read this, you won’t be surprised that I think about others like me. I like to think big, so I envision success: if 1,000 people in the SFBA, especially old and young entrepreneurs, each go in to donate $1M to causes they most strongly support, that will bring in $1B.
Wealth-X’s 2021 report finds in the SFBA over 4,000 people with assets over $30M. And Credit Suisse Research Institute’s Global Wealth Databook 2021 p. 127 tallies 1.5M people in the U.S. with over $10M in assets. Extrapolating that means tens of thousands over $10M in the Bay Area.
Backcasting from that, I’m starting conversations with people with assets over $10M, asking, “Do you have more than you need for the rest of your life? If so, would you consider giving $1M away now?” I hope to collaborate with them to affiliate, publicly or anonymously, around something like [working title] “We’re Giving A Lot Away Right Now, When It Matters Most.”
In lower wealth categories, others who want a less complicated solution could follow Warren Buffet, who gave $36B to the Gates Foundation, adding to a donor-advised fund of some other “participant” whose judgment they respect. And I’m talking with NGOs about ways to highlight people who commit to give $50K to their group this year, plus people at any income level who decide to give what amounts to a lot for them — now.
Not reinventing the wheel
Meanwhile, I’ll be happy if you and other individuals, financial advisors, or other entities can help me refine and develop this model.
I want to acknowledge that I’m a complete novice in the world of philanthropy! So many have devoted decades to fundraising and to talking with people about the role of money in their lives. One of the foremost is Lynne Twist, co-founder of the Pachamama Alliance and of the Soul of Money Institute, named after her 2003 book. Listen to or read a transcript of her 20-minute talk about scarcity and sufficiency at the SheEO Summit in March 2021.
I want to build on mechanisms that already exist and partner with institutions that share my goals and values. I expect the group of funds could operate most efficiently through existing entities in the worlds of financial advisors, community foundations, and perhaps partnering with other organizations.
Foundations & climate & spend-downs
Activists, advocates, and policy people have long criticized the world of philanthropy for giving tiny percentages of their endowments to climate projects and organizations. Out of the $450 billion in U.S. philanthropy in 2019, less than 2% went to climate change mitigation. And in recent years, climate justice advocates point out the tiny sliver they receive. (And few foundations have gone beyond the legal requirement to disburse 5% of their assets yearly —they use 5-67% as a base, not a ceiling. The Initiative to Accelerate Charitable Giving is proposing requirements that would also apply to private foundations and donor advised funds.
And there’s a slight trend toward foundations spending down and shutting down. The S.D. Bechtel Foundation, founded in 1957, closed after giving out over $1B from 2009-2020. Famously, Atlantic Philanthropies operated anonymously starting 1982 until forced by a lawsuit to emerge in 1997. Its spend-down went from 2012-2020. They gave $8B away; Founder Chuck Feeney kept $2M. See their GIVING while LIVING: Engage Now. Give Today. Change Tomorrow. And you can download Feeney’s book.
Their motivations may have come mostly from being anti-perpetuity. As I see it, all foundations need to take into account and substantially fund responses to climate, species extinction, justice, inequality and other emergencies, in addition to their other causes.
A final thought
I’m feeling happier and more hopeful as I begin to Give Away A Lot. I look forward to meaningful and pleasurable interactions with people as I refine this idea and put it into practice.
Let’s do this together!
I’d love to talk with you about it and learn your suggestions
(please text or email email@example.com).
Disclaimer: Nothing in this document should be understood as constituting financial planning, tax or legal advice.