Skip to main content

The Presumption of Altruism

Out now is the thirtieth anniversary issue of the Forbes 400, a listing of the wealthiest 400 Americans. While the 29 previous editions have regaled us with stories of vast wealth, how it was earned (or inherited) and how it was spent (or lost), the 2012 issue is mainly about how it is given away to charity.

But even before I got my copy, over the last few years it’s become apparent to me that the zeitgeist of day is that billionaires must now give away a substantial portion of their wealth to causes.

It hasn’t always been thus.

The last time that America’s wealthiest cared so much about giving away their money was the last time that Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were in the same room together. Carnegie almost single-handedly put a library in ever community of any size across North America and the English Commonwealth. Rockefeller gave America Colonial Williamsburg, the Grand Tetons National Park, the University of Chicago, and cures for yellow fever and hookworm.

Notwithstanding Carnegie and Rockefeller’s largesse, it took almost 80 years for what I’m calling the ‘presumption of altruism’ to develop among America’s richest. 

You can draw a line from Carnegie and Rockefeller straight to someone like Charles Feeney who co-founded the Duty Free Shoppers Group and used it to fund the multi-billion dollar foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies.

From Feeney draw the line to Warren Buffet and Bill Gates who have since 2009 cajoled, shamed, or persuaded nearly 100 of their fellow billionaires to sign the Giving Pledge, wherein they promise to give away no less than half their wealth within their own lifetimes.

Put directly, to be a billionaire today carries not only great wealth, but the expectation that you will do more with it than create generations of trust fundies.

And increasingly the presumption of altruism is more than a North American phenomena. In 2008 when a powerful earthquake devastated Sichuan, China, the world responded. But not as much as did China’s many homegrown millionaires and billionaires.

Likewise, the 2012 Forbes list notes the charitable works of Manoj Bhargava, the entrepreneur behind 5 Hour Energy. Bhargava was born in India and immigrated to the United States at age 14. But now the richest Indian in America is also a philanthropist who looks homeward to India when it comes to ‘giving back.’

How deep does this presumption of altruism go? You can see it in this tableau from a recent American Girl Doll magazine. Two of the dolls, Julie and Ivy are shown holding a charity carwash as an effort to ‘save the eagles.’

This is all very different than the world of my youth. And thank goodness for it.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Three Ways to Be Charitable

I’ve spent a big chunk of my career working with or for charities. Many of my dearest and ablest friends are in the charity ‘space.’ And the creativity and problem-solving coming out of the nonprofit sector has never been greater.  Although I’ve had numerous nonprofit clients over the last decade or so, I haven’t worked in a charity for about 12 years now, which gives me a certain distance. Distance lends perspective and consequently, I get a lot of people asking me which charities I recommend for donations of money or time. My usual answer is, “it depends.” “On what?” they respond. “On what you want from your charitable activities,” I reply. It sounds like a weaselly consultant kind of an answer, but bear with me for a moment. The English word charity comes from the Latin word caritas and means “from the heart,” implying a voluntary act. Caritas is the same root word for cherish. The Jews come at charity from a different direction. The Hebrew word that is usually rendered as charity is t…

Top Eight Cause-Related Marketing Campaigns of 2007

Yeah, You Read it Right. It's a Top 8 List.

More cause-related marketing campaigns are unveiled every day across the world than I review in a year at the cause-related marketing blog. And, frankly, I don’t see very many campaigns from outside North America. So I won’t pretend that my annual list of the top cause-related marketing campaigns is exhaustive.

But, like any other self-respecting blogger, I won’t let my superficial purview stop me from drawing my own tortured conclusions!

So… cue the drumroll (and the dismissive snickers)… without further ado, here is my list of the eight best cause-related marketing campaigns of 2007.

My list of the worst cause-related marketing campaigns of 2007 follows on Thursday.


Chilis and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
I was delighted by the scope of Chilis’ campaign for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As you walked in you saw the servers adorned in black co-branded shirts. Other elements included message points on the Chilis beverage coas…

Five Steps To Nurture a 30-Year Cause Marketing Relationship

Last Monday, July 22, 2013, March of Dimes released the annual results of its campaign with Kmart... now in its thirtieth year... and thereby begged the question, what does it takes to have a multi-decade cause marketing relationship between a cause and a sponsor?

In the most recent year, Kmart,the discount retailer, donated $7.4 million to the March of Dimes, bringing the 30-year total to nearly $114 million. March of Dimes works to improve the health of mothers and babies.

Too many cause marketing relationships, in my estimation, resemble speed-dating more than long-term marriage. There can be good reasons for short-term cause marketing relationships. But most causes and sponsors benefit more from long-term marriages than short-term hookups, the main benefit being continuity. Cause marketing trades on the trust that people, usually consumers, put in the cause and the sponsor. The longer the relationship lasts the more trust is evidenced.

There's also a sponsor finding cost that…