“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” — Jack London


Every person has a reason for choosing to pursue philanthropy. For some it’s the surgery that saved their life. For others, it’s a scholarship that enabled them to attend college. Experiences—life-changing experiences—have the power to inspire and ignite a lifetime of meaningful philanthropy.

When we sat down to interview one particular couple, we expected to hear a story about their most recent philanthropic contribution. Instead, we learned that philanthropy is an integral part of who they are, an important thread in their personal and professional life story.

We didn’t have a nickel to speak of when we first got married. I supported my husband the first few years by teaching school. He’d started a printing business, and it was just hard work, hard work, hard work. He was working 16-, 18-hour days at least. It was really just determination and devotion to what we wanted to accomplish, and not giving up.

During this time, we evolved a philosophy: one-third, one-third, one-third. We’d live on a third of our income. We’d pay taxes with the other third. And we would contribute to the community in one way or the other with the final third.

Why the community? Her husband responded simply:

I was very fortunate to have hired and worked with fine people. We had some really great support. That made the job easier, even though my working hours continued to be 12, 14 hours a day.

What struck us about his response was not its simplicity, but the depth of the conviction that guided their philanthropy.

Sure, we could retire and have a yacht and things like that. But those are not important. I am still working to make money. I work 11 hours a day, 5 ½ days a week, so that we can raise the funds and keep it going so we can continue what we’re doing. We’re happy. We couldn’t ask for any more. That’s enough.

For them, it has always been about giving back to the community that helped them succeed. Perhaps this is why their greatest joy comes from seeing their philanthropy at work. The husband explains:

Because I was so aware of how important the hospital was to the community, we made a pledge two years before the building fund started. We saw the need for the growth of this neighborhood, and our second contribution came about because of the utilization of the facility by the residents here.

Throwing big parties and all of that business… I don’t know if that’s more worthwhile than taking you to some place and showing you what’s been going on or what the need is.

The most enjoyable thing that has happened to us was when we spent half a day going through the premises. They gave us a card, signed by all the young people that worked there, thanking us for our fund. There were probably 75 names of young people who were appreciative of the fact that we had helped them do their work. That, to me, was truly meaningful.

Because they were owners of an immensely successful business, the life-changing experience that inspired this couple’s philanthropy was perhaps not obvious. Yet it played a crucial role in what made their philanthropy meaningful to them.


More about turning a One-Time Gift into a Meaningful Lifetime Commitment