Copper River Record January 18, 2018
By Robin Mayo
Part of my job is keeping track of news in the world of philanthropy and nonprofits, so when headlines popped up last week about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos making a multi-million-dollar donation to a scholarship fund, I took notice. Thirty-three million is a lot of green! For this generosity, the donors are getting nationwide attention. This is definitely a major donation, and extra special thanks are in order, right?
Well, sort of. It depends on how you look at it. Bezos’ net worth is somewhere around 105 BILLION dollars, so I was curious how his donation stacked up as a percentage of his total fortune. If we consider an average family with a net worth of something around fifty thousand dollars, they only need to donate $16 to their favorite charity to match the proportional generosity of the Bezos family. Although this donation will not earn them headlines, seats at the head table, or naming rights for a building, in terms of significance in the family finances, it is the same. In fact, it may be more significant, because this family is probably operating on a fairly tight budget, and will have to save that $16 somewhere else.
Americans donate about one half of one percent of their net worth to charity annually, about $250 for our “average” family with a net worth of fifty thousand. Amongst the very wealthy, the amount varies wildly, with the Gates and Buffets giving over ten percent, but the Walton family, founders of Walmart, averaging only .04 percent of their net worth annually. Statistically, the lower middle class gives more generously than almost anyone.
WISE Board of Directors members are asked to make a financial contribution to the organization every year, and they do so generously. We suggest a minimum amount, but also note that the donation should be at a level that is meaningful to the donor. I’d like to put forward that any charitable giving should be measured by this parameter: How meaningful is it? What could you have purchased instead? Will you notice the deficit, and have to make sacrifices to make it possible?
WISE’s charitable income does not figure in the millions, but we are very proud and humbled to make about ten percent of our annual budget from individual donations. We have donors who give $500 or more a year, and others who faithfully send a $25 check. If you figure the donation as a percentage of net worth, I suspect our humblest donors may actually be the most generous. And it is not so much the amount of the donation that really matters, it is the intent behind it, the willingness to sacrifice to help others, that keeps this dream alive.
Since this article is already full of numbers, here is another to think about. Since our founding in 2002, WISE has earned and spent about 1.1 million dollars. As much as possible is spent locally, on wages, fuel, and supplies. Combined with the other nonprofits in the Copper Basin, it is a significant boost to the economy.
As you file for your Permanent Fund Dividend and consider Pick.Click.Give donations, I hope you will consider giving to an organization that resonates with you. Your humble donation may actually be more meaningful than someone else’s multimillion dollar gift.
Photo caption: Charitable donations make priceless moments like these possible. Copper River Stewardship Program 2014.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.