Philanthropy can have a profound impact on the lives of those it seeks to help, but what may be surprising is the extent to which the philanthropists we interviewed have themselves been transformed by their philanthropic endeavors. "I think [philanthropy has] made us better human beings," says Herb Sandler. "Business success is great; philanthropic success is greater." Emmett Carson speaks to the satisfaction of taking action rather than standing on the sidelines of societal problems: "Most people go home and will see some issue on TV, and they go, 'Wow, that’s terrible. Boy, somebody ought to do something about that.' And I go home and I see that story and by the end of the week, I’ve been involved in doing something about it."
Our interviewees describe philanthropy as some of the hardest work they’ve ever done, but also work that they find deeply fulfilling. They describe the deep satisfaction that comes from being part of transformational change or from teaming up with others to help create solutions to society's thorniest problems. Indeed, several interviewees express surprise at how all-consuming philanthropy has become in their lives, and some have even left their business careers to pursue philanthropy full-time.
In addition to describing the impact philanthropy has had on their lives, the philanthropists we interviewed also offer advice to those less far along in their philanthropic journey. They call on their personal experiences to offer important advice about how and when to give money away, how to choose a focus, and why it’s essential to become personally involved. Two messages in particular are mentioned by many of the philanthropists we interviewed: the importance of choosing a cause one is passionate about, and the importance of giving money—and time—now
, rather than waiting. Our interviewees believe giving money away now is essential to tackling the magnitude of issues that exist today. They believe that starting the philanthropic journey as early as possible gives philanthropists more time to achieve impact, which involves learning, making mistakes, and refining. Starting now also increases the likelihood that philanthropists will see the desired impact in their lifetime.
What is universal among the philanthropists we interviewed is the importance of philanthropy in their lives. Many of our interviewees – all extremely accomplished in other aspects of their lives -- say they’d like to be remembered most for their philanthropic endeavors. Through these interviews they are now hoping to inspire others to do the same. As Connie Duckworth noted, “The Bridgespan/Give Smart project is a roadmap of shared wisdom, insights and experiences that will help any would-be philanthropist. It would have certainly kept me out of a few ditches.”