Why do some philanthropists voluntarily tackle some of society’s most difficult problems and devote considerable money, resources, and time to their efforts? In short: they have been touched deeply—by something that has affected them or by an idea that spoke to them personally—and they are moved by a sense of responsibility to create positive change in the world.
The philanthropists we interviewed reveal this rich tapestry of giving motivations. For example, when Bernie Marcus witnessed an employee struggling to care for her autistic child, he quickly realized that awareness of and resources for autism were sorely lacking. In response, he became deeply invested in autism through the Marcus Autism Center and Autism Speaks. When Michael Milken's father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he fought his feelings of powerlessness by accelerating his involvement in medical research. Ted Turner’s sense of urgency around population growth and resource depletion across the globe was a major impetus in making a $1 billion gift to the U.N. Foundation. Michael J. Fox was moved by his own battle with Parkinson’s disease to take action and create his own foundation as a platform for awareness and research.
Many of our interviewees also discuss the strongly-held values and beliefs that guide their giving. While many feel a responsibility to help those less fortunate, others are driven by a keen desire to accomplish something worthwhile. Some philanthropists mention their goal of playing an active role in shaping a solution, finding a cure, or altering a debate. In other words, they’re making investments of money, time, and influence in the hopes of achieving game-changing results.
Through their personal stories about their lifelong philanthropic journey or that defining moment that spurred them to action, we learn that the philanthropists we interviewed dedicate their resources and their time to the causes they care about for very different reasons, but always in the hope of accomplishing transformative change.