Seattle is home to the Gates Foundation, and the Seattle Foundation, which in 2014 was #22 in terms of the largest community foundations nationwide. We also benefit from the substantial giving of the late Paul Allen, of the Schultz Family Foundation, The Ballmer Group, the Raikes Foundation, Jeff Bezos, and other super wealthy individual donors.
Beyond that, though, Seattle punches below its weight in philanthropic giving, despite the number of high salaried and high net worth individuals who live here. Tony Mestres, President and CEO of the Seattle Foundation, just wrote an article for the Seattle Times documenting that Seattle giving is below both the national and state averages in terms of giving as a share of adjusted gross income. Our level of giving places us on par with Phoenix, Baltimore and St.Louis — cities with far less abundant economies than ours. Mestres, of course, writes to urge the community to do more. He cites a sense that the presence of “big givers”, Gates and Allen et al, seem to give people a pass in terms of thinking about giving. Because we have the Gates Foundation here, in some sense people seem to think we’ve got giving covered.
Jerry and I shared the value of charitable giving, even in years when we were starting the business and money was tight. We transmitted that value to Sara and Matt. Now, I’m doing Heifer Project with Archie and Else — a worthwhile charitable initiative and a tangible way to talk with young children about giving. I get the paper brochure, and go through it with each child. Each has $120 to give, and they get to pick a goat or a sheep or a share of a larger animal or several clusters of honeybees or chickens or rabbits. We talk about what Christmas means when toys have to come second to something far more basic: food for the family, clothing, fresh water.
Many of the institutions that used to teach the value of giving, like religious bodies, have faded in importance. As little Catholic girls growing up, my sisters and I filled mission boxes with spare change for the poor. I’m not sure we had much idea what that meant, but we got the point that life was not just about us. In raising Sara and Matt, that responsibility shifted to Jerry and me.
I’m often struck, in the village in Panama, how families serve as the safety net for each other. Sharing is family based, and doesn’t usually extend much beyond. But if there is a crisis in any part of the family, whoever happens to have money coughs it up. When Gloria’s father died two years ago, I had just paid her the generous amount I give for her weeks of work. Although she has eight siblings, no one had any money to spare. Gloria wound up spending all of the money I gave her on her father’s funeral needs. Could she have said to her siblings “I’m paying a ninth, and the rest of you will have to come up with your part because Tia Pamela is always telling me I have to save”? Not really.
Caring for those in need, to me, is part of the basic fabric of humanity — both locally and globally. Giving short shrift to giving diminishes all of us, and it’s not an attractive trend.