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The Foundation of Giving: New Movements by the Wealthy to Give Back

Front of the Gates Foundation building
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Giving Pledge is one way billionaires are giving back.
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Whether it’s inherent in the structure of a business or a personal choice made by the wealthy individual, more and more billionaires are choosing to give away massive portions of their wealth to charity. Sometimes the donations happen during the person’s lifetime; other times it’s a promise through a program like the Giving Pledge to donate a significant percentage of their money to charity upon their death.

On the business side, groups like global financial powerhouse General Atlantic are often founded on the idea of giving back to the community. Established in 1980, General Atlantic has more than 100 investments around the world. But it’s not just about the money—the company founder, Chuck Feeney, was determined to make philanthropy a vital part of the business.

According to Bill Ford, General Atlantic Chief Executive Officer, Feeny “was one of the early proponents of ‘giving while living’ and aimed to give his entire fortune away during his lifetime to support a number of philanthropic causes he was passionate about. In order to grow his capital available for giving, he partnered with us to invest in other promising entrepreneurs. So General Atlantic’s heritage has always been about backing entrepreneurs and innovators who are trying to build new businesses and who often pioneer new industries.”

In more modern times, many billionaires are not only integrating philanthropy into their businesses, but also turning to Bill Gates’s and Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge. The pledge is not a legally binding commitment, but rather, a promise by the world’s wealthy to donate more than half of their fortunes to charitable causes either during or after their lifetime. The Giving Pledge is meant to help the wealthy inspire others by providing well-known examples of people who have gone above and beyond to give back to their communities.

Each Pledge member publicly announces his or her intent to give, as well as creating an official statement about their philanthropic plans. In addition, they gather throughout the year—and at one big annual event—to discuss issues of philanthropy.

As of 2015, this group included 193 individuals from around the world, with more constantly joining

“It’s really thinking about how iconic figures providing inspiration and support can inspire and serve as a model for society,” said Robert Rosen, Giving Pledge coordinator and Director of Philanthropic Partnerships for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “We aren’t looking to add any additional complexity.”

Will these billionaires actually give the amounts they’ve promised? So far, many have. And hopefully they will inspire an entirely new generation of philanthropic do-gooders to do great things for their communities.



Street Art in San Francisco: Balmy Alley

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In San Francisco, there are several clusters of murals or street art that have gained attention. Many of these exist in the Mission District. For the mural lover, Balmy Alley is one of the highest concentrations of murals, and it is steeped in history. The Alley is located between 24th St. and 25th St., and Treat St. and Harrison St., which is a short walk from a BART stop. The ally contains murals in a variety of styles and on a variety of topics from human rights to gentrification.

The history of Balmy Alley begins in the mid-80’s. During this time, the neighborhood was primarily Latino.  In the previous decade, a famous mural called Las Lechugueras had been painted by two women called Mujeres Muralistas. A couple of murals were painted in the area, but it was Ray Patlan who had the intentions for the area. He brought together a group of muralists to create a project in this ally. They wanted each garage door or fence to have a mural on it. The theme uniting the paintings would be the “celebration of indigenous Central American cultures, and protest of U.S. intervention in Central America.”

By September 1985, 27 murals had been painted thanks to the funding Zellerbach Foundation and paint donations from Politec Mural Paints. After its completion it received more publicity than any other murals in San Francisco and significantly affected the creation of La Lucha Continua Art Park in New York City.

Since then, other murals have sprung up in the same area on a variety of different themes while some of the older murals are being restored. The best way to visit this iconic area is by foot, either individually or on the tour with Precita Eyes Mural Arts. This is a great way to get some history behind some of the major murals. Either way, if you appreciate street art, Balmy Ally is a San Francisco must.

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Rapper Big Sean Donates Money to Help Homeless College Students

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The difficulty of life growing up in a city like Detroit is one of the central themes that runs through hip-hop. For rapper “Big Sean” Anderson, bringing those difficulties to light isn’t enough, so he’s trying to help out. He recently donated $25,000 to a group called HIGH (Helping Individuals Go Higher), which helps students struggling with financial difficulties make it to graduation.

HIGH is focused on Wayne State University in Detroit, but the problem of college homelessness isn’t limited to the Motor City. Students who can’t afford housing, food, books, or clothing while they attend classes can be found at schools around the country. HIGH has been working to address the problem at WSU, and they’ve gotten a nice boost from Big Sean, but it’s a problem that needs to be addressed elsewhere, both by non-profits and through political action.

With a significant portion of local students, Wayne State University is home to some problems that other schools don’t see as often. Big 10 universities and Ivy League schools tend to have large endowments to help students with tuition, or mostly attract wealthy students in the first place. But as a working class state school, WSU has many students who live at or below the poverty line, and it is exactly those students that HIGH was founded to help.

Big Sean donated the money through his Sean Anderson Foundation, which partners with other groups to raise money for a variety of causes. Foundations like this are pretty common, and they’re a good model for people, especially celebrities, who want to help out but maybe aren’t willing to dedicate themselves wholly to one kind of charitable work. Big Sean likes to keep the focus in Michigan, and his foundation recently helped raise $82,755 for the Community Foundation of Greater Flint to help children affected by lead poisoning in that city.

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Trump Could Face Charges for His Falsified Donations

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Lying about charity isn’t an ethical or nice thing to do. Saying that you’ve donated money to a cause, when you really haven’t, might sound like a little white lie, but the act of donating is seen as a social good. It’s something that people can look at and judge you as a good member of society. It’s great if it’s true, but if you’re lying about your charitable works, then you’re gaining good press for something you never did, which is unethical at the very least.

It may also be illegal in some cases. Donald Trump has appeared in the press numerous times over the course of this bid for the 2016 presidential election precisely because its become apparent that he isn’t honest about his donations. He has routinely claimed that he would donate the proceeds from various products, like his recent book, “university,” or vodk to charity. But it keeps coming back that those claims aren’t true, and that money isn’t going to charity. He’s just been using the promise of donations to entice people to buy his products.

So a number of experts have been trying to get New York Attorney General Eric Schneidermann to press charges against Trump for deceptive business practices. The Attorney General has not moved on these accusations, nor commented on whether he will, but the office is aware of the allegations.

It certainly seems like a valuable use of the Attorney General’s time. Fraud is fraud, regardless of who commits it, and it’s obvious that Trump has lied, time and time again, about his “charitable work.” But he hasn’t just used these lies to build his image as he has also used them to trick people into buying his products, and that’s not something we should let slide.

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Turn Your Gardening Hobby into a Charity

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For gardeners with a charitable streak, donating part of your harvest to charity can turn your hobby into helping others. According to Plant a Row, a nonprofit dedicated to this exact idea, about 84 million households in the United States have yards or gardens. They maintain that if each of those gardens simply added another row of vegetables or the like and then donated that yield, it could take a pretty big bite out of hunger.

About 50 million people, almost the population of California, suffer from food insecurity, and rely on food banks or other organizations for help, when they can get it. But those organizations don’t always have enough food to go around, and fresh produce can be especially hard to keep on hand. Fresh fruit and vegetables are important to human health, but are all to often neglected or out of people’s price range. Local gardeners can help change that though.

There are a lot of ways that this idea can be put into practice. Home gardens are the obvious choice, but community gardens built with charity in mind are a wonderful idea as well. Not only do such gardens generate food, but they create green spaces and provide exercise and recreation for people in the community. Schools often undertake gardening projects, and those are a perfect opportunity to not only teach kids about biology, but to help instill a charitable tendency as well.

And charitable gardens don’t require much more work than normal gardens either. Crops like leaf lettuce, onions, or carrots are easy to grow, hardy, and should have no problem finding a good home. Get in touch with local food banks, or organizations like Plant a Row or Feeding America to see how you can help out, and if you can’t find a local organization to contribute to, why not start your own?

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Former President Bush Paid $100,000 to Speak at Veterans’ Charity

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Former President George W. Bush charged a veterans’ group, Helping a Hero, $100,000 to speak at an event held in 2012. His wife, former First Lady Laura Bush received $50,000, and they were flown there in a private jet which cost another $20,000. All told, the charity spent $170,000 to have Bush speak at their event.

Some in the organization aren’t happy about the expenditure. Helping a Hero works to construct housing for severely wounded veterans of the “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan, both conflicts that Bush was responsible for. Some within the organization think that it was offensive for Bush to charge for such a speech, especially after they were wounded serving under him. It’s especially upsetting when compared to other former presidents who, while making a solid living off the speaking circuit after they’re terms, don’t generally charge veterans’ groups.

Bill Clinton has never charged veterans, George H.W. Bush had some events underwritten to cover costs for the charities, and Jimmy Carter donates honorariums to the Carter Center.

The charity has justified the expenditure in several ways. For one, they raised larger sums than normal when the Bushes came to speak, even after expenses. That’s a fair point, and big name speakers can bring in donations that otherwise might not appear, but they do greatly increase the cost of holding fundraisers in the first place. Those fees were paid for by the charity, but they were underwritten by a private donor, which certainly helps, but that was money that could have just as easily gone to their mission. The charity also claims that the Bushes charged substantially less than their normal speaking fees for the charity, which could be seen as generous of them, but not as generous as doing it for free.

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Prep for Prep

The Prep for Prep organization works to develop leadership skills and educational opportunities for students of color in New York City. It was started in 1978 by South Bronx teacher Gary Simons and has grown since then to support 225 students a year. Fifth, sixth, and seventh graders who scored in the top ten percent on the state English Language Arts tests are nominated to join the program, a 14-month preparation for independent school enrollment.

Prep for Prep goes beyond just academics, though; it also trains participants to be leaders by using an individualized approach and supporting students through the whole process. Students in the program don’t just get placed in high-powered schools; they are supported all along the way.

Prep for Prep charges no tuition for its services—thanks to generous individual supporters like hedge fund guru Dan Loeb, the non-profit has the resources to offer their services without having to charge the low-income students who are benefitting from them.

The Prep Community includes more than 4,500 members, according to the website. These members are “rapidly assuming leadership positions in a wide variety of endeavors” and are “living proof that the potential for academic and professional success exists in all ethnic groups and socioeconomic classes.”

Though Prep for Prep is only able to serve about 0.1% of the students who are eligible to apply, those who complete the program definitely see results, ending up in top tier independent schools (Trinity, Collegiate, Brearley), boarding schools (Exeter, Choate, Phillips Academy) and, eventually, top notch universities (Harvard, Yale, Stanford).

A heartfelt editorial in The Huffington Post points out the importance of programs like Prep for Prep:

“Our public school system has the resources–human and financial, teacher and student– to harness more from gifted, driven youths. We need our schools to be able to say truthfully to students: “If you are willing to work your heart out and make education your priority, you will be richly rewarded with opportunities.” That’s the best of the American dream. Right now, the tacit message of so many schools is actually: “You have to go through the motions here because that’s the way it’s always been. School is good, and if you’re not into it, shape up or ship out.” Hardly inspiring.”

Programs like Prep for Prep, however, are definitely inspiring—and committed to making a real difference in students’ lives.

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The Right Gifts for the Homeless

If you live in or near a big city, chances are you’re fairly accustomed to seeing homeless people. With colder weather already settled in and the holidays coming up, now would be a good time to spend some time putting together care packages for the homeless people in your area who could really use your help. But not everything is going to be useful for them, like gift cards to be used over the internet or jewelry. Here are some better options to pack into care kits for your homeless friends!


It’s very difficult to keep clean living on the street. Fill your packs with things that promote health, wellness, and hygiene, like hand wipes, tissues, toothbrushes and toothpaste, Band-Aids, a small first-aid kit, combs, and nail clippers. However, make sure you keep things like scented soaps or lotions away from any food items you want to pack so that they don’t start to smell and taste like each other. Additionally, try to keep anything alcohol-based out of the kit, like hand sanitizer or mouthwash.

Additionally, consider donating things like tampons and sanitary napkins, which are often not provided at homeless shelters.


Include soft, nutritious snacks like applesauce, pudding, trail mix, or beef jerky, and avoid hard or crunchy things like granola bars or candy. Most homeless people don’t have regular access to a dentist, so softer snacks will usually be preferred over crispy ones. But beef jerky, despite its leathery texture, is a popular item because of how much protein it provides.

Other items.

Things besides food and toiletries are likely to be appreciated, too. Things like sturdy travel mugs, socks, and mittens could really help someone out. But don’t give cash or used items, as used items can feel insulting. Putting religious literature into the pack is also generally not preferred, though many people do it out of kindness; but for homeless people who receive Bible verses and tracts all the time, it gets old.

When you give your kits to your homeless friends, be kind about it. Don’t be rushed, don’t throw the pack out of a car window, and don’t go alone. Stop and get to know the person you’re trying to help and let them talk to you—if they want to, which they may not. But if you’re prepared to listen, they might tell you their stories.

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Millennials Prefer Volunteering to Donation

Millennials, those people who are now between the ages of 18 and 34, tend to get a bad wrap. They are often accused of not working hard enough, or expecting too much out of the opportunities they do have. Some older folk seem to think that all millennials are self-important children, who think they’re important or special because they all got participation awards when they were young (given to them, ironically enough, by the same generations that are complaining about it now).

But millennials have inherited a pretty broken economy, a faltering infrastructure, and a generally terrible job market. Millennials are often underemployed, with many working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Despite all this though, many still find time to help out in their communities.

According to a study from Achieve, a research agency, 77% of millennials would prefer to donate their time and find a charity they can help with a skill or expertise they’ve developed. Considering that many millennials are over-educated and underemployed, this isn’t terrible surprising. It’s easier to help out than to donate money, and it’s generally more personally rewarding.

The study also found that millennials tended to focus their energy on charities which were related to issues that directly affect people in their lives. Doing so allows them to bring a level of passion to their work that older volunteers may lack. These young people know that things aren’t perfect for them, and that it could be worse, and often is for people in their own communities or families.

In light of this new information, maybe it’s time people let up on millennials? They’ve been handed a rough situation and told it’s their own fault, but they’re not only making the best they can in those circumstances, some of them are also managing to help others at the same time.

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AT&T to Donate $20 Million to Schools

Mobile phone giant AT&T has announced that it intends to donate $20 million to support different education initiatives through the AT&T Aspire Program. The grant will support schools in 26 states around the country with the intent of providing mobile learning opportunities, mentoring, and career skills.

The grant will support students in a number of ways. “As students head back to school, we want to make sure we’re doing our part to help them succeed,” says Nicole Anderson, AT&T’s Executive Director of Philanthropy. “We’re collaborating with organizations that help students of all ages access mobile learning, mentors and the skills they need to hit the ground running beginning this fall and well into their futures.”

Some of the grant will go to Curriki, Get Schooled, and Black Girls CODE, an organization whose mission is to increase the number of girls and women of color in the STEM fields, as well as many others.

This donation isn’t the first time AT&T has supported schools, and not even in recent news. Yesterday, the company donated three hundred backpacks filled with supplies for the coming school year to the Bay-Arenac Intermediate School District in Monitor Township, Michigan. The donation came from volunteer AT&T employees. This marks the 15th year of the Michigan Pioneers donation program. They plan to donate another 300 backpacks tomorrow to students in Saginaw County.

In August, AT&T gave a $30,000 grant to the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center to help mentor at-risk students. The company created the Aspire Mentoring Program to achieve their goal of providing 1 million hours of student mentoring by the end of next year. Also in 2015, AT&T has donated over $5 million to various United Way organizations across the nation.

Already this year AT&T has made plenty of donations to schools and other betterment programs. Because of their efforts, more children and students have access to the mentorship, supplies, and support they need to succeed.