He's a billionaire determined to give his money away while still alive so he could see the impact it might have. After building a duty-free shopping empire, Chuck Feeney set up a foundation to give his fortune away. His foundation was established in 1982 and his goal was achieved one year ago when it ran out of money. Feeney is still alive. He and his wife live frugally in a rented apartment and while he doesn't tell anyone what they should do with their money, he wishes others would do what he has done and put their money to work solving problems. He believes wealth brings with it responsibility and wonders how many yachts one should buy when so many in the world are in such tremendous need of life sustaining essentials. It was Feeney's approach to wealth that led to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett establishing the Giving Pledge where the ultra-rich commit to giving at least half of their wealth to charity.
Sure, it's easy for the super-rich to give away mega millions when they have mega millions more in the bank, right? Isn't that what a lot of us are thinking? Isn't that how we react to news of someone wealthy making an announcement of a big gift? It's easy to give…if you have it.
There is absolutely no doubt many in our nation are struggling financially, a situation that has certainly worsened over the last 18 months. Yet despite the economic hits taken, it remains that when it comes to wealth distribution we sit in the top tier. That may be hard to get our heads around as bills pile up, expenses increase and wages just don’t keep pace, but it is still true that we find ourselves on the wealthy end of the global economic spectrum.
Despite the fact that we have more than most, the amount we are willing to give to help others seems to be changing. There were some bright spots seen during the pandemic including significant increases in donations for hospitals and frontline services. There were also new donors in areas of environmental causes, Indigenous support groups and social justice charities. That's where the good news ends. Because even though giving was up 260% in the first wave of COVID, overall people gave less, and that’s a trend being seen year upon year upon year. It stands to reason that as income is impacted so is giving; but as overall giving declines, so does the work that can be done by the organizations relying on those donations.
Less than 15 years ago, one quarter of all Canadians gave to charity. Ten years later that number dropped to 19%. The other factor in play is the growing giving gap. Younger generations are simply not giving to the same degree as older ones. Canadians 55 and up give almost twice as much as those aged 25-54, and yet even amongst the most generous age group the level of giving is down.
Chuck Feeney wondered how many yachts the ultra-rich felt they needed. We may not be the ultra-rich but we certainly are amongst the wealthy and maybe we could consider similar questions of our own spending habits. Not only does our economic capacity give us a standard of living much of the world will never see, it could be argued it carries with it a responsibility to do what we can for others. But perhaps responsibility is not the best way to look at it. Let's flip that around. What if we approached it not as a responsibility but as a tremendous opportunity? Opportunity to give. Opportunity to help. Opportunity to have an impact.
Giving involves blessing someone without expecting anything back. Giving is selfless. It is an expression of care, of concern and of love. And while we often look at it in terms of dollars, there are so many other ways to have that impact and to grab hold of that opportunity. It is acts of help and encouragement and so much more. So we listen when needed, send a card when appropriate, move furniture when asked, bake a cake when necessary, donate money when required, pray always, and share as we were taught.
As turkeys are stuffed, potatoes mashed and pies sliced, we usually take time to be thankful for all we have. That’s a good thing. It also might be good to take a moment and consider how much we can potentially give. Yes, others have more, but the majority have a whole lot less. Not only can we give thanks, but we can give…with thanks. That's my outlook.