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Preserving the Gift of Giving

Americans donated $304 billion in 2009, down 3.6%, and this year some are pledging more. We spoke to seven philanthropists of all different incomes, from billionaires promising half their wealth via Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's Giving Pledge, to regular folks earmarking a slice of their salaries.

Pierre and Pam Omidyar
"People everywhere are inherrently capable, but what they lack is equal opportunity," says eBay's founder, Pierre, 43, who joined the Giving Pledge with his wife, the chair of HopeLab. "We made this pledge to help build opportunity." A total of $92 million went to causes ranging from solar lanterns in India to sustainability efforts in Hawaii.

J. Ronald and Frances Terwilliger
When choosing a not-for-profit to receive $102 million, the couple looked to Ron's childhood: "I come from a very modest, working-class family in Virginia," says Ron, 69, CEO of Trammel Crow Residential. "We lived in a small, 800-square-foot, three-bedroom, one-bath house — kind of like what Habitat for Humanity builds."

Jennifer McDonald
You may not have big bucks, but that doesn't mean you can't emulate the wealthy's generosity, says the director of the One Percent Club. Members, who pledge 1% of their net worths and have given $100 million since 1999, applaud anonymity above recognition — meaning McDonald, 44, is mum on which causes benefitted from her pledge.

David Taus
Taus, 31, began tutoring as a teen and quickly learned "how hard it is to work at places that are really underfunded but well-meaning. I realized money does make it work," says the director of education at Tutorpedia. "Just because I'm not a billionaire doesn't mean I'm not interested in philanthropy." His latest gift: $35 to the San Francisco Bike Coalition.

Aimee Gromfin
September 11 sparked Gromfin's first donation, and eventually led her to the One Percent Foundation, for young donors who pool 1% of salaries to effect change. "My husband and I make a decent living," Gromfin, 34, says. "Giving is something we want to do, because we feel like it's either that or go to Disneyland one more time."


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  • Tim Siegel

    Do something. Do more. Go deeper. Here in Washington, DC young 20-something donors are coming together to establish a fund to award grants to seed, start up, small-scale grassroots projects and organizations working for social change. Average pledge to date: $5000 per annum. Change not charity. Funding services is noce, but doesn't address core inequities. We won't change the world overnight, but it's a step. And the kicker is that we are going to involve grassroots community activists, not elites, in the funding decisions.

  • Rachel Z. Arndt

    The article wasn’t intended to be critical of how Amy and her family—or anyone else—choose to spend their money. I was attempting to highlight the awesome philanthropic work Amy and others are doing. The quote was verbatim.

  • Aimee Gromfin

    It's unfortunate that in the 10-15 minute conversation I had with Rachel Arndt that she chose a glib, confusing, and non-verbatim quote to sum up the reasons why we donate 1% of our income to charitable organizations.

    The point I expressed to Ms. Arndt (which was clearly not conveyed here) is that if we have expendable income each month, we prefer to use that money towards a worthy cause rather than spend it on extra self-indulgent items/trips for ourselves, such as taking our family to an expensive amusement park. This is not to say that we don't spend money on ourselves and treat our family here and there. We do. But what we try to do is balance it out as much as possible. If we go to Disneyland one month, we try and spend an equal amount towards charity. The same goes for gifts or other luxuries. Giving to charity is not an either/or debate for us. We give because we want to and feel like it's important thing to do in our family. We also believe it's a very valuable message to send to our child.

    Had I known how Ms. Arndt would have misused our conversation in such a way, I would have never consented to be interviewed. It is not a fair or accurate portrayal of myself or my family.

    -Aimee Gromfin