What’s the Best Way to Do Good?

Unit of One



Todd R. Wagner

The Todd R. Wagner Foundation
Dallas, Texas

I pursued the American dream and won — by almost any standard. At the ripe old age of 38, I found myself CEO of a public company that, at the time, had the biggest one-day gain in Wall Street history. We sold the company, and I’ll never have to work again. Not everyone has an equal chance to attain that kind of dream. I had the background and the training to make it happen. What percentage of Americans really have such an opportunity?

Everybody can do something that makes a difference. Everybody has talents that could help someone else. Entrepreneurs, especially, can contribute real business skills to nonprofits that can help programs function more efficiently and reach more people.


That kind of social entrepreneurialism isn’t philanthropy. It isn’t just writing a check. It means devoting time and skills to doing something — like mentoring a business.

I chose to work with minority-owned technology startups, because growing businesses is what I know and love. I also believe in the equalizing power of technology. It’s the one thing that can create a level playing field. Everyone can’t get a four-year college degree, but we can all gain technology skills and open up limitless possibilities for ourselves.

I realize that what I’ve begun to do this year is just the first step. And I know that I’m going to make a bunch of mistakes. But the one thing that I don’t want to be guilty of is hesitation. I’d rather be out there trying than sitting on my couch wondering what I should do next.


Todd R. Wagner ( cofounded, where he was CEO until Yahoo! acquired it in 1999. He turned down the COO position at Yahoo! to pursue private ventures and to fund an equity-capital initiative for minority-owned technology businesses. He also helped launch a neighborhood technology center in southern Dallas that provides free Internet access and training. His work with the Inner-City Games Foundation in Los Angeles earned him a Man of the Year Award for 2000 from the organization.

Bea Salazar

Founder and president
Bea’s Kids
Carrollton, Texas


In 1990, I had undergone back surgery and was on disability. I was depressed and just trying to get through each day. One afternoon, when I was putting out the trash, I saw a little boy digging in a dumpster for food. I took him inside, made him a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and sent him home. Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock at my door, and I opened it to find six more kids standing there. “Is it true that you’re giving away peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches?” one of them asked.

I couldn’t believe that there was no one caring for these kids. It was summer, and school was out. They told me that their parents had to work. The next day, more children showed up, and more arrived the day after that.

When school began again, kids came and asked for help with homework. Volunteers and supplies from local churches and schools poured in. My landlord donated an apartment, and soon I had 100 children coming to visit each day. Ten years later, 5 of the kids have begun community college.


I never thought that making one peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich would grow into something that would affect so many lives — especially mine. Those kids pulled me out of myself. There was a point when I stopped thinking about my own pain and started concentrating on somebody else’s. It’s true that when you help others, you help yourself.

There are so many people in need. We all tend to live in our own little worlds, and we don’t see that. Step outside, and look around for places or people in need of your help. You’ll benefit as much as they will — maybe even more.

Bea Salazar ( , a grandmother of seven and a great-grandmother of four, was an electronics-plant shift worker before founding Bea’s Kids. Since its establishment as a nonprofit in 1992, the program has provided after-school meals and mentoring to more than 500 children. Last spring, Salazar received Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network Use Your Life Award.


Kevin Fong

Managing partner
Mayfield Fund
Menlo Park, California

You don’t have to be the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to make a meaningful difference. But you do need to know that your time and money are going toward something worthwhile and effective. How does a young entrepreneur find reliable information about where and how to give back? Consider splitting research time with your friends and peers to look into philanthropies that interest you. Better still, tap into organizations like Silicon Valley Social Ventures and other community foundations nationwide, where you’ll get fast access to trustworthy information. Just as you’d hire a portfolio manager to manage your money, you need to find a trusted adviser to manage your social giving. Then, instead of just writing a check with casual uncertainty, you’ll be confident that your dollars are being spent wisely.


Ultimately, though, you’re holding the charitable organization that you choose accountable. So don’t be afraid to ask reasonable questions: How does the charity measure success? What’s the reach of its program? Who is its target audience? If an organization doesn’t already have metrics that show how donors’ dollars are making a difference, it should create some. We expect that kind of discipline from our colleagues. We require it from ourselves as entrepreneurs. Why not demand it as philanthropists?

Kevin Fong ( , who spoke at the White House Conference on Philanthropy in October 1999, cofounded Silicon Valley Social Ventures, a fund that promotes “intelligent, active and effective giving” to nonprofits. As a managing partner at Mayfield Fund, a private venture-capital partnership, Fong advises about a dozen early-stage companies.


Marguerite W. Sallee

Chairwoman and CEO
Frontline Group
Nashville, Tennessee

To create real change in this world, you have to have a vision, and you have to have enormous perseverance. It’s the same principle that applies in any entrepreneurial venture: You’ve got to be too stupid to quit.

And when you fuse your giving back with your company’s objectives, you’ll find that it’s good for business as well. It’s a powerful thing to organize a business around a clear sense of mission and values. Businesses that provide opportunities for employees to give back create balance — for the company and for its employees.


For example, when our business acquired a company that manages a nonprofit called Jobs for America’s Graduates, it instantly created opportunities for employees to work at the local level, mentoring at-risk youths and helping them find meaningful work or continuing-education opportunities after graduation. It also gave our corporate clients a chance to join us in another form of partnership. We now factor employee and client involvement in JAG into our corporate mission, because we see it as totally in sync with our vision to create an extraordinary workforce that includes young people.

Marguerite W. Sallee ( is also cochair of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a provider of employer-sponsored child care and early-education services that she founded as CorporateFamily Solutions in 1987. She founded Frontline Group, a corporate-training company with more than 27 locations worldwide, in 1999.


Jonathan M. Tisch

President and CEO
Loews Hotels
New York, New York

Why should your business be socially responsible? Because it’s your obligation. With all of the cuts in government services, it’s up to companies and communities to work together to improve other people’s lives.

But if you need another reason, here’s one: It’s good for business. You really can do good and do well at the same time. For one thing, you’ll differentiate yourself from the competition: A client might choose you over the company down the road, because she appreciates the fact that you’re a good neighbor.


If you’re a CEO in corporate America today, then you already understand the needs of the neighborhood that surrounds your business. Start there. Make a commitment to find ways for your business to contribute to your community. And listen to your employees — many of whom, after all, live as well as work in that community. They’ve got some great ideas.

At the same time, you’ll send your employees an important message: that your concern for them goes beyond your bottom line. In this market, where everyone is competing for staff, you have to be able to offer people more than just good wages and benefits. Showing that you truly care about the community is an effective way to do that.

Jonathan M. Tisch, a vice chairman of the Welfare to Work Partnership, has received numerous awards for his philanthropic work. Loews Hotels’s Good Neighbor Policy, an employee community-outreach program that addresses hunger, homelessness, illiteracy, and the environment, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Loews Hotels owns or operates 15 hotels and resorts in North America.


Frances Moore Lappé

The American News Service
Cambridge, Massachusetts

The problem with the phrase “giving back” is that it denies our true nature. It presumes that we perceive ourselves as standing on the outside of our community, feeling obligated to contribute because we’re so privileged — as opposed to being deeply entrenched community participants. Fundamentally, we are social beings. Our true nature calls us to connect deeply to our community and to find larger meaning in what we do there. Community makes life fun and meaningful. It brings depth to our lives and enriches our most intimate relationships. In that way, making a contribution becomes a mutual exchange, rather than a one-way transaction.

How do we reclaim our social nature? By creating new cultural norms. To transform our society into something truly life-serving, we have to project images of people who act on their innate need for connection and meaning — not on some sacrificial inducement to be charitable. When the media glorifies a do-gooder, we think, “I could never do what she did.” The do-gooder is turned into a kind of freak. But really, that person is just like you. The only difference? She took a risk. She would shock you with her ordinariness, if you really knew her.

How can you reclaim your true nature? Find an exemplar. Seek out people who are emotionally intelligent and who are already acting on their deeper social nature. Call them, get on their boards, become friends with them. When you start associating with people who are living the way that you want to live, you start to become a different person. And when you break away from the give-back mind-set, you will begin to reinvent social expectations about what it means to be an entrepreneur — and a human being.

Frances Moore Lappé ( is a social commentator and the author of 12 books, including Diet for a Small Planet (Ballantine Books, 1971) . In 1995, she cofounded the American News Service to cover possible solutions to social problems in America. The New Diet for a Small Planet, which Lappé coauthored with her daughter, Anna, will be published by Ballantine in 2001.

Lisa Belzberg

Founder and chairwoman
PENCIL (Public Education Needs Civic Involvement in Learning)
New York, New York

Before you give your energy or your money to a particular cause, be clear about why you’re doing it. Understanding your motivations anchors you and keeps the idea of giving back appealing. Once you’re clear about why you’re giving back, start by thinking small. Thinking small doesn’t mean that you lack ambition. It means that you’re building something meaningful, manageable, and sustainable. The smaller you set your sights, the more likely it is that you’ll succeed. Learn to find joy in the baby steps.

That lesson became clear to me during PENCIL’s first few years. Business leaders who had the resources to help dismissed public education. Their stance was, Why should we care when our kids go to private schools? Meanwhile, many public schools were defensive: No outsider was going to tell them what to do.

My strategy? Baby steps. I asked people in the private sector to be the principal of a school for a day. When you actually see the human faces, I told them, you’ll see a very different story of public education. At first, people asked, “How can I get deeply engaged in just one day?” But once they walked around in the principal’s shoes, they understood. They learned that principals are shrinks, managers, customer-service agents, and mechanics. From there, business leaders started to learn the facts about overcrowded classrooms and dwindling supplies.

That initial understanding was the first step in forging a long-term partnership between the community and public education. And PENCIL became a catalyst for ongoing change.

Lisa Belzberg ( was a producer of The Charlie Rose Show before founding pencil in 1995 with a mission to improve New York City’s public schools. Through programs like “Principal for a Day” (in which such celebrities as Bill Cosby, Henry Kravis, Jane Pauley, and Jerry Seinfeld have participated), PENCIL has created partnerships between public schools and the private sector nationwide.

Win Churchill

Managing general partner
SCP Private Equity Management LP
Wayne, Pennsylvania

If you do things right, your philanthropic projects begin to build on one another, just as your business projects do. In fact, after a while, a seamlessness develops between your nonprofit ventures and your business ventures.

We have in our business’s portfolio about 30 investments at any given time. Adding nonprofits to those is just a question of how we organize and delegate. We support two schools in impoverished neighborhoods of northern Philadelphia. The Gesu School, a Jesuit grade school, first approached me for help to fund a cage for a rooftop playground. When I visited the school, I saw that it needed much more than a cage. It was near bankruptcy.

We endowed a development office to raise money for the school. Once the Gesu became a stable, vital part of the community again, we started a charter middle school so that the Gesu kids would have somewhere to go when they got older.

Working with these schools is the most natural thing. We treat them exactly the way that we treat fledgling or middle-stage companies. The students are members of our constituency. We feel the same responsibility to them as we do to our portfolio companies, and we make sure that they have a chance to make the most of their lives.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you already know how to do venture philanthropy. It’s a seamless fit with your business. The next step is just to start doing it. Hemingway said that a writer is somebody who writes. That’s just as true with giving back. Pick something that jibes with your values, and begin.

Win Churchill ( serves as director of various charities and educational institutions, including the Gesu School and the Young Scholars Charter School, both located in northern Philadelphia. SCP manages private equity funds sponsored by Safeguard Scientifics Inc.

Paul Myers

Executive director
Ten Thousand Villages
Akron, Pennsylvania

The impact of giving can be far greater than you’ll ever know. A few years ago, I was buying a newspaper at the airport in Bangladesh when a man tapped me on the shoulder. I recognized his face but couldn’t recall his name. He looked at the two men behind the newsstand and told them, “This man saved my life.” He explained: “Several years ago, I had lost two children because I couldn’t feed them. This man gave me a job. Today, all six of my children are in school, and we don’t go hungry.” He hugged me and began to cry.

During my six years in Bangladesh working with locals to develop sustainable micro-enterprises, I was reminded daily of the value of providing people with an income. Jobs that pay fair wages enable people to live with dignity — and to arrive at a point where they too can contribute to their community and to society.

You can help people earn money in a number of ways: You can purchase their products or services. You can give them training that they can’t afford. But here’s one very simple way: Be more intentional about where you buy. Think beyond the initial purchase. Demand more of the businesses that you patronize. Ask questions about where and how a product is manufactured, and consider the implications.

Paul Myers ( joined Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit chain of more than 120 stores in North America, in 1989. Through its sales of Third World crafts, the organization generated $17.3 million in revenues in 1999 to provide artisans with enough income to meet basic needs, such as food and education. Visit Ten Thousand Villages on the Web,

Stacy Palmer

The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Washington, DC

Giving your time is an incredibly valuable thing. But cash is what keeps nonprofits up and running. Think of charitable giving as part of your financial portfolio. For example, don’t just put money toward your favorite causes — ones that you know are reliable and that you’ll give to year after year. Take a slice of your giving pie, and look for something that might be a little risky — just as you’d do in your regular portfolio. Take a chance on an untried group, or on a person with a fabulous idea for running a nonprofit, and then see what happens. As with any venture, the chance that it might work in a big way is worth the risk that it might not work at all.

There’s been a lot of emphasis these days on “results” in giving. That’s important: You want to be informed and to know that your money isn’t going into something fraudulent. But that focus on results might imply that everybody’s going to win. It’s just not going to work that way. The only way that things change is when people are willing to take risks. That’s what philanthropy is about: investing in new ideas that have a shot at changing society.

When you’re assembling your giving portfolio, don’t just contribute to your usual charities. Think about supporting charities that don’t attract so much press, those that might be outside your previous experience. And think about giving at times of the year when donations tend to drop off. Food banks have a lot of trouble just after Christmas. Don’t forget that there are still hungry people out there in January and February.

Stacy Palmer ( was instrumental in founding the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the leading national publication on nonprofit affairs, in 1988.

Tom Reis

Program director
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Battle Creek, Michigan

Three years ago, I changed my job title to director of venture philanthropy. I wanted to show the world that at least one of these so-called “fuddy-duddy” foundations was paying attention to new models of giving back.

But what I found as I networked was that the new models weren’t new enough. Philanthropy hasn’t seen a new model since the days of Andrew Carnegie. He enabled individuals by providing the fishing rod, rather than the fish of simple charity. That was pivotal, of course. But philanthropy today still operates under that same idea: Make grants, empower people. Money only goes so far.

To drive lasting transformation, we need a more holistic model. Enough with the either-or bombast: Venture philanthropy is not the new magic bullet. What we need is a value exchange between traditional philanthropy and venture philanthropy — something that will finally shake up the old model of “white man’s social doing.”

We live in a networked age, so philanthropists need to work with teams that are more representative of the global community. We need to sit around a table with a pair of wing tips, sandals, pumps, sneakers, bare white feet, bare black feet. And foundations have to become networked contributors, not just bankers. Funding is important. But we also need community conveners, networkers, brokers, and knowledge agents. With new players and more-collective approaches, we just might reach a tipping point in the world of philanthropy where we can build truly sustainable change. But to get there, we have to be disciplined thinkers.

That’s why last September, I switched back to my old job title: program director. I like the notion of venture philanthropy, but it’s time to be sober about it — and to recognize what it can and can’t do.

Tom Reis ( spent nearly five years in Indonesia as a senior program officer with the Academy for Educational Development before joining the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 1992. In his role at the foundation, Reis explores new opportunities to partner with successful entrepreneurs who are interested in philanthropy and social development.

Sara Mosle

Freelance writer
Dallas, Texas

People are afraid to volunteer. They think that getting involved is a slippery slope: The next thing they know, they’ll have to sell their possessions and become Gandhi. The truth is that as a volunteer, you have to set limits. You have to be honest about how much time you can really commit.

If you do find time to volunteer, the important thing is to have realistic expectations about what you can and can’t accomplish and to be honest about those expectations — with yourself and with whomever you’re trying to help. If you’re a mentor, as I was for a group of inner-city kids for six years, you can, say, provide a child with a really fun day once a month or so. And that’s not an insignificant thing. That’s actually a great thing. But you probably aren’t going to save anyone’s life, and if you expect that, you’ll likely be disappointed. If you want more — perhaps to be a real friend — you’ll have to put in more time. There are no shortcuts. Friendship, with anyone, takes time.

I wasn’t always honest with myself or with the kids about the extent of my own “flake factor,” and I occasionally overpromised things. But after six years, I think we came to know one another and to accept one another’s limitations. Sometimes you can prove a lot simply by showing up.

Sara Mosle ( worked for three years as a teacher in New York City’s public schools. “The Vanity of Volunteerism,” an article in which she describes lessons learned while mentoring inner-city kids, appeared in the New York Times Magazine this past summer. A former editor at the New York Times Book Review and at the New Republic, she now writes for Harper’s Bazaar and the New York Times Magazine, among other publications. She is currently working on a book about an explosion at a school in eastern Texas during the 1930s oil boom. It is due out from Knopf in 2002.

Ronald White

Program officer
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
Flint, Michigan

It’s good to be nosy, to inquire, to be as critical as possible before you give your money or your time. But it’s counterproductive when it leads to exerting control. In fact, you might find that giving money can actually isolate you. When you get involved in a charitable project, remember to keep your nose in and your fingers out.

How can you bridge the gap between you and the people you’re trying to help? Develop the skill of “awaiting.” Be attentive. Listen. There is a still point in each of us, a point where the human touches the divine, where it links to the universal. To arrive there requires understanding your own core values — inside and out.

Wait until you understand how your values relate to the situation at hand. Wait for the moment when you truly hear what is being said to you. Only then can you respond in a meaningful way — and bridge the gap instead of widening it.

Ronald White ( is the former director of grant making for the antihunger organization Share Our Strength and a program officer with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, an antipoverty program. The mission of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is to make grants in such areas as environment, antipoverty, and civil society, and “to support efforts that promote a just, equitable and sustainable society.”

Peter Karoff

Founder and president
The Philanthropic Initiative Inc.
Boston, Massachusetts

How do you decide where to put your energy, your skills, or your money to help others? The first step is to establish what you care about. As with anything else, you’ll be most successful in giving back when you let your values drive you.

For example, ask yourself these questions: What have been my three most formative life experiences? Who are the three people who have influenced me the most? Your answers will help define your top-five values. From there, you can determine your community values.

Then ask yourself, Do my values match up with how I’m now giving? Your answer may surprise you. You might find that for years, you’ve given to university scholarships when what you really care about most is homelessness. Or vice versa.

Once you’ve decided on your true interests, rather than taking immediate action, learn about those topics. “Illiteracy,” “homelessness,” “environment”: These are huge words. Learn what the issues are and where you might best place your time and your resources. And then, when you begin, remember that it’s not about you, your voice, or your brilliance.

I learned that lesson the hard way back in the 1960s, when I decided to help fix up a poor Boston neighborhood. With the hubris of youth and naiveté, I thought that I could fix the people too. Needless to say, that didn’t go over too well. When it comes to giving, you have to guard against your own hubris. It’s the really talented donor who can enter a situation and provide sensitive, wise advice and help — without assuming the kind of arrogance that often comes with doing so.

Peter Karoff ( worked in real estate and insurance before forming The Philanthropic Intiative Inc. in 1989. TPI helps clients such as the AOL Foundation and Citigroup Private Bank increase their impact by developing innovative, strategic approaches to philanthropy.

Lynn Ridenour

Vice president of marketing Inc.
Seattle, Washington

Who today has the time to give back in a meaningful way? Everyone I know is overcommitted. And with each new technological development, the time problem just gets worse. We’re all available for anything, 24-7.

Since high technology seems to be the culprit for making us all so harried, it’s only fitting that it should provide a solution for giving back in a way that’s integrated into our daily lives. And it has: At the Hunger Site and the Rainforest Site, you can “click and donate” every day. Through a corporate sponsor, you can donate food to a struggling country or help support rainforest conservation. It takes less than five seconds and costs you nothing. Or you can shop online through the portal, where a percentage of what you spend benefits your cause of choice from among 3,500 organizations.

Clicking a button to do something like donating 1.5 cups of staple food may seem like a small thing, but consider this: More than 77 million visitors have donated 11,000 metric tons of food on the Hunger Site, while the Rainforest Site has helped to preserve more than 2,000 acres of land. And so far this year,’s shopping portal has generated more than $5 million for its partner nonprofits.

Think about that. Small acts really can add up to big transformation.

Lynn Ridenour has spent more than nine years at high-tech companies, including Onyx Software Corp. In September 1999, she joined Inc., which operates the Hunger Site and the Rainforest Site, as well as a shopping portal where as much as 15% of each transaction goes to the shopper’s cause of choice.

John Sculley

Sculley Brothers LLC
New York, New York

You don’t have to move mountains to make important things happen. In fact, if you start with goals that are too large, you’ll get overwhelmed and miss the joy of what you’re trying to accomplish.

When I decided to work with literacy, for example, I discovered that it wasn’t critical for me to be the project head. It was more important simply to find a place where I could add value to help our project succeed. That’s the great thing about giving back: Business-success criteria don’t apply. There are no winners or losers. Everyone is motivated to work together in the most efficient way possible.

Fortunately, the Internet makes working efficiently easier than ever, in giving back as well as in everything else. The beehive is always more capable than any individual bee. The Net can connect many beehives of people with common interests, and those people can accomplish a great deal — even if they never meet face to face. And those networks can work toward lofty philanthropic goals without having to wade through the mire of large physical organizations.

Start with modest goals — and then find a great team to work with. Watch what happens. It takes only a few really great people to turn modest goals into something big.

In 1995, John Sculley, former CEO of Apple Computer and PepsiCo, cofounded Sirius Thinking Ltd., which produces Between the Lions, a children’s television show on PBS designed to promote reading in children. Sculley also cosponsors Pop!Tech, a yearly nonprofit conference in Camden, Maine that focuses on technology’s effect on modern culture. Sculley Brothers LLC is a private investment firm that funds more than 20 companies.