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Giving While You’re Living

Giving While You’re Living

I used to think that foundations were established with funds from extremely wealthy older people.

Growing up, the only exposure I had to foundations were the public announcements at the end of television specials aired on the Public Broadcasting System.  We didn’t have cable or remote controls on our televisions so PBS was a standard viewing option.  Even if I didn’t like the show on channel 3 I was often too lazy to get up and turn the dial.

At the end of most of the shows (including Sesame Street) a very calm and sophisticated voice would come on to let me know that the educational programming was brought to me by someone’s foundation.  I had no idea who the Rockefellers, the Carnegies or the MacArthurs were, but I assumed, even at a young age, that they must be important and wealthy if they were thanked in hushed tones.

The reality is that most of the billion dollar foundations were created by titans of wealth who amassed their fortunes, set up foundations and then passed away within the next several years and left the distribution of their philanthropic dollars to accomplished and qualified staffs.

It used to take families several generations to acquire the wealth that was necessary to build up the funds required to establish these mega foundations.  But all of that changed as recently as the late 1990s when young technology titans began to acquire wealth that rivaled the Rockefellers in very short time spans.  What once took decades to build could now be accomplished nearly overnight through the establishing companies that were on the fast track to wealth and growth-think Facebook.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg acquired his wealth in just a few years, and has committed to work with a Community Foundation to distribute funding to the causes he cares about while he is alive.  And then there is Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates who have designed large scale philanthropic initiatives through their foundation.  When Bill Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft in his early forties he created an opportunity to be actively involved in the work of his foundation for decades to come.

In interviews, these in-the-moment philanthropists express a desire to give while they live so they know where the money is going and how it will be used.  In Zuckerberg’s case he has partnered with a Community Foundation to help with the strategic planning and distribution of his wealth.  No longer are foundations the keeper and distributor of funds for the nearly departed, but rather strategic conveners and partners with young philanthropists who want to be engaged and involved in creating social change while they are alive.

This concept is not reserved for the mega wealthy.  Philanthropists across the board are seeking out ways to become involved in giving while they are living.  Just last year in Southwest Florida, our Foundation received over 250 commitments from donors who pledged to become involved in contributing to our community while they are alive.  We are working with many of them to create strategic plans so they can see their philanthropy in action.  Additionally they are working closely with our team to create programs and solutions to our region’s most pressing causes, like education, poverty and the environment.

If you would like to learn more about giving while you’re living and how to design a strategic plan for the causes you care about, email me at [email protected]


The Southwest Florida Community Foundation has been supporting the communities of Lee, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry, and Collier counties since 1976. With assets over $75 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $57 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. For more information, please call 274-5900, or visit our web site at


Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More