For the past three years, Warren Buffett's three children have been trying to figure out how best to spend the $1-billion or so he gave each of them to distribute to good causes.
In Fast Company magazine (September), they each offer a key lesson they have learned:
Give where you know. Around the time his father pledged the $1-billion, Howie Buffett, 54, was wondering whether it made sense to keep supporting a cheetah reserve in South Africa he had established as a way to help the animals.
On a trip to Africa, struck by the poverty surrounding him, he decided to focus on human needs before conservation. And he realized that, as a farmer himself, he would do best focusing on agriculture. Now he's using his knowledge to learn what problems his money can best solve.
Learn to say no. Peter Buffett, 51, says he was overwhelmed with requests from friends and associates for money for their pet causes. He and his wife, Jennifer, who runs the foundation with him, decided they would focus on helping girls in developing countries get an education. That gives them a polite way to reject most pleas. But another problem has cropped up: When they suggest a bad idea, other people won't say no.
Look for needs, not wishes. When she first started out, Susie Buffett, 56, asked the entire Omaha school district to give her wish lists. The result was a scattershot effort that didn't make much difference. Now she's focusing on ways to improve the system, such as modernizing all the school libraries in the city.
Other articles of interest to people in the nonprofit world:
The American Prospect, in a special section financed by three big foundations, offers ideas on fighting poverty, saying "a wave of fresh thinking and quiet innovation makes a new agenda possible." Among the ideas:
- Reduce the wealth gap between blacks and whites.
- Offer poor people financial incentives to take steps to improve their health and education and get decent-paying jobs.
- Focus on low-wage men who don't have children, building their financial ability to play strong family roles in the future.