Giving as Gratitude

on in Fundraising

A lot has been written about David Rockefeller’s philanthropic legacy in light of his death last week at the age of 101. From support for local community improvement projects to investing in NYC’s major civic institutions, Mr. Rockefeller’s giving totaled an estimated $2 billion over his lifetime.

David Rockefeller worked hard to transmit what a New York Times article characterized as his family’s philosophy of giving – humility, responsibility, and engagement – through various charitable vehicles. Under this philosophy, we owe a common debt to each other, and much is expected of those who receive.

But while Mr. Rockefeller championed appreciation-fueled giving, his philanthropic interests reveal a deeper motivation than simply giving back. 

One of David Rockefeller’s prime motivators as a benefactor was described as “a sense of gratitude for what he inherited…and his opportunity to carry it forward.” Under this umbrella, giving is often focused on a narrow range of institutions that gave the benefactor opportunities – educational institutions, religious traditions, specific programs for youth development. But David Rockefeller went further, into environmental protection and civic engagement, to name but two of his many far-ranging interests.

What David Rockefeller had, and what makes him such an icon, was his ability to listen and be open to the interests of others. His grandson Michael Quattrone described it as: “the gift of inheriting a philanthropic tradition while being empowered to make it my own.”

David Rockefeller encouraged family members to follow their own interests, but even more subtly subversive, he encouraged people to think about philanthropy as having interests – not just having money to give.

Philanthropy, as practiced by David Rockefeller and those of his ilk, is the art of making change happen.

It’s more than a name on a building, or even a payback to those who invested in you. It’s more than a ladder up for someone with a similar background, or following a family or business or personal passion.

It’s about more than you, and people like yourself. It’s about the world at large, and our responsibility to leave it a better place than we found it.

Philanthropy, as David Rockefeller practiced it, was about gratitude – gratitude for being alive, with opportunities, and a commitment to use those opportunities for the good of those with no tangible connection to your world.

Except for the fact that in David Rockefeller’s philanthropy, we all have a connection in this world.

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