Random Giving Versus Giving Wisely

Random Giving Versus Giving Wisely

Most business school students learn the ins and outs of making money. But at StanfordUniversity, they also get to learn about how to give that money away. Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen is teaching business students the art of philanthropy.

Arrillaga-Andreessen is the wife of technology investor Marc Andreessen and the daughter of John Arrillaga, a property developer in Silicon Valley. In addition to the four courses she teaches at Stanford, she heads up the new (and eponymous) foundation, the Marc and Laura Andreessen Foundation. She also directs the Arrillaga Foundation in its work which revolves around community projects in Silicon Valley.

In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, the 42 year-old Arrillaga-Andreessen spoke on what’s right and wrong about the state of philanthropy today. The main takeaway is that donors need to be more aware of the power of their gifts and what it is such gifts achieve. For example, Arrillaga-Andreessen comments that philanthropic gifts by individuals, as opposed to corporations and foundations, accounted for 82% of the not-quite $300 billion donated to charity last year. She goes on to say that 65% of those individuals gave to charity based on feeling rather than research.

Wasted Potential

Ms. Arrillaga-Andreessen sees this as a huge amount of wasted potential, tens of millions of donors not bothering to direct their giving to truly meaningful work. As she puts it, “Extract a bit of the emotion and replace it with a bit of learning. If you don’t understand how your generosity is translating into social good, your philanthropy will not be meaningful to you.”

It should be easy enough to invest giving with meaning in this day and age. Any nonprofit worth its salt has an online presence. It’s as easy as going to Facebook or Twitter, or putting the name of a nonprofit into the search engine behemoth known as Google. In seconds, a donor is that much closer to knowing all about a charity.

Let’s take a look at how this works. A donor may be tempted to donate a car to the car donation charity known as kars for kids. He gets rid of his old car and apparently, there is some kind of connection to children. What that is, the donor has no idea.

Unless he goes online and does a bit of sleuthing.

Massive Coat Giveaway

At that point, a lot becomes clear. For example, during Hurricane Sandy, the car donation charity held a massive coat giveaway in areas affected by the storm. Kids made homeless by the storm didn’t have warm clothing. Kars4Kids made sure they had brand new winter coats. The charity distributed thousands of these coats.

While the main focus of Kars4Kids is to help fund educational initiatives for kids, the charity has heart and responds to the real crises of real children and their families. A potential donor can know this with the click of the mouse and this can help delineate the unique kindness of this charity in comparison with other car donation charities which are a dime a dozen. But the donor won’t know this without a bit of surfing.

That would be a pity. Because it really feels great to give to a good cause. And you can’t really know what is and isn’t a good cause without checking it out on your own. Those few extra steps make all the difference between random giving and giving wisely.

A course on giving wisely? It may not be a bad idea after all.