The New Face of Philanthropy
When Karen Pittelman took the lion's share of her $3 million-plus inheritance and started The Chahara Foundation, the 25-year-old self-described activist and poet (pictured above) took some heat from friends and family members.Skip to next paragraph
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"Most everyone thought I was some combination of crazy, communist, or naive," she says. "When I was younger, I wanted to wash my hands of all the money, pretend I had never even known it existed. That was guilt. But guilt is just inertia, just indulgence. It accomplishes nothing."
Her Boston-based foundation, now in its first granting cycle, will award renewable grants of up to $20,000 per year to Boston-based organizations working with, and run by, lower-income women.
Ms. Pittelman's decision to give away much of her inheritance was rooted in her desire to use that money toward a "radical redistribution of wealth.
"Turning my inheritance into this foundation was the way I claimed my responsibility [to this community]."
Pittelman is one of a small but growing number of young, cause-oriented Americans who have dedicated themselves and their substantial financial resources to supporting each other - and to challenging each other to act in accordance with their values.
Much of the effort of the emerging "cool rich kids" movement has revolved around donating significant portions of income and overall assets to smaller, grass-roots organizations and activist groups often overlooked by large foundations.
"For anybody who is both wealthy and socially concerned, there is some contradiction in our lives," says Tracy Hewat, director of the North Cambridge, Mass.-based Resource Generation, the nation's first and only nonprofit organization specifically devoted to working with and building an alliance of young "progressives" with wealth.
Questions surrounding the relationship between a global "wealth gap" and the financial circumstances of younger people with access to substantial wealth led Ms. Hewat to co-edit a resource manual, "Money Talks. So Can We." About 2,000 copies of the manual, designed for those under the age of 30, have been distributed worldwide.
Most of those who turn to Resource Generation for advice are, in fact, multimillionaires, says Hewat. But the organization turns no one away: Hewat recalls counseling a young person who felt overwhelmed by a $40,000 inheritance and wanted to give it away, and another person with $40 million in assets who wanted to make a positive impact with a portion of the money.
"People [initially] feel like they're making decisions in isolation," she says.
Hewat emphasizes that young philanthropists and social activists with wealth are by no means a new phenomenon, and that some of the nation's most respected progressive foundations were, in fact, started by young philanthropists in the 1960s and '70s.
"But today, because of the intergenerational transfer of wealth and because of the growth of the computer industry - and the age of the people who are typically [employed] in that industry - we are in an unusual moment," says Hewat.
How young people with wealth learn to relate to their inheritance or big paychecks is of paramount importance, agree those involved in the movement.