Richard Zahn is a passionate philanthropist and business leader who strives to encourage other professionals to give of their time and resources to meaningful organizations. As a dedicated contributor, he applauds a recent article in The New York Times that mentions what charitable giving looks like from the head and what it looks like from the heart, pointing out both sides of the debate that is evolving in philanthropy.
The article brings up the topic of emotional giving as one of the “big debates among donors and their advisers: is it better to give in response to an emotional need or feeling, or are dollars better spent when tied to a metric that measures how effective they are?”
Thomas E.K. Cerruti speaks out on the topic as former personal lawyer to Sam Skaggs, a billionaire philanthropist who made his fortune in supermarkets and drugstores: “What motivates people to give? For selfish reasons, a name on a building is at the top of the list. But some people want to effectuate something that has some personal interest to them. Other types of motivations are hard to analyze.” When asked about why Skaggs gave the way he did, Cerruti states, “He really cared about being a catalyst for opportunity primarily for those who would benefit the most from that opportunity.”
Richard Zahn is firmly rooted in the idea that supporting the community is the best way to give back to those individuals, organizations and ideas that fostered a thriving environment for professional success. He actively urges business professionals to use their generosity toward charities they personally care about, noting the opportunities that are generated out of charitable giving.
From the standpoint of a business leader, Zahn mentions that “consumers want to support businesses that value corporate social responsibility (CSR), and it’s important to give to organizations in which you can visibly see an impact from your giving. I encourage business professionals to host fundraiser events and drives, because not only do they raise funds or necessary materials for notable charities, they raise awareness for the larger issue at hand and they get other people involved.”
The writer of the article, Paul Sullivan, mentions that when his dog Lucy died, he and his wife became increasingly interested in becoming more charitable. His wife got involved with a program where volunteers take puppies for a year and train them in basic obedience with the goal of raising them up as formally trained guide dogs. Sullivan emphasizes the challenges and rewards of tangible giving by discussing one of his trained guide dogs, Ocho. “When that year was up and we had to give him back, my heart would have been broken had I not seen the good these dogs do for people,” he said. “Ocho is now guiding a young woman who sends us periodic updates.”
Sullivan reflects on his giving before his dog Lucy died, as he now gives 90 percent of their charity money to groups involved with helping the blind. “Before Lucy came into my life, I didn’t have a dog, know any blind people or think much about charity beyond writing a check to my alma mater’s annual fund.” Zahn responds to Sullivan’s realization: “The idea of measuring and metrics and trying to determine impact data is fairly contemporary in philanthropy,” he said.
Sullivan states that as a family, they were “emotional givers from the start,” noting that it always seemed like a good idea to support groups that helped the blind without ever checking the ratings from Charity Navigator or GuideStar. He adds, “But we have followed closely what both organizations have done. We may have gotten lucky.” Gene Tempel, the founding dean of Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy comments on the danger of giving to organizations that are not trustworthy. “The giving with the heart people, they may go wrong in trusting an organization that is not trustworthy,” he said. “One of the pieces of advice we give to people is to get to know the organization. It means walking into the organization and asking questions. It means asking for a copy of an annual report.”
Richard Zahn Advises To Start With Passion
Richard Zahn adds, “The best place to start is by evaluating what you’re passionate about. If you’re giving to an organization that doesn’t inspire you, you won’t be as engaged and interested in where your funds go,” he said. “As a business that displays the charity’s mission into the business model, it’s extremely important to know how donations are making a direct impact.”
The article also spotlights Ani Hurwitz, a woman who recently retired after 24 years of working at the New York Community Trust who said she came from a family of emotional givers. “My father gave a lot to religious stuff because he was religious,” she said. “He was also a bleeding heart.” According to the report, “she recalled him crying as he watched the nightly news and then making a donation to a charity aimed at easing whatever troubling situation he had seen.” Even with her background in philanthropy, she said she was also personally moved by stories rather than knowing the impact of her money. “I don’t look at metrics,” she said. “Let’s say we move a $75,000 grant to reduce poverty in Bushwick. Do you really think anyone can evaluate if our $75,000 did that? Or was it someone else’s $75,000 grant? Can you even evaluate that?”
According to the article, the other side of the debate is that not only can you evaluate it, you should. Another perspective is that giving is not always clear. The article stresses that “many philanthropic advisers stress that giving is not always this black and white: people need to get the emotional reward of giving first, but having a way to measure what those dollars do will sustain their giving.” Whether metrics is important to the giver or the donor values emotional stories and giving, Richard Zahn encourages philanthropists to give to organizations they know and believe in and to work toward changing their own communities.
Richard Zahn is a zealous philanthropist and business leader who enjoys educating other professionals on the opportunities in which they can impact their communities through their businesses. He has ample experience in real estate development, construction, law enforcement and medical and military capacities. In his free time, he enjoys racing scuba diving, fishing, mountain biking and other adventure-filled activities.
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