Aristotle & The Moores: The Mindset of an Effective Philanthropist

Recently, Gordon and Betty Moore restated their “Founders’ Intent” in order to provide guidance for current and future Trustees of their foundation. As I read the new statement on the Foundation website, I found myself filled with hope and inspiration. Their vision, wisdom and aspirations for their philanthropy are beautifully intertwined in this thoughtful, future-focused document.

Reading the Moore’s donor intent made me wonder what our world would look like if everyone with surplus wealth experienced a complete paradigm shift in their thinking about philanthropy. That is, if they were on a journey to become Effective Philanthropists. Would human suffering be minimized? Could complex problems like climate change and health be successfully addressed? Would we see less poverty, hate and war in our lifetimes? Call me a dreamer, but I’d certainly like to think so!

Now you might ask, what kind of shift in thinking am I referring to? Well, I’ll use a well-known quote by Aristotle as a jumping off point.

Aristotle wrote, “To give away money is an easy matter, and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power-nor and easy matter. Hence, it is that such excellence is rare, praiseworthy and noble.”

Simply put, Aristotle suggests that while anyone can be a donor, we should seek to master the art of effective philanthropy. He challenged his contemporaries to be “Noble and Praiseworthy” by figuring out the who, what, when, why and how much of charitable giving.

Doing this takes a shift in thinking or what I’ll call, “The Mindset of an Effective Philanthropist”.

Effective Philanthropists believe that giving goes well beyond the good feelings they have when they write a check. They have a tremendous sense of responsibility to maximize impact with their giving. The goal of their philanthropy centers around real change and measurable improvements.

Effective Philanthropists use their hearts, their analytical brains and employ scientific methodology to make the best giving decisions possible. They value knowledge and constant improvement. They engage with outside experts to learn and objectively evaluate the performance of their giving.

Effective Philanthropists believe they can facilitate real change and solve problems through strategic philanthropy.  They also see opportunities to extend their impact at the intersection of giving and investing. They are rewarded by the good feelings that come when they see tangible results.

Gordon and Betty Moore model this mindset through their thoughtful and visionary statement of Founders’ Intent.

I think Aristotle would praise The Moores for their mastery of philanthropy. And I’ll continue to hold that vision of a world filled with Effective Philanthropists!!