The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies

Helwig A2

 

Appendix B: Subject 2

Subject #2, March 7, 2018
White female
Lifetime resident of central Pennsylvania
50-70 years old
Has given more than $1 million to a charities, as part of personal and family foundation contributions

 

Dan: We are talking about altruism. My question is whether altruism is something that you learn or whether it is genetically wired within us. Could you talk a bit about what your earliest remembrances of charity or helping others within your family?

Subject #2: As I thought about it a little bit, there is a very early memory that comes to mind. I was maybe in junior high school, that kind of age, and a babysitter that we had for me and my brother years before was ill and was in the hospital and my mother was going to see her, and she said, “(REDACTED), get your coat.” And I said, “I’m not going to the hospital,” and she said, “Oh yes you are.” 

“Why do I have to go?” 

“Because Nana is sick in the hospital, and just because you don’t want to go is not enough of a reason. She will appreciate it and she will enjoy this visit. You are going to take this time and go with me. You are not going by yourself. You will go visit Nana.” 

And, I fussed and fumed and complained. She really had to take me aside and said this is what we are doing. This is what you are expected to do. This is what people do. More importantly this is what we do and this is what you are expected to do. And I think even though there was no money involved in that particular case specifically, it was the notion that you do things for other people because it’s valuable to the other person even if you don’t get anything out of it. And there is a relationship, and the other person really benefits from you doing whatever it is, which I really think is the basis of altruism and ultimately charitable philanthropy is the same thing. 

In the same regard my parents, both of them, were both very active volunteers in the organizations, whether it was my father was in the Rotary or my mother on the hospital auxiliary for years and numerous other organizations. They devoted their time to things and they didn’t insist that I do them, but it was modeled for me my whole life. And I don’t know if I ever thought of it as an expectation. It was just what they did.

Dan: if you look back on that… on the modeling you got from your parents... I talked to some folks. I had one interview where a second generation business person said that his father believed that it was good for the community and good for business. So in the sense of it being a connected community, there was a reciprocity to altruism. So I am curious as to whether or not, as you look back and reflect on your parents.

Subject #2: It was just the right thing to do. There was no expectation. I never heard it mention, implied, assumed. Whether it was the babysitter, whether it was belonging or working for Rotary or any of the other organizations that both of them spent time with, or charitable giving. It was never any expectation of return benefit.

Dan: And so were there influences besides your parents that influenced the way you think about altruism or care for others?

Subject #2: Certainly the behavior modeled by my parents was clearly most significant issue. And I think of some of my friends who live different lives. They’re not on boards they don’t do volunteer activity. They may do some charitable work but I think it’s very little. Not because they can’t … they just don’t. And some of them are pretty close friends of mine and I think we grew up very similarly. And I started to think, were your parents…did they do the same sorts of things that my parents did? It’s a long time ago so it’s hard for me to remember. But I know this one friend her mother…she was in some of the same groups as my mother, because that was what our age mothers did back then in part. I’m not sure about her dad … I’m not sure what that modeling looked like. 

But if you don’t have it modeled for you as an expectation and a way of life, maybe you think you can’t afford it. I guess some people do it because they expect something in return. I could understand that, or they think it will boost their stature in the community or whatever. 

Dan: So if you had to put your finger on whether or not we have some kind of genetic tendency towards altruism or whether or not it’s entirely learned, do you have a sense where you ‘d come down?

Subject #2: I think that there is some … I think I would have hesitated to use the word altruism or maybe that’s an appropriate word. We all have seen stories of some accident or something and bystanders just rush to the car, drag somebody out. The car may be on fire … risking and they pull somebody out. Well they didn’t have to do that. Nobody said that and they will say afterwards. It just happened; it wasn’t conscious …didn’t stop to think I just ran over to help….clearly someone was in danger or in need of help. And so there is obviously something there that we go to help our fellow man under circumstances…not even somebody you know….it can’t be because you think you will be rewarded afterward….it is such an automatic thing…

Dan: Do you think it is possible that as a group some groups of people are more successful because they are more supportive of one another.

Subject #2: I don’t know I guess I would look at where you need groups. I know a little bit about elephants…they are always in a community…they travel together…they raise young together…mom and aunt and grandma take care of the kids in a communal way. Elephants are pretty big creatures so one elephant could protect one baby but they don’t. 

Dan: They choose to work in a community

Subject #2: Well it’s not even a choice…they do … it’s the way it is…they don’t consciously choose. Various animals in packs. They are not choosing to. They need to. So there is some functional benefit to that group behavior, in those cases. And, there are plenty of those cases with humans. It’s one of those cases … Hillary Clinton talks about it takes a community or it takes a village to successfully raise children. And there is certainly a certain truth in that. How much of this is innate, how much is just because one can’t do it …and you need other….even in older days when …say go back 200 hundred years when dad was out working trying to make money on the farm and mom was figuring out how to get food …did cooking and was busy…trying to maintain…you needed more people. There is something innate about it ….

Dan: Just like the elephants.

Subject #2: Yeah there is some innateness there. But there is not enough innateness for my friends to be philanthropic or to volunteer. So you manifest differently at different levels…different degrees. I don’t know that’s a tough one.

Dan: It’s made me think a lot actually about education because as you said we need teachers. Because having my own college experience…my kids college experience…my own graduate school…some online, some in person. It’s curious to me…it gets to the point of what is the innateness of humans. What is our need for social interaction. So if we have a strong need for social interaction. How does that all come together with the direction we are going in society. Separating and connecting by a device rather than, you know, across the table. 

Subject #2: Not well, in my opinion, my personal opinion. I think about that a lot … about how … especially about young people because they are more into their gadgets and electronic world than everybody else. Although not by any stretch exclusively. That’s so…to me that’s antisocial and me centered. And I think these kids are being….they are not learning the social skills to get along in a broader society unless everyone communicates with a gadget. And then we’ll probably all kill each other because people will be selfish…and bad consequences will emerge.

Dan: Do you see … I mean you have probably hired several generations of employees during time leading the company. Do you see it change in the level … I guess I’ll just say altruism … a change in the level of sociability through generations of people that you have hired? That you could make kind of a sweeping generalization about.

Subject #2: I’m not sure I could make a generalization about the generation in that regard because I’ve never … I don’t think about them that way, and I don’t know what their outside activities, financial or otherwise. So I not sure I … even if I had the data I’m not sure I would know. I don’t know and actually I’ve never given any thought … I don’t know if this new millennial generation is as compassionate or altruistic as generation have been in the past. More or less, I don’t know. 

Dan: And so, when you make decisions related to charity. How does that happen in terms of thinking about the greater societal good? How does your view of the world influence what you want to do there? 

Subject #2: Good question. On one level I have learned it’s actually a hard responsibility to give away money. People just think you write a check and it’s real easy. You want organizations that will use your funds responsibly … you want to be sure they are using it on projects that … a project that is funded and they do that work that will have an outcome that is what is anticipated and is what you are expecting it to be. Picking those organizations isn’t a piece of cake. On the other hand, I think you go with … and I think some of this depends on how much money you have to give away. If you are Bill Gates and need to give away a million dollars a year … the nature of the problem you are going to work with has to be commensurate with the size of funds you are talking about. Which means it’s not about supporting the local Humane Society. You have to be looking for something bigger. And if you’ve only got $10,000 that you are giving away then you’ve got to go to something at a different scale. At some point you start thinking about the impact of the funds. As opposed to just a couple of bucks in the plate that is passed around at church. It’s beyond the $20 in the Salvation Army. If you start at some level of funds, that could vary from person to person. And so when you do start thinking about where can I have an impact … it’s not only where CAN I have impact, it’s where do I WANT to have an impact. What are those issues or places or how you think about it. What are the organizations that are looking for money … who are doing something that I really care about. And where I can either align my interests or the funds are sufficient to have an impact that I think is important that will accomplish something that I think would be really good. 

Dan: Is this something as a family that you talked about when you were growing up or that you have developed over time with your own family?

Subject #2: I was aware of the things that our family foundation invested in … and you kind of think of it as an investment. I guess we had some discussion about it … the (REDACTED) Foundation. Not exclusively but largely funded things in the local community. And it was the giving back. Basically, this is the area that allowed my family to generate these funds, make this money and then giving it back to those organizations that need help in the community that has helped me.

Dan: So one of the studies that was done on charitable support came up with several different types of donors. (Reviewed the archetypes.) Do you see yourself in any of those categories?

Subject #2: Um, yeah.

Dan: Not purely one or the other but does…

Subject #2: No, but you know in the case of the college it’s because I am a firm believer of education and I want … kids need education. And we need to make that experience not fluffy; we need to make it substantive and help kids in that regard. So that one is a cause that I think is really important and let’s face it, virtually all colleges need private donations. 

I have other interests particularly in wildlife and in nature and so another big piece of my personal giving is directed toward to the Nature Conservancy. And specifically and again I had to zero in … well I could have just written them a check it would have gone to the general whatever but I wanted to feel like I was making a difference to something. And learning about the horrific elephant poaching that’s been going on more recently. There have been several waves of it and stops and then it starts again. And I thought that’s something that I really care about. So have been supporting some specific efforts in central Africa. 

Dan: I’m just going to guess if the Nature Conservancy sends you a note of thanks (Subject #2: they do) you’re happy about it but if they never put your name on a building or celebrate your contributions in some kind of appropriate or even oversized way that wouldn’t have any influence. You’re not into in for that. You don’t really care if they …

Subject #2: No I like it because it’s a way of saying … gee your gift is really meaningful and it is impactful and we do get it that you really want to help the elephants. 

Dan: I guess what I am trying to get to is the question about recognition and its role in decisions about charity or altruism … because there is like a part of this from the genetic standpoint that, you know, maybe altruism exists because, at some level, it was recognition of sexual fitness. People said, you know that male species or female species is really very kind. He must have extra resources that he is able to be so generous. So it was a proof of fitness that allowed the gene to develop and the tendency to develop. And if there was no recognition there would be no evidence or proof of fitness. So what I am trying to get to is the role of recognition in your decisions. 

Subject #2: If I were to give something to … say one million dollars … to an organization and all I got was a thank you note that looked just like everybody else’s thank you note I would be miffed. That was not a thank you that was commensurate with the size of the gift. That thank you is a form of recognition and I have some sense of … it’s a sense of equity for me. 

And somehow, and I don’t know how this fits, the way these thank you have come has also been … you feel more involved. You get to know the people better, you see what’ happening, you get to go wherever this thing is whatever you’re supporting. Someone makes a little fuss over you … but you feel more a part of it. I don’t know if I am explaining this very well but … because if it’s some issue / subject like education / wildlife that you care about you kind of like to feel like you are helping. And, all you can do is give money and nobody is asking you to be an employee … that’s not what you are asking for either, but just want to know this is working. And so maybe that fits into the investment type of model.

Dan: Well maybe part of it is somebody making a fuss but part of it is proof that what you called the nature of the problem equal to the amount of money you have is a feedback loop that showed that this worked (Subject #2 agrees). So let me propose a question that is related to that. Let’s take the Nature Conservancy was allowed to send you a letter about what they were doing with your money to report back but not provide you with any recognition that someone has done this to any other supporters. But you could get the feedback to what is working … you could even for yourself go over and check it out. But you could not get recognition or financial incentive through the federal government for making a contribution. Would it influence what you like to do there?

Subject #2: For me personally, the public recognition … in some broader sense than the thank you or the things we described would not matter at all. They don’t even publish a list of donors at any level. The tax part of it isn’t going to change my level of activity. But I can image that it may for many people. I don’t think it will matter for Bill Gates. He’s got a lot to give away and he’s going to give it away regardless. Because what else is he going to do with it … build another gargantuan house.

Dan: Right. So think about ten of your friends. If charitable support is no longer a tax deduction and they are not allowed to receive any recognition for their contributions, do you think that all ten will continue to give at the level that they are or modifies or what percentage do you think will hang in there.

Subject #2: That’s a tough question. I sure it will matter to some whether will they actually sit and do the calculation … I gave $100 and the government was covering 30% of that … I will make it $70. Most people aren’t that hot with math so they probably wouldn’t do the numbers.

Dan: You’re right about that.

Subject #2: I’ve never had this conversation with any of my friends to I don’t really know how they would feel about these issues or the degree of public recognition, how important is that for them. You know I look at it from my own perspective and say well what would you need that for … why would it matter.

Dan: Is there more that you have thought about sharing that we haven’t talked about thus far?

Subject #2: No, certainly the thoughts that came to mind when I read your note are the ones that I shared with you. I haven’t thought about charitable giving in a lot of those contexts that you have shared … that’s kind of interesting as well.