• Noah Maier

Sorry: A letter to the donors.



Dear Donor,

We need you now more than ever. I wanted to write you this quick note because there's a lot of voices out there who are clamoring to tell you how to give away your money. The world is unjust. If you're wealthy, you may have some choices about how to handle it.

No one (including me) speaks eloquently about money. That's because we've all been fighting for a long time. Long fights mean that we're tired, and when we're tired, we communicate poorly. People don't have the right words to speak about (or think about) the best way to give away money. That's why a lot of them are attacking you. I've heard them say some pretty disparaging things about you. Some of them are even writing books. Activists love to criticize other activists. It's part of what makes them good at being an activist. Critical brains get into this work, spend all day examining the wrong things, and finding ways to fix them.

You may not realize it, but philanthropy is activism. That's why it's so open to critique.

But like other kinds of activism, its beauty is in its power.

Very few of us can make a difference with our money. Most of us need to rely on volunteering to make a difference. That means knocking doors, making calls, and writing letters. But that work's impact pales in comparison to the exponential change your donation will make. Nearly every organization needs funding. Progress relies on money. And it's anti-progressive to reject philanthropy as activism.

Anyone who gives away their money instead of spending it on a vacation house or a Ferrari is doing a noble deed. In 1901 Thomas Moran published a paper called the Ethics of Wealth, in which he writes, "it is true that the object of many a selfish and sordid existence is to produce wealth in the largest possible quantities. It is too often true also that the full and complete realization of the self and the consequent development and progress of the human race are lost to view in the scramble for material gain". You, the donor, are doing the opposite of scrambling for wealth. You're distributing it. And voluntarily, not at the point of a bayonet.

As Joe Garecht said,"Many, if not most, of the arguments of those who are attacking donors boil down to one simple idea: that other people should be able to control how donors give their money because other people know better than the donors themselves." And it's really a pity.

I'm not naïve. You should be thinking more about how you give your money away. Are you furthering the same systems you're trying to reform? To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, "the people who do the most harm are often the people trying to do the most good."

But it's not our job as activists to punish you for giving your money away. We should not vilify you. We should celebrate you – whether you're giving 0.1%, 1%, 10%, or 100% of your money away. You are the heroes that fund the movement. Thank you for doing what you do. And I'm sorry we don't always recognize your contributions.

Recent Posts

See All

How to Give Political Money

Political giving is a brilliant way to have an impact on the causes most important to you. In fact, I'd argue that some political giving is the highest possible return on your giving. But it can seem

The Jabba the Hutt Problem

Let's pretend you run a thriving non-profit on the planet Tatooine. The moisture farmers need help. You can provide them the blue milk they need to get them through the slow season. Your organization