In our Client Stories series, we interview DonorsTrust clients on their philanthropy to share wisdom they’ve gleaned in their giving and how they evaluate their charitable priorities and goals. You can read the previous installment here.
Scott, I met you through our mutual work in what is known as the “Liberty Movement”–the landscape of nonprofits including pro-freedom think tanks, do-tanks, public-interest law firms and activism groups around the world. How did you end up in this field of work?
I first encountered the ideas of liberty in high school, reading Ayn Rand for the first time. (Some say it usually begins with Rand…) I was so enamored with her portrayal of the power and dignity of the individual, which I hadn’t seen anywhere else. And her understanding that a free market is the only system that allows individuals to shine.
My encounter with Rand got me into studying philosophy in college, where I discovered the other classical-liberal philosophers like Locke, Hume, and Mill. I got involved with The Institute for Humane Studies and learned from the Austrian economics (Hayek, Mises) and the public choice school (Buchanan, Madison).
I felt that I had discovered something precious. These were ideas that could change the world, but that most people think are dead wrong. I decided to devote my life to inspire more people with the same insight I found.
I now work at Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a public-interest legal organization that litigates to change the law toward liberty. My job is to share the stories of the people fighting back, and the principles we fight for so that more people can understand and share in the benefits of freedom.
Working in that space, I know many would say you are already doing your part to support your principles by working at a nonprofit as a young professional. So, why give on top of that?
I can do only one full-time job at a time! I’m proud of my work helping the attorneys at PLF communicate a message of liberty to the public. But there are so many more ways to make an impact that I’m not directly involved in.
I also want to be prepared to leave a legacy after my career ends. Our work to advance liberty will probably never be finished. I want to devote what little I have to advancing those causes after I can no longer give my time,and what better way to start than by giving right now?
With Novus Society, the barrier to entry was low. I could put all my giving in one place and create an estate plan with the same account.
There can be a significant mental shift from being an employee at a nonprofit working off of donor support to, in turn, being a donor yourself. What advice do you have for others navigating that mental shift?
When you’re considering work as an employee, you think about questions such as, “How exciting is the mission?” “Am I passionate about it?”, and “Do I get to work with great colleagues, and grow my skills on the job?”
Because I work in marketing, I started giving to see what the process was like for the donor: What information are they seeing? Is it clear? What might donors think about an organization based on what we tell them?
Now that I’m giving to several organizations, I realized I can only spend a small amount of time thinking about each one. I realized I had to look at potential investments in simpler, big-picture ways: How do I sum up what this organization does in one sentence? How is it unique compared to the other organizations I’m considering giving to? I don’t have time to drill down into the specifics of all the programs and initiatives an organization runs, just the fundamental thing they are trying to do and how they know if it’s successful. If I can’t get clear answers to the value created and the measurement in a short amount of time, I’m moving on.
How do you think through the causes within the big umbrella of liberty that are most important to you? And then, taking it one step further, how do you drill down to the few you actually support with your charitable giving?
Once I became a DonorsTrust client and started putting my giving in one place, I realized I needed to think more systematically about my giving. I talked through this with [DonorsTrust Vice President] Peter Lipsett, who recommended an article from the DonorsTrust blog on how to create a philanthropic strategy.
The first step was identifying my priorities. For me, those are the things I care about that I’m not able to address with my work, and that don’t have significant funding from other sources.
In particular, I care about proving that civil society works to help the poor. This is the most frequent critique of free markets, and one that I’m not able to address in my day job. So, I decided to support civil-society organizations that are showing—not telling—that private enterprise and voluntary action helps those who are worst off.
The next step was to find organizations that are doing exactly that. I knew a few already, but Peter connected me with other resources, like the Manhattan Institute’s Civil Society Award winners.
I’m about two years into that plan. Right now, I give small amounts to handful of organizations and learning from what I hear about those investments. And it’s addictive: The more I give, the more I want to give more.