Mike Schaefer and Ric Weiland
October 29th, 2009
Mike Schaefer and Ric Weiland
October 29th, 2009
Mike Schaefer, the surviving partner of an early Microsoft pioneer, has distributed more than $180 million – nearly 100% of their assets – to 20 charitable organizations since his partner’s death in 2006. Mike's story offers profound insights to donors and advisors about giving strategically to one’s full potential.
My life partner, Ric Weiland, and I talked a lot about our options for giving away our wealth in our lifetimes. After all, why wait until you’re old and senile – or dead – to give to the causes you believe in? It made sense to have a thoughtful giving plan and the commitment to follow through on it while we had energy and intelligence. But Ric died tragically a good 20+ years sooner than planned: in 2006, at age 53.
As one of the founders of Microsoft, Ric had a lot more financial resources than I. But we were clear from the beginning of our relationship that philanthropy was a core value that brought us together. We didn’t need or want a $2 million home. After Ric’s death, our family (which was small, just the two of us and 4 nieces and nephews) is just fine knowing the money has gone to support good causes.
I was 1000% supportive of giving that money away charitably. Since college I have been actively involved in nonprofits, as a Board member and as a volunteer and see the difference they make in our community. Most of my experience has been with funding scholarships and in the environmental field. For example, I’m inspired by working with EarthCorps. EarthCorps sponsors young adults age 18-24 from around the world, to volunteer to protect the environment – and their experience is life-changing!
As major donors you attract fundraisers’ attention. Ric didn’t want that attention and tried to make his gifts as quietly as he could. Many people giving large sums hire philanthropic help, but we enjoyed doing it ourselves. We worked hard, carefully analyzing the causes we were considering investing in. On vacation, we often brought piles of annual reports and strategic plans of the nonprofits we were evaluating for funding. We probably funded 50-60 different organizations each year.
No matter how much money you have, you can’t fund everything. The key to effective philanthropy is making life-time commitment to a few interests and focusing your giving there. The Seattle Foundation has a great model for identifying key components of a community’s health. From their list we chose three broad funding areas: environment, education and research, and health and human services.
Just as in our financial investment decisions, we sought to balance the risk within our philanthropic investments. In Ric’s estate plan, $100 million went to low-risk, well-established institutions including Stanford University, the United Way, Children’s Hospital, and the Nature Conservancy. Another $65 million will be distributed through the Pride Foundation over the next 8 years to smaller, higher risk organizations, including ten national LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender) non-profits that represent a broad cross section of the gay rights movement.
We knew these would be unprecedented bequests and likely a challenging amount of money for many of these organizations. The good news is that Ric was a long-time supporter of these causes and had focused on building their capacity for almost 2 decades. By utilizing the Pride Foundation to distribute his bequest over the next eight years, everyone has a chance to plan ahead and use his funding strategically. It will be very interesting to evaluate over time what the impact will be. How well will these non-profits handle this level of funding: Will they fulfill their missions or expand into new areas of leadership in the social justice movement? Will they grow and sustain themselves?
We were innovative with our “lower-risk” philanthropy as well. In a philanthropic field where 98% of large donations are restricted to funding specific programs, our bequests are given without strings attached. We intentionally left it up to the leaders of these organizations to decide where they could best leverage the proceeds of our gifts. Two organizations have already doubled the size of our multi-million dollar bequests by directing them to efforts where other donors had pledged to match gifts!
Since my partner’s death, I’ve taken solace in knowing that the estate plans he carefully crafted over many years are now thoughtfully moving forward. Ric never wanted to be known or remembered for the size of his bank account. Wealth certainly helps people remember you, but you’ve also got to have the wisdom to be focused and discriminating in your philanthropy and the vision to work over the long haul to build the capacity required to sustain lasting change. While the checks I’m now able to provide causes near and dear to my heart are much smaller, the truth is you don’t have to be a zillionaire to be a thoughtful participant in building our community’s future.
In the years ahead, I look forward to what the smart leaders of the organizations we’ve supported will do with our funding – without our family or foundation board having to second guess them or tie their hands. For us, one of the best measures for successful philanthropy is looking to see if others have been inspired to step up and become part of a giving community. While our philanthropic plans were accelerated due to tragic, unexpected circumstances, my hope is our example will help others accelerate their giving. Why wait?
| West | Over $100M | at least 50% | Profession |
| LGBTQ | Passion |
Posted on November 5th by Molly Stranahan
Thank you, Mike, for sharing the benefits of creating a giving plan, and for reminding us of the importance of keeping it current. I imagine it is also very important to share your plan, what motivates you and your intentions, with the people you are entrusting to carry it out. I'm guessing that having been a part of Ric's learning process during his life made it easier to carry his plan out, emotionally as well as practically.
Posted on November 4th by Anne Ellinger
Shane, you might be especially interested in our upcoming teleconference with Tom Hsieh, who was strongly motivated by Christian faith, and also see the many faith-motivated givers we feature in our stories library.
Sign up for Tom's event at http://ow.ly/zkdY
See our faith stories at http://ow.ly/zkcj
Posted on November 4th by Mike Schaefer
Bottom line is none of us has enough money to take on significant community problems alone. Even the folks at the Gates Foundation continually compare their philanthropic investments to those made by governments and they come up looking like just a drop in the bucket. We all have to learn to collaborate and build momentum to inspire others to join in.
We help by sharing our stories (thank-you Bolder Giving!). I am optimistic that all this economic turmoil is centering us -- making us realize that all the wealth we create ain't worth much if we don't use it to step up and address the key problems of our time. Somehow we've got to get all these individual "drops in the bucket" to add up - for me, that's community wealth at its best.
Posted on November 4th by Mike Schaefer
I try to be selective with my time and focus. Fundamentally I've wanted to express my personal gratitude to Ric's beneficiaries, after all - they earned our trust. Second, as with any bequest, there's solace to be found from my grief (and that of all Ric's family) in knowing these gifts are now working to help others.
Today, I see my task as "moving on." Hopefully I can be there to inspire other donors who are open to finding ways to take more risk with their philanthropic investments. But hey --isn't this exactly what philanthropists have to learn?? It's all about learning to "let go!"
Posted on November 4th by Mike Schaefer
Well I'd certainly agree there's a spiritual aspect to philanthropy. In 2008 I was honored to be part of an effort in Seattle to bring together the leaders of 22 faith communities to engage in a dialogue around nurturing compassion. We had more than 150,000 people participate in our events including the Dali Lama and Archbishop Tutu. (See www.seedsofcompassion.org
). My read is that we have a huge opportunity to learn from the charitable legacies of so many diverse communities in the US - from Christian to Buddhist to Muslim and many, many others. So yes, I'd agree my motivation comes from a spiritual place, but it's likely inspired by a curiosity that reflects a great diversity of traditions.
Posted on November 1st by Tracy Gary
One more question for Mike from our Oct. 29 teleconference, this one from Tracy Gary:
"Mike, given what you are seeing re endowments, the economy and the state of legacy planning for social justice and the gay communities, what advice do you have for others or are you working on to leverage more community wealth? And how can we all help?"
Posted on November 1st by Shane
Here is a question for Mike from someone named Shane, who took part in our Oct. 29 teleconference:
"Mike, I am encouraged to learn of your energy and effort to help yourself and others to grow in their charitable intent and generosity. As a follower of Christ I know the Bible says much about the way we make decisions about our stuff. Has the Bible been a source or driving factor in the education or growth in your philanthropy? Just curious about the place where your motivation comes from? In other words, just a love of helping people or recognition that God is the owner of all and you are responding to that teaching?"
Posted on November 1st by April Stallworth
We had a deep and fascinating teleconference conversation with Mike on Thurs.Oct. 29. Several people posted questions to the call that we didn't have time to answer, so I am repeating them here.
From April Stallworth: "Mike, since Ric's passing and the distribution of the money do you now spend a good portion of your time speaking on this and/or working with the organizations that you and Ric left the money to?"
Posted on November 1st by Anne Ellinger
Elizabeth, thanks for your comment! We'd love to have more on this site for givers who are not wealth. Frankly, it's amazing to me that two retired college professors can help out 5 children and 13 grandchildren AND refugees as well. How do you do it? Are your grown children aware of your philanthropy? Are they resentful of it or supportive, or both? Are they involved in your giving? (I imagine not all your kids feel the same about it.) I know someone who follows the rule-of-thumb of treating her giving as if it were another child -- setting aside the same amount as she was giving her own children. I'd love to hear your further thoughts.
Posted on October 30th by Elizabeth Brackett
Mike's rule of thumb to leave a trust to take care of each family member is fine for the upper end giver, but still leaves lots of questions for those of us in the middle class. We are retired college professors with 5 children and 13 grandchildren. Twelve years ago we started a fund for refugee education which is the focus of our time, our travel and our giving. We are also helping underemployed adult children through the hard spots and building a fund for grandchildren's college education.
We are nearing 80 and have felt that the retirement years should be years of dispersal, not accruing more accumulated wealth. We have carefully followed my Dad's guidelines about always giving equally to each of our adult children, but deciding how to split between refugee fund and church and adult children is a tough one.
We heard of a guy in New York City who proclaimed that he wanted his last check to bounce, and was joyfully giving it away in his senior years.
Posted on October 29th by Charles B. Maclean
Kudos for your candid, balanced story telling and call for as much rigor in philanthropy planning as in ones general financial planning.
Just completed the second facilitation of the workshop, "A Good Life Ends With A Good Death: Decisions & Directives". It includes 14 options/choices including making conscious plans for giving. Would be pleased to make available a pro-bono draft of the take home resources if anyone would like a copy. email me at advocate at philanthropynow dot com to request the resource.
Posted on October 29th by Mike Schaefer
Thanks all for your time and questions today. While every family has its own story, I hope my ability to share a little insight into Ric's thoughtful approach to estate planning is helpful. Although he was a very private and quiet donor, his thoughtfulness has been an important part of managing the grief that comes along with any estate bequests. I encourage everyone to create a giving plan and keep it current - it's one of the best gifts you can give.
Posted on October 29th by Anne Ellinger
So glad it was useful to you, Karen! I was struck by that idea, too. Mike chose a provocative way to choose the amount: put enough in trust that the income generated is average for a family in your location. I could also see thinking concretely about what you want the money to enable (e.g. my kids to be able to work at a nonprofit job for $40k/year but live at $60k/year lifestyle... a 20% downpayment on a $300k house... the ability to be unpaid for one year as they start a business...) and benchmarking the amount to those goals.
And yes, I also love the simplicity and clarity of "building community wealth rather than family wealth."
Posted on October 29th by Karen Keating Ansara
Thank you, Mike and Anne, for speaking with us. From this call I learned to consider charitable remainder trusts as a way to leave our children and family members with enough money for a comfortable lifestyle, while preserving the core assets for philanthropy. I will also remember the way Mike described his approach: "to focus on building community wealth versus family wealth."
Posted on October 27th by Roseanna Almaee
What a thoughtful and thought provoking story! The wisdom demonstrated by Mike Schaefer and Ric Weiland is an amazing and wonderful example of how seriously we should take our giving. Too often I find myself "throwing" money at any organization that asks, and other times being more careful. But Mike and Ric's example of study and planning is really what I, and many of us, need to consider. Also, he is right in saying "Why wait?" One of the joys of giving is seeing the work go forward and the community we support grow and blossom. Just inspiring...really...their story is just inspiring!