Brent Kessel is the CEO and co-founder of a wealth management firm, but it’s the combination of that with his other beliefs that’s led him to a life of generosity (and a financial company that’s a little different from what you would guess).
How does one’s spirituality influence their generosity? For Brent Kessel, the CEO and co-founder of Abacus Wealth Partners, 20 years of yoga and meditation practice has affected everything from the firm’s investment philosophy to its culture. His ability to bridge the worlds of finance and spirituality has helped him build one of the country’s most interesting wealth-management firms, which is part of why we’ve selected him as one of our Most Generous on Wall Street.
Born and raised in Apartheid-era South Africa, Kessel witnessed blatant racial and economic inequalities that still resonate and fuel his empathy today. An active Acumen Fund Partner, he recently traveled to East Africa to meet with several of the social enterprises in which they invest. On his January 2013 trip, he visited one company that is enabling micro-entrepreneurs in Nairobi’s slums to buy franchised toilets. By keeping it clean, they earn money to pay off the toilet, and at the same time help reduce the spread of disease. To earn additional revenue that helps keep the cost of the toilets low, the company composts the waste, transforming it into fertilizer using a new technology created in conjunction with the Gates Foundation. In addition to his work with Acumen, Kessel is an avid charity: water supporter, has sponsored two Cambodian children for many years, and has helped raise over $600,000 to help find a cure to Type 1 Diabetes, the disease one of his sons was diagnosed with in 2003.
Jeff Walker was a successful investment banker who focused on giving back while in finance, but then left the industry to give even more of his time, hoping that his collaboration with younger social entrepreneurs would send ripples of giving back throughout the world.
Jeff Walker is the former chairman of CCMP (the successor of JPMorgan Partners) and philanthropist whose approach to giving is tied to his practical spirituality. Known for integrating business strategies with the nonprofit world, his charitable influence has reached renowned charitable initiatives. Collaboration is his mantra; his career on Wall Street taught him that managing your ego enough to work with others not only makes you more efficient but also increases your creativity and impact.
If so, follow the three easy steps below and you’ll be on your way to getting the help you need.
1. Make your Profile Shine! Use the tips outlined in this document to create an organization profile that attracts volunteers: http://d.pr/f/gooB. Keep in mind, organizations that complete their profile with a logo, picture, and an engaging description get matched much quicker!
It’s All About Impact. Show people what you’re all about. Don’t tell them.
Got goals? Clearly explain the mission of your organization — getting professionals to buy-in to your vision is half the battle.
Make it Personal. Professionals volunteer for organizations, but they work with you! Tell them why you do what you do, and let them know who they’ll have the privilege of working with
2. Fill out your project planning form. Download this pdf and use the second page to guide your planning: http://d.pr/f/VYde. Outline what you need help with most, what your objectives are and deadlines.
3. Lastly email firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our amazing account managers will schedule your Project Planning call!
As part of our series on generosity in business, we’re looking at some of the financial wizards who are using their skills and assets to give back to society in the most impressive and inspiring ways.
Introduction by: Alexander Stein
Generosity is an emerging market. Social-good philanthropy is forging into territories once the domain of conventional charities and donor-grantee philanthropy. This month, the Co.Exist / CatchafireGenerosity Seriessingles out an elite group who’ve pivoted from exceptional success in the financial sector to launching world-changing social giving initiatives.
But, even for these wealthy donors, being generous is more complicated than you might think.
Rather than being inspirational, giving of this magnitude can generate rip tides of envy. Could the astronomical wealth and mammoth institutional resources behind these ventures overshadow their missions? Avoiding that is the first challenge. Remember, positive impact matters more than who’s giving and how much.
As Warren Buffet puts it, “the most precious asset a person can give is time.” To Buffet, gifts of time and talents to help others “often prove far more valuable than money.” A struggling child, he suggests, “befriended and nurtured by a caring mentor, receives a gift whose value far exceeds what can be bestowed by a check.”
How can this serve as a model for emulation? To be optimally leveraged, we need to better understand generosity. Generosity is commonly defined as “liberality in spirit or act, especially in giving” and a “willingness to share with others.” Its etymology is linked with nobility, nearly every world religion vaunts its moral virtue and, as any child can tell you, it’s better to give than to receive.
But generous behavior isn’t itself an accurate indicator of true generosity. People donate time, service, knowledge, and money for lots of reasons–exhibitionism, social pressure, to be influential, in control, or feel powerful, guilt, conformity, moral posturing, self-gratification, tax advantages, even disguised hostility. While, to varying degrees, these are legitimate catalysts to giving, they have little to do with actual generosity or altruism.
Social scientists explain generosity as “prosocial behavior”–actions that benefit others learned through role models in the home or school. But the underlying psychology–how our capacity for giving develops and functions–is more complex. Why is this important to know? Because true generosity isn’t just about generous acts. It means being generous knowledgeably and thoughtfully–understanding generosity inside and out.
Taking generosity from blueprint to delivery can get deformed or derailed by any number of under-the-radar obstructions. Hard to see, looking at the members of this list (see below). They epitomize mission-aligned giving. They also present an opportunity to study, by contrast, some problematic giving types, whose generosity is mitigated by ulterior motives.
Knowing the signs of the wrong kind of generosity can help you spot them, in others or even in yourself, in advance.
Important? Very. The social good sector–and generosity in particular–pivots on the human element. In a successful giving venture, psychology is a critical factor equal to any. Punt it aside, and you’re handicapped.
Here’s the short list:
5-Alarm: Generosity catalyzed by catastrophe. Natural disasters, 9/11, and other social trauma generate outpourings of mass-empathy. Active interest can exceed the news cycle but eventually subsides once a semblance of ‘normalcy’ has returned.
Mother Teresa: These givers’ generosity is boundless. Their need to help others seems insatiable.
Guilty: Its familiar face leaves the recipient feeling guilty for accepting the giver’s munificence. A sense of ingratitude is baked-in; no amount of thankfulness can fully acknowledge the sacrifice made in having given so much. The underbelly is the guilt driving the giver: his generosity is an imperative of tithing or expiation, an attempt at compensating for something forever owed. This substructure is often invisible, as many appear to give quietly, anonymously, or selflessly.
Investment: Generosity (actually pseudo-generosity) delivered with an unspoken expectation for a return. It’s not tangible ROI like admiration or bragging rights; the giver’s generosity is an esoteric hedge. Potential returns could be an internal “get-out-jail-free card,” to feel deserving of respect or love, enhanced self worth, or delivering a model of how he hopes to be treated.
Little Big Man: The giver dreads being “too much.” The ramifications of too muchness are presumed dire. The solution? Divestiture and redistribution. The quotient deemed dangerously over the line is reducible to safe levels with a noble bonus: giving to others.
Pollination: Scattering small seeds of generosity to multiple recipients. Each parcel is too insignificant for sustainable positive impact but sufficient in the aggregate to create the appearance of great magnanimity (distinct from potentially useful micro-giving, a variation of strategically thoughtful micro-lending).
Tyrant: Generosity delivered with militaristic precision and vice-grip control. All effective philanthropy requires structure and regulation. But this is stiflingly hyper-codified. The consequent, inappropriate focus is on giver, contract and performance. The recipients’ needs are eclipsed.
Atlas: Generosity borne of a sense of over-responsibility. Usually derivative of a childhood devoted to emotionally subsidizing a weak, sick, or immature parent. A deep reservoir of resentment flows under the generosity.
Bling: The charitable gesture is really camouflaged boastfulness. Generous acts are a contrivance for trumpeting and memorializing the giver’s resources and generosity.
Strip Mall: Unrelenting and over-abundant generosity. The giver can never give enough (and may never stop) irrespective of how much the recipients need.
Trojan Horse: Largesse with a hidden time-deferred agenda. The recipient doesn’t learn of the contingent expectations bundled into the ostensible gift until after the fact.
Tony Soprano: As in, “it would be a cryin’ shame if you didn’t accept this gift.”
Jackass: Wasteful, mind-bogglingly ludicrous pseudo-charitability (as one of many Technicolor examples, see Leona Helmsley’s bequeathing her multimillion dollar fortune to her dog).
Carrot on a Stick: Keeps the recipient hopeful but perpetually suspended in need. The promised generosity comes tantalizingly close to fulfillment, or is sparingly apportioned over time. But is always attached to a string. (Similarly: “YoYo”: generosity serially offered and retracted).
Madoff: Fraudulent generosity. Can involve the giving of stolen or misappropriated assets. Can also be a deceptive practice: generosity as red-herring, straw entity, or disguise for intentional malice or, purely psychologically, as a veil for hatred, envy, or rage. Hostility and sadism are parts of the human condition. Social imperatives to conceal them are embedded in language: the German word “gift” means ‘poison’ in English.
I’ve given these psychological categories cheeky names to help explain them. But the issues are serious. In each, beneath the generous act, the giver’s internal conflicts and self interests dominate. Concern for the other is subordinate and functional. That’s a fundamental perversion of accepted generosity best practices.
Is there a fix? Can these archetypes be avoided?
Yes. Harnessing generosity’s full potential as an enterprise tool requires understanding both its negatives and positives. That these mental systems exist and can intrude in our daily affairs isn’t a dismal forecast for future giving. People are dazzlingly resilient and adaptable. These psychological mechanisms, and others too, start as ingenious coping responses–giving instead of receiving in a formative zero-sum environment where giving and receiving wasn’t feasible.
Generosity isn’t limited to giving. It also involves being accepting, emotionally charitable toward ourselves and others.
The capacity for empathy–a leap of imagination to understanding the experience of another based on one’s self–is a cornerstone of generosity, and a remarkable trait of our humanity. It’s present in varying degrees in nearly everyone. Being truly generous is to be humane.
THE FIVE MOST GENEROUS WALL STREETERS
The Most Generous on Wall Street are a group of unique individuals who have enjoyed a successful career in finance while also making time to give back in a significant way. These individuals are role models for us who are career focused, showing us that giving back and growing a successful career are not mutually exclusive, but complementary.
Come back every Monday for the next five weeks to read about a new honoree who uses their success off of Wall Street, influence in the world of finance, or post career life to make the world a better place. We’ve gathered in depth profiles that get to the heart of who these people are, their philosophies on giving, why they are generous and how they are using their time and talents (not just their bank accounts) for good.
We’re recognizing game changing careers and inspiring acts of generosity beyond deep-pocketed philanthropy. The Series profiles continue today with Mark Randall, Most Generous Designer. It continues through the winter with most Generous Tech Founders, Wall Streeters, Marketing Gurus and Filmmakers. Follow the series every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for in-depth profiles of all our honorees.
Through a program called Design Ignites Change, Mark Randall and Worldstudio are inspiring a new generation of designers and architects to give back.
Worldstudio is a New York City strategy and communications firm that builds bridges between clients and communities to enable positive social change. Mark Randall helped Worldstudio launch Design Ignites Change in collaboration with the Adobe Foundation to support architects and designers who want to make a difference in their communities. He is also the co-founder and chair of Impact! Design for Social Change, an annual six-week summer intensive at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
This year, rather than volunteering on location, Catchafire decided to open the doors of our office and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by providing friends and members of our community with personal volunteer consultations, a chance to learn something new and as a bonus an opportunity to hang out at our team’s potluck!
As we sent out invitations, it quickly became evident that most of our friends were not aware that MLK Jr. Day is the National Day of Service and instead were using the long weekend for a vacation. With this realization, we started to wonder, why don’t more people observe the National Day of Service or even know about it?
As the day started off, Rachael asked the team and our guests to settle around the couches in a large comfortable circle. After everyone relaxed into place, she posed a question that inspired a surprisingly intimate conversation for 10 o’clock in the morning.
Why do you serve?
Faced with this question, most of us reflected back to our first ever volunteer experience. Listening to those around me, it was clear that whatever experience it was, volunteering, at some point had transformed that person’s life. They were forever changed by the act of helping someone else. It comforted me that the friends who stopped by Catchafire felt a similar dedication to serve as my co-workers.
Whether it was a mission trip to foreign country, a role model whose actions they learned from or an expression of gratitude from the recipient of a good deed, it was clear that service had opened our eyes to the way our lives should be spent and service was deeply embedded in everyone who went to Catchafire that day.
The day continued with Martin Luther King Jr. twitter trivia and a Social Media Scavenger Hunt that challenged our knowledge and understanding of Human Rights. These games were a chance for us to recognize the people out there who are using the internet as a tool to raise awareness about human rights & service.
We finished up by screening Born into Brothels, a touching documentary about a woman who finds potential in children raised in Indian brothels. As she teaches them photography, it was nearly impossible not to feel attached to the children’s stories of hardship day in and day out. Seeing the world through their eyes was inspiring and reminded us the importance of raising awareness and making change around human rights.
All in all, our MLK Day was refreshing. It is a wonderful practice to reflect on why it is you serve, in fact, I challenge you to ask yourself the same question today. I hope that it will provoke something in you as it did us. We are excited to watch the holiday evolve, and we are sure that MLK Day 2014 will be very different.
We hope that as we all grow, the holiday will as well, imagine if everyone recognized MLK Day as the National Day of Service–seriously, if everyone did, woah I just got excited!
We’re recognizing game changing careers and inspiring acts of generosity beyond deep-pocketed philanthropy. The Series profiles continue today with Matthew Inman a Most Generous Designer. It continues through the winter with most Generous Tech Founders, Wall Streeters, Marketing Gurus and Filmmakers. Follow the series every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for in-depth profiles of all our honorees.
After the followers of the irreverent comic site raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help defend it from a lawsuit, Inman realized that you can catalyze online audiences for more than just clicks.
Catchafire’s mission is to improve the quality of the volunteer experience by providing pro bono opportunities for skilled professionals. Catchafire’s vision is to make it easy for every professional to use their skills for good, and to make it easy for every nonprofit and social enterprise to access and effectively use pro bono as a way to build capacity within their organization. Learn more...