So glad I don’t have $25 million.

by Kerry Burke on May 10, 2011

I recently read an article in the Atlantic called “Secret Fears of the Super Rich.” I opened this article with a tongue-in-cheek veil, thinking every cliché possible.

“What the hell do the super rich have to be afraid of? That their excess of $25 million might drop to – GASP!  $20 million?”

“Poor super rich people. I wish I had a cool $25 mil to feel miserable about.”

And on. You get the idea.

The article talks about a 4-year study led by Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy (funded by the Gates Foundation) that tries to determine exactly how the American wealthy think and live. Here are some of the candid responses from the study participants:

  • They feel that they have lost the right to complain about anything
  • They are afraid that their children will become trust-fund brats
  • They are saddened by the notion that their relationships with people (in the know about their wealth) are superficial and hollow
  • They don’t look forward to the holidays because they are expected to give really expensive presents
  • They feel isolated, like they can’t share their stressors with friends (“yeah, I wish I had your problems…”)
  • They feel awkward at restaurants, when the implication is that they should pay for dinner
  • They can be insecure about their own abilities because they inherited money (never had to work)
  • When they do work, they feel pressure and guilt for taking the job away from “someone who really needs it.”

Sounds like a pretty crappy life if you ask me. You know when it turns around for these people? The study isn’t published yet, and I am paraphrasing from the Atlantic article, but the gist is that the super rich start appreciating their money when they start to get involved philanthropically. Suddenly they have purpose. Their money is actually doing something good. And that can be more life affirming than having $25 mil stuffed under your mattress.

Philanthropy is a transformative, inspirational, life-changing experience. No matter the amount, the motivation is altruistic. I have received checks for $3.00 from people who wanted to make a difference. I once received a dollar bill in an envelope, with a jagged letter scratched from this person who was on a fixed income and this was their “extra” money for the month. They wanted to give it to the cause for which I was raising money because it was important to them. This gift, above any in my career, was the most profound for me.

So, I urge you to find a way that works for you to reach out and inspire your donors. Whether super-rich or on a fixed income, donors give because it feels good. Call them, talk to them, connect with them in a human, engaging way.



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nishi Whiteley May 13, 2011 at 11:08 pm


What a wonderful and insightful article. Your story about recieving the $1 bill in an envelope touched me deeply. Your point about donors giving because it feels good is so true. I will tweet this article sometime next week. Well done.



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