A recent Wall Street Journal article profiled Ethicist Peter Singer’s comments about a $100 million contribution by David Geffen for Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York. He questioned whether that was really the best thing that could have been done with Mr. Geffen’s money. He suggested pretty clearly that making a nice place nicer for people who like music was nowhere near as important as feeding starving people in some other nation or region.
Perhaps he is right.
Asking that question enlivens our national discussion about many topics including philanthropy.
It seems to me, however, that he misses a fundamental point about the impulse to be generous. Which is that people are motivated to do right and wrong by what they see as important to them. For Mr. Geffen, it was important to support music and make listening to it more enjoyable.
Singer is quoted later in the WSJ profile in response to a question about his own expenditures for a vacation: “…we spend money on vacations that no doubt could do more elsewhere but that’s something that’s important… I work pretty hard during the normal year, and my wife’s been working as well, so we think it’s worth making that time for the family."
Exactly. He made what sounds like a very good decision to invest in something that was important to him. There is nothing that I can see that is wrong with that. It’s an entirely human and natural response.
So did Geffen.
We work with nonprofits supporting a myriad of causes across all spectrums and believe in the importance of the missions of all of our clients whether it involves feeding the hungry, educating young children, or showcasing beautiful art. It is this broad range of causes receiving generous support that helps weave the tapestry of a strong society.
We counsel organizations that it is their job to articulate the important role of their mission so that donors can see the impact their support can have on the greater world in a way that is important to that donor. For Mr. Geffen, the Lincoln Center successfully articulated that need in a manner that moved him to generous action.