10/09/2007 09:56 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Karmic Capitalist: Should I Wait Until I'm Rich to Give Back?

This is a question I have fought with a lot over the years.

Spending time with the upwardly mobile in places like NYC and LA, one can't help but believe the consensus: It is better to wait until you have made a lot of money before trying to change the world? The idea (excuse?) is that you can then have a greater impact. But is it really true?

I no longer think so. There are a few reasons I have decided to commit at least $100,000 of my own money to education in the next 12 months:

1. Giving back is like investing with compound interest.

Less money earlier often beats more money later.

$1,000 invested now may very well have a much greater impact -- due to growth and ripple effect -- than $10,000 invested in 10 years. How many world leaders and innovators could you create or save if you acted now instead of at an undefined "someday"?

Here's an extreme example of how time changes value: Manhattan was bought for $27 in 1626. Invested at 7.5 percent then, compounded yearly, that $27 would be worth $22,224,711,000,000 now. Or compounded quarterly: 4.73442004 × 10^13 ($47.3 trillion). To put that in perspective, the entire yearly GDP for the USA these days is around 7 trillion. (Thanks to Ryan for this example).

Act now and very little can do a hell of a lot.

2. Prevention costs much less than cure and is ultimately more powerful.

For example: to educate a girl for 10 years in the developing world, ultimately producing an economically self-sufficient family and ending the cycle of poverty, costs a total of $2,500 with Room to Read. How much does it cost to provide aid or welfare to an entire family for decades on end, not to mention treating the famine, disease, and violence generated from this collective poverty? Look at Africa and the $50 billion+ that has been given as aid.

Charity doesn't work -- empowerment does. The good news is that the latter depends on acting early and precisely, not lots of money.

3. Giving is an investment in yourself.

Giving shouldn't be viewed as losing anything.

Based on previous polls on this blog, 32.2 percent of you make $51-100K per year and more than 20 percent make $100-200K per year. Regardless of income, could you afford to empower 100s or 1,000s of others with 5-10 percent of it, especially if it permanently increased your feeling of self-worth and contribution? Of course.

In fact, this self-perception boost is one of the greatest bargains, and performance enhancers, on the planet.

4. Changing the world is cheap.

Changing the world doesn't require much money. Again, think in terms of empowerment and not charity. How much were Gandhi's teachers paid? How much did it cost to give Dr. Martin Luther King the books that catalyzed his mind and actions?

Just imagine that you and your friends make $40,000 per year. Imagine that you convince just five of them to join you in building a children's school in Nepal dedicated to your parents (or your lifelong friendship). The total cost? 5 people x $3,000 each= $15,000. I know that most people, myself included, will put $3,000 of crap on credit cards in the next few months that could instead create a miracle... a miracle that you can visit.

You and your friends could plan the trip of a lifetime in 6-18 months to visit the completed school, teeming with dozens or hundreds of students who greet you with smiles and thank you letters. You'll know it's your school because your names will be on the door.


If that seems like too much, you can finance a girl's education for 10 years ($2,500) and effectively guarantee a future without poverty to an entire family. How would you feel about yourself if you just did it and pulled the trigger now?

I can tell you -- it's amazing. It changes your life almost as much as it changes theirs, and you won't miss the $2,500. I guarantee it.

If you haven't given before, I encourage you to do it now. Just do it. Take it for a test drive and see how it changes you. On the personal side, you'll feel great about yourself for a long, long time. On the results side, especially with the groups I've researched and selected, you'll measurably improve the world, something few people do, and possibly win some amazing prizes I and others are offering to people who donate this month.

To whet your appetite, check out some of the projects to pick from here. From there, it's as simple as checking out the next step.