For most Americans, the formula for giving money away is easy enough: Choose the charity and write the check.
But for the mega-rich, that approach is hopelessly simplistic. They need professional help in parting with their money - and some are willing to spend up to $20,000 to get it.So they go to philanthropy school.
In recent years, a growing number of foundations and other organizations have begun holding workshops, field trips and even therapy sessions to teach the wealthy and - in the words of one provider of such services - the really extremely wealthy the finer points of
giving. These include not only practical considerations such as how to evaluate organizations for their financial responsibility but also a lot of intellectual soul-searching about what values the givers are hoping to spread.
For $650, a Boston program will put you through the paces in a weekend. And for $150 an hour, another Boston outfit will provide one-on-one counseling and hand-holding for those traumatized about coming into sudden wealth. But the Rolls-Royce of this new educational discipline is without question the Rockefeller Foundation Course in Practical Philanthropy.
Created in response to demand from affluent families worried that the younger generation was losing the philanthropic touch, the course isn't easy to get into. To separate real grant-making material from hangers-on hoping for a chance to schmooze with the rich, the foundation puts candidates through a series of interviews, asks questions about their backgrounds and looks into their finances. Students pay $10,000 in tuition, plus $10,000 for travel.
During the course - which meets for one week in October, January, April and June - students read Aristotle, learn to analyze financial statements, travel abroad to view third world poverty close up and practice meditation.
But can't these folks figure out themselves how to donate their money? Not really, says Jacqueline Novogratz, one of the program's directors. "Philanthropy is no longer about writing a check for $10,000 to the opera," she said. "We're exposing our students to a whole new innovative way of looking at strategic philanthropy."
And the Rockefeller students seem satisfied with their investment. Elizabeth Wallace-Ellers, a former investment banker who lives in Philadelphia, took the course last year, she said, "as a reality check, to make sure that in all my self-education I hadn't missed anything."
Chara Schreyer, a current student, joined to get a better grasp of how to run her San Francisco organization, the Kadima Foundation, which distributes $1 million a year for causes ranging from the education of underprivileged teenagers to diabetes research.
On a gray afternoon in January, seven students - from thirtysomethings to graying baby boomers - sat around a conference table on the 23rd floor of the Rockefeller Foundation's Fifth Avenue headquarters, munching soggy tuna sandwiches and sipping soft drinks, their pens poised over note pads and their brows furrowed in concentration.
The talk among the group, which included Bob Vila, the television home-repair guru; Jeffrey Soros, nephew of the billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros; and Schreyer, a California construction heiress whose father founded the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., was high-minded, almost solemn.
"I don't intend to emerge from this course as a fully fledged philanthropist," said Soros, 37, who is taking the course this year with his wife, Catherine. "What I hope to have are the skills necessary to continue my education as a philanthropist . . . that I can be a vital, active part of my philanthropic giving."