- by Andy Ho
I recently caught up with a fellow Asian American friend whom I grew up with and is now a programmer with Facebook. Facebook went public as a company earlier this year, and many of its employees did very well as a result.
My friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, had the fortune of receiving company stock worth $1 million as part of the Facebook IPO [initial public offering]. What is more remarkable is him and his wife's decision to give all of it away to the charity International Justice Mission (IJM), and in the process, making a personal dream come true. While his philanthropy is not exactly on the scale of Mark Zuckerberg, it’s still amazing and inspiring to see someone who didn’t grow up with wealth to be able to give away such a large sum of money. My Facebook friend (FBF) was generous enough to share his story and insights with Asian American Giving.
AAG: When did you first realize that you were motivated to one day give away a million dollars to charity?
FBF: The million-dollar dream happened to be during late high school, after my experience with the Navajo. The exact figure was chosen randomly; "a million" just seemed to me like a ridiculously large amount, like something I could spend a lifetime trying to achieve. At the time, I told only two people: my soon-to-be wife, and my youth pastor. My youth pastor counseled me not to get ahead of myself, to take things one bit at a time.
AAG: How were your values of generosity informed as a young person?
FBF: One of the pivotal moments of my life occurred when helping the Navajo on a reservation in Arizona during a summer short-term missions trip with my youth group in high school. I had until that point not encountered real poverty on a personal level. My memories of the Navajo in mud huts serve as a reminder that, in a way, most of us are the 1% -- not just a select few. One other major influence in my own thinking about generosity was my experience at Microsoft, where employees give regularly and passionately to a variety of causes. I once attended an ad-hoc lecture that Bill Gates delivered to a set of employees where he talked about his concerns around world health. In those 90 minutes, I remember being deeply impressed by the depth of his understanding into the issues and the possible solutions. It inspired me to further think about the difference that each of us can make in the world both through our finances and through being evangelists about the causes we support.
AAG: What led you to decide to give now in your thirties, versus later in life when you are done working or when your children are grown up?
FBF: There's an opportunity cost to everything we do. For instance, you can spend a lifetime planning all the great travel you'll do once you're retired, and only find out late in life that you don't have the energy and the physical ability to do so. Giving is analogous, in a way. While it's true that there will always be needs, and that it's safest to put off the giving until you know for sure that you don't need the money, waiting has its opportunity cost on real people. We gave now because we had a windfall of money that we weren't expecting; we gave now because we are so very grateful for how well things are going in our own lives. When my wife and I were newly married, we gave IJM $25,000, which for us back then was the entirety of our savings. It felt great then, just as giving away the million dollars feels great now. We're sure that others need the money much more than we do, and we hope to help where we can.
AAG: How did you go about choosing IJM as your charity of choice?
FBF: My wife and I had been supporting IJM for over a decade. The thing that appealed most to us about IJM is that it embraces the cause of social justice -- the idea that the world isn't fair for many people, and that we can do something to help right the world. The enormity of global suffering is crushing -- the weight of it all. But each individual that IJM helps is tangibly, permanently changed in such a dramatic way. Whenever a slave is freed, or a child is saved from sex trafficking, it's a life permanently revolutionized. This potential for radical life change is what drew us to IJM.
AAG: What difference do you hope to make with your gift?
FBF: Though a million dollars is far more money than I ever expected to see in my lifetime, it's a mere 3% of IJM's annual budget. And IJM's a tiny charity compared with most. It's humbling to realize that, in a way, even a million dollars will hardly make a dent on the scale and scope of the problem at hand. Our hope is to encourage others to give generously and to give early. Philanthropy, in the end, will really only work if we all choose to participate.
AAG: What would you tell others who have received or will receive a significant windfall of money?
FBF: Giving is a very personal thing, influenced by upbringing, circumstance, faith, and personality. It's hard to know what to say to someone who might suddenly find themselves with a lot of money. I'd wish for everyone to empathize with the weight of suffering in the world, and to be motivated to give; but it's not clear to me that clever words or persuasive argument will make a difference here. I guess what I would say is this: there are very few major decisions in life that you can be sure, absolutely sure, are right. In the case of my wife and me, we've always found charitable giving to be one of those rare, absolutely right decisions.
AAG: Thanks for sharing your insights! Your generosity will bless many others.