A Philanthropic Life Choice A Conversation with…Georgia (48), marketing executive and real estate investor, Janesville, WI

Growing up Georgia was in many ways pretty traditional. She had her life planned out: She would marry, have children and then grandchildren. But that wasn’t how things turned out.  Instead of getting married she became a very successful business woman, invested well, and amassed a small fortune.  She began to realize she may never marry and certainly, at her age, never have children, and she wondered what all the success and money were really about. 

“ I suppose, like a lot of girls my age, I was a product of my times. Born in the Sixties and reared in the Seventies, I was constantly being bombarded with messages about a woman’s changing role, you know…about “you’ve come a long way baby”…And about how it was possible for a young woman to have it all.  Like a lot of my friends,  I just assumed I’d have both a career and, at some point, I’d meet a nice guy, marry him and start a family…and then I’d decide whether or not I wanted to return to the workplace and continue my career, or stay home and raise the kids.

 Well, you know what they say…the best laid plans…For a whole lot of reasons things just never really worked out the way I envisioned. So  I focused on my business and listened to my damn biological clock ticking louder and louder each year, and at some point I guess I just let it all go.  Besides, I had a great life with two wonderful sisters, a few amazing nieces and nephews, and some of the most loyal and remarkable friends anyone could ever ask for.

And, oh yeah, I had somehow, suddenly become stinking rich. 

My sisters and I had inherited a significant amount from mom when she died in ’82. I took my share and invested in real estate when it seemed just about everybody and his brother was trying to sell, and commercial real estate prices were as low as they’d been in years.  Before I knew it, the market turned and I found myself sitting on tens of millions of dollars’ worth of office and retail property.  

Meanwhile I was doing pretty well in my day job and became head of the marketing department at my company – which, without naming names, has been on the Fortune 500 list for longer than I’ve been around.

With a very well-managed diversified investment  portfolio and a lot of real estate…and given that I don’t have children, I decided I wanted to…I don’t know, “ensure my legacy” maybe. I know that may sound a bit high-minded…but hell, I wanted to leave some trace that I’d once lived, and had done something with my life that mattered beyond my job…You know what I mean?  I’m just trying to say that when a person gets to a certain age, I guess it’s not uncommon to start thinking about these things.

Right around that time an attorney friend of mine said she had just started working with a philanthropic advisor who was helping her make sense of her charitable giving so that what she was giving would have greater impact.  A light bulb went on and the next thing I knew I was working with that same firm.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure what I wanted from them or what to expect. They basically put me through a deep dive into philanthropy and helped me focus my interests so that we’d have a starting point . We worked closely with my attorney and my wealth advisor because I didn’t have any vehicles for giving…I’d been basically just writing checks if someone asked me to make a contribution. We ended up creating a Donor Advised Fund and a Charitable Remainder Trust with my nieces and nephews as the beneficiaries. We also began to look at how to support two key areas of interest for me…arts education for disadvantaged kids and homelessness so that my charitable dollars would be most effective.

With the help of the philanthropic advisor we identified organizations that were in these spaces and I spent time getting to know what they were doing…actually I’m now on the board of one of them.

"I realized that not only could I do something good with my money, but I might also make some money while doing good."

But maybe one of the most intriguing things I’m doing is investing my money in very unique startup companies.  My advisor and I went to a conference on impact investing and I listened to presentations from a few social enterprises, and I realized that not only could I do something good with my money, but I might also make some money while doing good.  Imagine investing in an emerging business that wants to change the world and getting a return on that investment.

I now have a vested interest in a small entrepreneurial startup that makes low cost reading glasses available to people in developing countries and I’m reading a business plan about a company that can find water in the desert! Okay they aren’t  in the areas I am passionate about, but they really are making a difference and are great business models!

I have to admit, this is not necessarily the life I figured I’d  be living…but to be  honest, it feels pretty good to be connected to something bigger than I am.” 

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