Today I am going to share with you an idea I’ve been wanting to get around to blogging about for years. Hopefully, it will inspire some of the people who read this to act on it. This is not just my first new blog post of the New Year, it is appropriately a great way to begin the new year. And in the near future, I will share two additional ideas concerning things people can do, that can make a real difference.
Many people have heard of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Fellows Program. Once a year, this philanthropic organization selects typically between twenty and thirty individuals, who each receive $625,000, paid out in quarterly installments, over five years. As it states on the Foundation’s website, fellowship is awarded to individuals who’ve demonstrated “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” It is not a reward based on past achievement “but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential” for future accomplishments. Past recipients have included writers, artists, composers, investigative journalists, human rights activists, a puppeteer, a quantum cascade laser engineer, filmmakers, playwrights, an audio preservationist, a behavioral economist, a paleobotanist, educators, theater directors, a marine ecologist, marine biologists, an ethnobotanist, performance artists, chemists, a global health advocate, a spider silk biologist, and so on. As you can see, it is not limited in scope to any one particular field.
Do the math and you can quickly come to the conclusion that any kind of philanthropy like that is well beyond the participatory reach of the average person. Multiply 625K by 24 recipients and that gives you $15 million. And that’s per year — every single year — more or less, depending upon how many recipients in total there have been over that five year period. After just ten years, that expenditure could easily top $150 million dollars.
Still, I would have to contend that some miniaturized version of this, is in fact well within the reach of many — many who would otherwise not even consider it possible.
Think about it. If you had a desire to do something just like what the MacArthur Foundation accomplishes with their Fellows Program — research, consider the many possibilities, do additional research, and then decide upon which individuals to bestow a cash award — does it have to be 625K? Does it have to be paid out in quarterly installments? Over five years? Do you have to select between twenty and thirty recipients?
Couldn’t you choose to select just ten individuals? Or perhaps even just one? Couldn’t you give one tenth, or one twentieth, of the amount they give? Or even less? Or more! Instead of once a year, couldn’t it be once every two or three years — or every five, or ten? Or perhaps even just once, throughout your entire lifetime? The answer is: of course. You can give any amount you wish, to any number of individuals. You’re in the driver’s seat. You have complete freedom. It’s your money and your decision how to spend it. You can even choose to combine forces with other individuals or foundations, and have that much more of an impact.
Doesn’t this sound fun and exciting? Can’t you just see the press releases? The potential good to society that can come out of all of this?
How many people can potentially do something like this? A lot. In fact, whenever someone shares with me their plans for a family vacation in some distant land, or tells me they just recently bought a brand new car, or mentions they plan to spend the weekend at a “second home,” or plan to fly down to Florida, just for the weekend, I can’t help but think they probably could fund something like this, at least to some extent. Perhaps by downsizing their lifestyle a bit. Or perhaps not.
For example, when someone spends sixty grand on a car, I think “They could’ve spent less than half that and bought one of the best, most dependable cars on the market, while earmarking the other half to give to an individual for whom that might represent an entire year’s salary.” That’s an entire year they could be working tirelessly on whatever it is they have a burning desire to do to. Whether it’s writing a biography, producing a documentary film or pursing something related to addressing the ecological crises threatening humankind. But that might now instead never come to fruition.
Statistics I saw for 2016 estimate that 9.4 million Americans have a net worth of between $1-5 million, and 1.3 million have a net worth of between $5-25 million. So I wouldn’t be surprised if millions of Americans are capable of doing something like this — if they so chose.
A great thing about the MacArthur Fellows program is that the money is “no-strings attached.” I think that’s important. For example, if the award went to a playwright, they might choose to branch off in an entirely different direction and start writing short stories, or they might be inspired to transition into documentary filmmaking. However, If they raised or received that money in order to do “x,” then they wouldn’t have the option to do “y.” But with the MacArthur Fellows Program, since there are no stipulations regarding how money can be spent, recipients can spend it however they choose.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering. Why do I call this a mini-M? It’s simple. It’s because in my notes regarding potential future blog topics, that’s the abbreviation I’ve always used for this. Whenever I see “mini-M” — short for “mini-MacArthur” — I know instantly what that refers to. And now, so do you.
In closing, let me say this. While the MacArthur Fellowship is commonly but unofficially referred to as a “Genius Grant,” you don’t have to be a genius to see that while individually, awarding a much smaller amount of funding to just one individual might seem like a pittance compared to what the MacArthur Foundation spends on its entire Fellows Program in any given year, if there are a million or perhaps millions of individuals doing this, then combined, what this can accomplish in any given year, can potentially overshadow what the MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program has been able to accomplish throughout its entire thirty-eight year existence. So put your thinking cap on, and start considering the possibilities.