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The Giving Pledge

What would you do with millions of dollars at your disposal? It’s a question we ask ourselves when the Power Ball jackpot gets tantalizingly large. While we’ve all certainly dreamed of the material objects we’d buy — cars and yachts, a Tuscan villa and Caribbean hideaway — most people seem to start their dream spending spree with two major categories.

First, we’d wipe out our debt. After that, we invariably talk about what we’d do for others — pay off our children’s debt, buy our parents a house on the lake, take our friends on a trip of a lifetime, donate enough to advance the cure for cancer. We seem to appreciate the fact that beyond the level of money in the bank needed to secure our personal future needs, one of the best thing you can do with money is to spend it making the lives of others better.

Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, real-life billionaires, understand the joy and importance of giving. Not content to pass on the vast majority of their fortunes to enrich their children, they chose instead to plan to give away their wealth to enrich the world.

In 2010, Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates started a philanthropic initiative called the Giving Pledge, which is comprised of many of the world’s wealthiest people. Every member of the group pledges to someday give more than half their wealth to charity, either before or after death. There’s no list of approved charities or agreed-upon causes; each person who takes the pledge chooses where their wealth will go, be it to cancer research or a public museum to celebrate the soft-shell taco.

Imagine having that kind of wealth — an amount in your bank account that could allow you to change the world for the better while still taking care of your family. The odds of most of us ever getting to join the Giving Pledge bunch is pretty slim, but it’s fun to dream, right?

So let’s dream. Think about what cause, institution or organization you’d give to if you won the lottery. Have a few in mind? Now, ask yourself why those causes, institutions or organizations couldn’t benefit from any size donation. After all, if a thousand people each pledged a thousand dollars to a vital organization in our community, like MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena, $1 million would be raised to provide vital services to our friends, family, and neighbors.

You’re unlikely to be wealthy enough to join Bill Gates and Warren Buffet in the Giving Pledge, but you can make your own pledge to give. Whether your wealth is measured in the hundreds of dollars or the hundreds of thousands of dollars, there’s nobody stopping you from deciding to set aside a portion of it — 10 percent, 50 percent, or even all of it — and earmarking it to go to charity. Philanthropy isn’t just for rich people. You may not be able to change the world like Bill Gates can with his billions of dollars, but you can change somebody’s world with your saved dollars. Give now or make a plan to give after you’re gone, leaving a legacy of generosity and caring behind.

Get started today. Contact an attorney or certified financial planner to get the conversation started about making your own giving pledge.

Mary Eagan is a member of the planned gifts committee at MidMichigan Medical Center -Alpena.