Philanthropy and the family business

Giving is another way we can pass on our legacy

family business
Family business

As an economist and professor for 30-some years, I am an ardent supporter of capitalism. It concerns me in these political times that our young, in particular, think socialism is simply a fairer system economically.

That fairer system is leading to the collapse of global nations, particularly in Europe – Greece, Italy, Portugal to name a few – and yet, there are many in this country looking to embrace this failed structure.

But perhaps what our youth object to the most in capitalism is that is tends to be self-centric. Darwinian capitalism, which is not widely practiced in our country, is that which purports survival of the fittest. Our capitalism is described, erroneously in the textbooks in my opinion, as welfare capitalism. The mere inclusion of the word “welfare” makes me shudder, but I digress.

May I humbly suggest philanthropic capitalism? Yes, it is a mouthful, but it more adequately describes the capitalism that oozes from our largess. Look around at the great colleges and universities of our nation, all the causes we fight for and give to, such as the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Red Cross, Humane Society of the United States, and on and on. This philanthropy does not exist in other nations, at least certainly not at the level we have it here, and yet there we have it – welfare capitalism. This phrase makes it sound like everything comes from the government, or at least that is what welfare has become. But what makes our nation what it is largely has to do with our choice, not our obligations. We are obligated to pay taxes, but we have a choice to give to charity. I prefer choice.

Family businesses largely grow and prosper to provide a legacy. That legacy can be introspective and for the family itself or provide for the greater good of society. One such gift to society was the BMO Harris Bradley Center. While I am excited to see a new Milwaukee Bucks arena and all the excitement surrounding the team and the progress and growth it brings, I am disappointed to see a gift given to our city destroyed. Jane Bradley Pettit and her husband Lloyd gave this gift from her family wealth to our community, and yet we thought very little about destroying this building. These actions give pause to families looking to pass along that legacy.

One guy that didn’t pause when passing along money to the common good was Joe Zilber. He and his wife owned Towne Realty and built many of the small and mid-sized homes in our community. His fortune turned to philanthropy, from the Boys & Girls Clubs to neighborhood initiatives.  Before he died at age 92, Joe decided he wanted to have some fun and give the money away himself, as opposed to letting the trustees do it. He made a choice, and we thank him for it. We are all better off because of Joe!

You can hardly walk around our city, or even state, and not run into a building funded in part or wholly by Todd Wehr.

Now some of you skeptics might say, “Sure, this is how the wealthy avoid paying taxes.” So what is wrong with that? Do you voluntarily pay more in taxes than you need to? Didn’t think so.

Therefore, philanthropy, the giving back from your wealth, is often a part of estate planning, especially for wealthy families. And, it should be. Even if you are not a Bible-thumper as the lead sentence might imply, giving back to a society that gave you much is just the right thing to do. Forget the tax ramifications – although those are hard to ignore. Giving is yet another way we can pass on our legacy, values and beliefs. And honestly, how much money do your kids and grandkids really need? Once the financial legacy is secure, why not make the right choice and give? Set up a foundation, give to an important cause near and dear to you, but give.

Freely, as a choice.

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Dr. Borst is the retired Dean of Business at Concordia University. He started up five businesses under and is COO of the Family Business Legacy Institute. He can be heard every Saturday morning as Dr. Dave at 6:20am on WTMJ radio with the FBLI show- "All Business". Dr. Borst is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, and blogger of a variety of topics from religion to politics or any of the topics you are not supposed to discuss.

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