Lessons from Rockefeller—and a legacy of giving

How can your giving deliver the impact you want?

22 May 2017

David Rockefeller—the world's oldest billionaire—died on March 20, 2017, at the age of 101, leaving behind a legacy as a banker, philanthropist and heir to one of America's legendary fortunes.

Rockefeller is an example of how someone born into great wealth can live a life full of philanthropic ventures, while also emphasizing the fact that people are living longer—and must plan with longevity in mind.

Among many other ventures in charitable giving, in 2006, he donated $225 million to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which he and his brothers established in 1940. The fund is meant to help enact social change.

He also gave $100 million to the Museum of Modern Art and the eponymous Rockefeller University, which both fit in the “classic” philanthropic category.

“David had a sense of duty that isn't as prevalent in the younger generations,” said Bill Sutton, UBS Head of Client Philanthropy. “For David, I think that it was ingrained in him from a young age that he was born into great wealth and he needed to give back. He wasn't just writing checks. He lived that Old School model of giving in that he worked hard for 35 years at Chase, then gave back in civil service, all while donating massive amounts of capital and time.” He added that Rockefeller was a “product of his time,” and this sense of philanthropic generosity was reflected in his actions.

“Clients may not have all the zeroes that Rockefeller had in his bank accounts, but they can use him as model for giving and inspiration to deploy their wealth and human capital to causes about which they care deeply,” said Sutton.

Given the example of Rockefeller, what concrete steps can clients take now to feel they are making an impact, in an increasingly interconnected world?

“The most important step is to start with coming to the conclusion that you want to give to a particular cause or mission, then figuring out what you want to give and what is realistically feasible to give,” said Rich Scarpelli, Head of Financial Planning, UBS Financial Services, Inc. “This conversation is extremely critical and determines a lot about a philanthropic plan for a client.”

From there, the details can be ironed out.

“It's then up to the financial adviser to walk a client through various strategies that are appropriate, such as a private foundation, donor-advised fund or a particular charitable trust strategy—all while taking into consideration the type of asset being donated. The type of asset, property, securities or cash, may also impact the specific strategy and the way a client gives.”

And while tax benefits aren't an exclusive reason for giving, income and estate tax planning will certainly take such benefits into account in order to give in the most tax efficient manner possible.

“This is where planning comes in” said Scarpelli. “Most wealthy clients are going to give to charity as part of their estate plans, but what is crucial is that people are thoughtful about what causes are supported, and what is valuable to them.”

No matter what kind of impact you choose to make, ensure your giving strategy is built into your long-term financial plan and consistent with your overall financial goals. Your Financial Advisor can help integrate all of the complex moving pieces of your financial life together to help you realize your philanthropic vision.

Key takeaways

  • David Rockefeller, the world's oldest billionaire, left behind a legacy as a banker, philanthropist and heir to one of America's legendary fortunes.
  • Rockefeller is an example of how someone born into great wealth can participate in a lifetime of giving. And his philanthropic largess was reflected in his actions.
  • No matter what kind of impact you want to have, it’s important to ensure your giving strategy is built into your financial plan and consistent with your overall financial goals.
  • Are you making the most of your giving? Talk to your UBS Financial Advisor.

And UBS has extensive experience in helping clients make the most of their giving for the people and causes they care about. Read UBS’s Philanthropy Compass for more.

In addition, UBS established the UBS Optimus Foundation to help clients get involved and invest in causes that matter, particularly in improving the health and education of disadvantaged children around the world.

Is your giving having the impact you want? Together we can find an answer. Connect with your UBS Financial Advisor or find one.