Imagine that you receive your monthly bank statement and your balance is much larger than you expected. You peruse the deposits and withdrawals and discover that there are a number of deposits you don’t recall having made. You contact the bank to correct the error, but you are informed that the deposits were actually made by other people with the intention of benefiting you. The additional money enables you to purchase some items and have experiences that otherwise would not have been possible.
Such deposits at a financial institution would be highly unusual, but they happen all the time at the bank of life. If you received a scholarship when attending college, were mentored by a professor or senior manager, had a medical treatment based on research funded by contributors, enjoyed a symphony in a hall made possible by a large gift, or walked over a pristine wilderness preserved through the foresight of someone who loved that place, it’s as if deposits were made in your life account. Year after year, usually without even thinking about it, we draw upon these deposits. Even “self-made” men or women with humble origins who seemingly achieved success through their own efforts will, upon reflection, realize that they benefited from the institutions and opportunities established by others.
Philanthropy is the act of making deposits in the life banks of other persons in gratitude for the deposits made in our account. Some people of more limited means make their deposits primarily through voluntary service. Others are able to give both time and resources. Unlike deposits in your regular bank, which can only be made in cash, deposits in the life bank, with outlets like our charity, can be made not only with cash but with securities and other types of property as well, and they can be made in ways that return tax savings and produce life income.
In the Eastern doctrine of karma, every action has a consequence. Each deed, good or bad, determines the quality of future existence. If you help someone who has fallen, in the future someone may be there to help you when you fall. There is some truth to this concept, for philanthropy can generate financial and social rewards. However, the philanthropist makes deposits in the life bank of others not so much to receive future rewards but in recognition of what has already been received. As Bill Gates’s mother paraphrased the biblical statement, “To whom much has been given, much is expected.”