Twitter's Biz Stone on Charitable Giving

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone recommends starting your philanthropy now to achieve what he calls "the compound interest of altruism." As with compound interest on a bank account, if you start giving charitably now at the level your capacity allows, the impact you create will be significantly greater than if you start later, when you might have a larger resource pool.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. Source: Flickr user Joi Ito.

Some years ago, Stone wrote on his personal website:

My wife and I have found ways [to] give even when we were in debt through volunteering. We found this work to be rewarding on many levels -- helping others really does work both ways. When we started earning more substantive amounts of money, we were able to put more funding toward charitable causes each year.

Recently, at a talk for students at Oxford University's Said Business School, Stone said:

The way to do it is to get involved as early on as possible because, even if it's just volunteer work or $5, the impact you'll have over your lifetime is far greater than anything you could possibly do if you wait until you think you're comfortable. You'll never really feel you're comfortable enough to give away your money, but if you start now and start doing some volunteer work, donating a little bit here and there, over the next 40 years you'll have a huge amount of impact and you'll feel great about yourself.

So what can you do to start out with regular charitable giving, even if your financial resources are limited?

  • Give your time as a volunteer or donate non-cash items. Says Stone: "Whether you're helping a teacher and classroom in need, donating clothes or canned foods to a local shelter, volunteering for disaster relief, or giving up your birthday to help others get clean water, you're doing something that makes a difference in the world."
  • Be a micro-philanthropist. When contributing even small amounts through crowdfunding and social media, the pooled contributions can make a big difference. Sites such as,,, and can help you do that.
  • Join or start a Giving Circle. Usually made up of people in the same community, friends, or even relatives, a Giving Circle consists of members who pool their money, share the task of researching nonprofits, and then give larger charitable gifts. That way the impact of your giving is multiplied. For more information on how to start or join a Giving Circle, go to or

Your charitable donations can be scaled to your resources at each phase of your economic life. But starting now will mean that you'll be able to have a greater impact in the long run, especially if you're able to create a focus and maintain it over time. That means some charitable planning now and revisiting your plan each time your financial status changes. The good news is that, as Stone indicates, your own satisfaction through charitable giving will compound over time as well.

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  • Report this Comment On July 01, 2014, at 5:20 PM, WilliamDKuenning wrote:

    Mark: “If I had Two Dead Rats…….”


    Thank you for the great comments. It is so true that a little, well placed, support over a long time starts a habit of action and impact, and that “habit” is actually the foundation of legacy trends and impacts for good.

    Often the level of action/support is mistakenly seen as more important and more telling than the regularity, dependability and commitment of support. “If I had two dead rats, I’d give you one.” That is laudable and has the potential to help and stimulate a legacy action. “If I had two dead rats every week, I’d give you one,” is laudable, and in its dependability allows for far more levels of growth and good, and guarantees help, the ability to plan and far better insures the building of a legacy, in attitude, action and impact. The former relates stakeholders. The latter bonds them. I want relationships with true bonds of cumulative impact. Of course, one must actually have something to give regularly to make all this happen but your point is the driving force here. The regularity and commitment are important and not simply the amount. A higher level of sustained good happens, when what can be given regularly is shared –voluntarily, happily and predictably so. Most do not experience this transformational level. Thank you for encouraging them to begin.

    In fact, size of support only really connotes power, which is fleeting. On the other hand, the regularity of the actions of support, as you say regardless of their size, builds both power and empathy over time –the keys to enduring impact. Yes, habit can be indifferent; however, in philanthropy, regularity is rarely truly accompanied by indifference, and when it is, it can still spawn some sustainable good on the way to building true legacy and enduring good.

    Endurance in both supporter and charitable innovation and impact are the all-too-often overlooked foundations of social good and legacy.

    We should desire to stop the constant struggle to keep good continuously growing. We should reach in and make a tiny difference over and over again, without waiver or question, and to inspire others to do the same and to radiate, and multiply that foundational seed. In other words, give what you can forever to a cause and watch how you both change over the predictability of that support.

    The charity and philanthropist who each understand and commit to that kind of predictable, not transactional only, relationship can build an actionable empathy that will be valuable from virtually dollar one. That is stunning and achievable for every philanthropic intent no matter how modest, as long as it is sustained. It is not simply an idealism to state that I would rather have a dollar every week for a lifetime than the equivalent amount in a bolus. The first is a meaningful relationship bond of sustained action toward cooperative change, and the second is a moment of thankful support that is a sustained memory of wonderful support.

    This is just an illustration of the extreme value of complex positive characteristics of predictable support and what that fosters. In reality, these two things are not mutually exclusive because this is a false choice. The call to achieve such amazing building value through predictability of support action is simply trying to shine a light on the irreplaceable value added, when we take the burden off of a charity to raise money and allow it to efficiently innovate and change the communities of our world. Each tiny bit of predictable, unimpeachable help, inspires and fuels us to build sustainable solutions.

    Your call to this methodical support development is so valuable on so many levels for all the stakeholders that it underscores the tragedy that it is not understood and cultured more. It is the wave of the future. What truly forward thinkers are listening?

    Thank you. Best regards. William D. Kuenning –Military Family Voices

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Mark V.

Mark Ewert, The Giving Coach, has been working with charitable givers to build their skill and intelligence for almost 20 years. He has done that through various roles: nonprofit founder, professional fundraiser, chief learning officer, consultant, speaker, and coach for leaders and philanthropists. Mark is the author of The Generosity Path: Finding the Richness in Giving, available through your local bookstore. Find Mark at Twitter: @mewert

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