Taking the Founders Pledge to Donate to Charity Following a Liquidity Event

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If there is anything worse than bragging about one’s charitable giving, it is bragging about the charitable giving one might accomplish in the future, should one turn out to have the funds to do so. In a world in which establishing cultural norms wasn’t so very important to success in non-profit fundraising, none of the audience here would know anything about my donations to the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Research Foundation, made over the years as we moved ever closer to the reality of therapies to treat and reverse aging. But establishing cultural norms is in fact very important in this business of non-profit fundraising. Why does cancer research receive such a large amount of non-profit funding? That has a lot more to do with the culture of charitable giving, and the visibility of giving to cancer research programs, than with the merits of those programs and organizations, or the merits of defeating these medical conditions. It is a great idea to fund effective cancer research, but I don’t think that is why most donors give to the cause.

Even in small communities, such as the people who have supported work on rejuvenation biotechnology and other forms of development aiming at the treatment of aging as a medical condition, the broader success of fundraising depends upon as many individuals as possible visibly demonstrating their willingness to donate to the cause. It depends on people talking about it, normalizing the idea that this cause is a great one, and that donating is an eminently sensible action. It depends on those people then putting their funds where their mouths are, and making that a very public action. Obviously I jest when I talk about bragging about charitable donations, but talking loudly about charitable donations is a necessary part of ensuring that a meaningful number of people choose to donate.

The Founders Pledge is an initiative that attempts to make this process of cultural normalization of charitable giving more rigorous and effective in the (on balance) comparatively high net worth communities of entrepreneurs and their investors. If attending Founders Forum events, which are moderately selective for founders likely to succeed, or who have already succeeded, one will sooner or later meet the people who run the Founders Pledge. They would like to see all company founders sign up to donate to charity a meaningful fraction of their gains from an eventual liquidity event, the sale or IPO of the company. The founders choose the charities, the Founders Pledge organization offers resources to help make those choices effective, and the point of the exercise is that eventually this becomes the norm rather than the exception. A more charitable world is better than a less charitable world, given the sizable number of issues that tend to yield only to philanthropy at the outset – and the development of rejuvenation therapies was and continues to be one of those issues.

For me, the Founders Pledge is the Members Club of What I Was Going To Do Anyway, so of course I signed up. I am the cofounder of Repair Biotechnologies, and should the ongoing preclinical development efforts at that company result in a financial windfall for me at the end of the day, an outcome that is considerably less important to me than success in developing therapies that have a meaningful impact on aging, then I will give a third of my gains to charitable causes. Most likely the same organizations that I have supported in the past, the Methuselah Foundation, SENS Research Foundation, and other non-profits such as the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation that have arisen to speed development of rejuvenation research.

Given why the Founders Pledge exists, it would defeat the point for me to take this step and not tell everyone. So here I am, telling everyone. For the founders in the audience, give it some thought. This is a good initiative, and I’d like to think that many of you would also tend to see this as an affirmation of actions that you would have taken anyway. So take the leap.

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