If I Knew Then Advice on careers, finance, and life from Harvard Business School's Class of 1963

Chapter 7

Charity & Spirituality

If you knew then what you know now, would you have been more involved with faith and religion, and would you have given a bigger role to charity in your life?

Every now and then a newspaper story makes the rounds about how the poor give more to charitable causes than people of means. As a percentage of their income, this may be true. But the generosity of high net worth families is incontrovertible.

According to a 2010 study conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, high net worth households account for between 65 and 70 percent of all individual charitable giving in the United States. Contributions don’t come simply in the form of dollars, either. High net worth individuals volunteered an average of 307 hours in 2009 — the equivalent of nearly eight weeks of effort at a full-time job.

The alumni of Harvard Business School's Class of 1963 confirm the value of sharing their time and money with others. One graduate summed up the equation of social responsibility by citing the Parable of the Faithful Servant from the New Testament: “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.”

Ron Bales

Over the last 40 years, I have had a growing conviction that the most important decision any person makes is what he or she does about God.

The Judeo-Christian foundation is that there is one God who created us and our universe, and that He told us in His written word who He is and who we are.

The Christian completion is that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, who came that we could be reconciled to God, that there will be an end and a judgment, and that those who believe in Jesus will spend eternity with God.

Those brief words are a huge challenge to those who grew up in my environment, but their ramifications are so great that they deserve the most serious consideration.

My conclusion is that I do believe them and that our humble (often feeble) declaration of that belief is a vital part of making it accessible to others.

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Robert K. Bowman

If you believe God is Love, as I do, then charity, faith, and spirituality are central to everything you do in both your vocational life and personal life. The most rewarding purpose is to serve others, whether business associates or persons in need.

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Ron Leslie

Forget about “religion” and “spirituality.” What’s important is not those, but “relationship.” The sooner we appreciate that we have a loving God, the sooner we can enjoy the great bounty that flows from a warm relationship with him. One of these is true charity of the heart.

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Bill Agee

All three are central to living a full and meaningful life. Genuine faith leads to deeper spirituality, which leads to authentic charity.

Too often “faith” is nothing more than a codified list of beliefs, when its truest form resides in the silence of a believer’s heart. Too often “spirituality” is watered down into something that means everything and nothing. And too often “charity” is little more than a pragmatic, well-timed transfer of funds that has no connection at all to generosity or caring.

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I recognize that my blessings exceed a market ROI for level of talent and effort. Therefore, I have a surfeit with which to share with others less fortunate. In the end, however, I benefit as much or more as do the recipients of my time and treasure.

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John A. Fabian

Everyone who can should certainly contribute to charities since there are many people, through no fault of their own, who need help. However, as for faith and spirituality, I personally feel it is more important to live a good and useful life.

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Charity is very important. Faith and spirituality is a personal choice. Although I have become an atheist, I still enjoy my religion’s culture and community. I have had a good life, and believe in making your own “heaven on earth.”

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Lawrence D. Ackman

I have lived a wonderful life. I have survived lung and prostate cancer and am feeling great. I believe that G-d has watched over me and my family, and I have been extremely lucky and blessed. 

I have been very charitable. I’ve given far more than most others who have the same resources as I have. I feel that philanthropists are rewarded by G-d and live longer lives than people who are not charitable.

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Bob Griffin

Spirituality is at the core of my everyday life. To the extent I am true to my values, it is the force that guides me, protects me, corrects me when I veer, and teaches me to see and choose the paths before me. 

I view charity as an outcome of the imperative to follow Him, and to go into the world to feed the hungry and heal the hearts of others. This requires little and accomplishes much.

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Dave Puterbaugh

I have always believed that to those who have been generously blessed, much is expected. These elements have been very important for me in providing a much-needed perspective and balance on who I am and how I should relate to others. In times of career or other problems, your faith helps keep you grounded and focused on what is really important.

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Paul Rosenbaum

Each of us is not an island but a part of families, communities, nations, and the human race. Our world isn’t perfect and never has been. My belief is that one’s role is to fix the world, wherever we find it broken. G-d leaves us free to discover the problem, as well as to develop the solution.

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John T. “Jack” Corrodi Jr.

Faith became my biggest concern in life. At HBS, I dated a Mount Holyoke grad-turned-schoolteacher named Susan Heineman. She dragged me to Catholic mass every Sunday. I was a lukewarm Presbyterian, but became very interested in Catholicism. Returning to California, I enrolled in inquiry classes at St. Paul the Apostle church in Westwood. I was baptized and for years attended daily mass. It was great direction for me and for my wife.

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Gary MacDougal

The evidence is clear and persuasive: after “friends and family,” the leading source of happiness is “helping other people.” These commitments are enhanced by regular churchgoing, where one necessarily spends an hour or so each week thinking about things larger than oneself.

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John H. Schwarz

As long as people do not attempt to impose their beliefs on others, they should be free to practice and rely on their faith however it suits them.  It’s one of the tenets that makes America, America.

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Charity with personal involvement is essential. It’s more than just giving money. One needs to be involved on a personal level with other humans who need our support.

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Thomas E. Reilly Jr.

I think all three are necessary. You have to think of the plight of others all the time and, with money and time together, help create a quality of life for the community.

I do not think I could handle the grief, the temptation, the disappointments, and the love if I did not feel anchored in faith. Prayer does help on tough decisions, if only by focusing you.

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Dick Resch

I do believe in the philanthropic spirit in the United States of America. I believe in not only sharing my wealth with philanthropic organizations, but also developing a culture throughout the company where all employees feel this is an important part of life.

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Scott Spangler

They are each important, because they give a person a reason to understand that he is not the center of the universe — there are higher, eternal purposes in life.

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J. Lawrence Wilson

If one is devoted solely to promoting the welfare of himself, his family, and his friends, life can be barren. Charity, faith, and spirituality enrich one’s life. Faith or the belief in a power greater than oneself seems to be important for humans, for spirituality is a part of every culture. If this spirituality fosters concern for the welfare of others, it is of great benefit to society. No matter what a person’s professed faith, I admire him if he is charitable.

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Sam Abel-Smith

It is important to give to those less fortunate than yourself, both in time and financially. The church is a great force for goodness in the world. Spending time with religion improves your own lifestyle.

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Judy Ley Allen

I have been driven to help make our community better in any way I can — the result of parents who always set this example. The lessons of my faith have encouraged this behavior. A healthy balance between family, career, and community involvement is very rewarding.

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Jon B. Boss

We do not exist in a vacuum. We depend on the contributions and talents of others, and others depend on us. Charity, faith, and spirituality are essential ingredients of the recipe of one’s life.

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Henry A. Gilbert

  • You only keep what you share.
  • Faith broadens — even greatly broadens — vision.
  • The best expression of my personal equanimity is in my relationship with my wife and loved ones.
  • Personal spirituality is a gift. It touches all we touch. It is [almost] visible.

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Richard L. Peterson

Giving to those less fortunate, and to causes that we are passionate about, needs to be disciplined lifetime habit. Faith and spirituality is a very individual thing, and so it needs to be at the center of each one of our lives.

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Chapter 6:
Growing Older
Chapter 8:
Happiness & Success
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