When a $1,000 Gift Is Better Than $1 Million

With KentPresents, Benjamin Rosen, the former chairman of Compaq, is following a trend in philanthropy that focuses on the benefits of smaller gifts.

© Monica Jorge for The New York Times

By PAUL SULLIVAN, The New York Times

In the era of mega-philanthropy, small gifts can get overlooked or dismissed. But if done right, they can have just as great an impact as multimillion-dollar ones.

In Litchfield County, a Connecticut enclave known more for its wealthy summer residents than its struggling working class, local organizations are benefiting from bite-size largess.

The Gathering Place in Torrington, Conn., helps the homeless in the northwestern part of the state get showers, clean clothes and basic social services. But a few years ago, the organization could not pay its rent or utilities and was on the verge of closing until it received a $4,000 donation.

In another instance, a volunteer fire department in the same part of the state wanted to buy a device that detected gas leaks, but it did not have the money. It received $1,000, enough to make the purchase.

These organizations and dozens of other small groups were funded by money raised by KentPresents, a highbrow ideas festival that draws intellectuals and their acolytes to the private Kent School for a summer weekend.

The festival was established to draw interesting people to Kent, a quaint town in bucolic Litchfield County, but also to systemically make gifts of $1,000 to $10,000 to social service agencies.

Smaller, local gifts are part of a trend of philanthropists narrowing their focus so they can feel like their donations matter, said David Callahan, founder and editor of Insider Philanthropy and the author of “The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age.”

“In this age of big philanthropy, when so many billionaires and foundations are active, donors at a more modest level can feel like their money might not count as much when directed to issues like climate change or global development,” Mr. Callahan said.

“Even if you have a $100,000 a year to give, it can feel like a drop in the bucket compared to what Bill Gates or Mike Bloomberg is giving,” he added. “But that kind of money can have a big impact if you’re giving to local food pantries or schools.”

The vast majority of charitable gifts — some $286 billion, out of $410 billion given last year — come from individual donations, according to Giving USA, the annual report on philanthropy in the United States. Foundations, like the ones run by Mr. Gates and Mr. Bloomberg, account for $67 billion of gifts made.

The KentPresents festival, in its fourth year this weekend, attracts Nobel laureates, secretaries of state, academics, artists and journalists discussing topics as varied as global affairs and visual arts. The festival is the brainchild of Benjamin M. Rosen, a venture capitalist in the 1980s and ’90s and former chairman of Compaq, and his wife, Donna. It was conceived as a way to give back to the area where they have made their life for the past 15 years.

For Mr. Rosen, though, it was also a way to try something new in philanthropy after a lifetime in the big leagues. He has served on the boards of Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, California Institute of Technology, the Metropolitan Opera and the Columbia University School of Business, giving gifts in the tens of millions of dollars.

“Unfortunately, I gave away too much, too soon, and lived too long,” said Mr. Rosen, 85. “Our days of big philanthropy are gone. We’re not making multimillion-dollar donations any more. But there’s still a lot of room for philanthropy.”

He modeled the event on the Aspen Ideas Festival, an annual gathering of intellectual luminaries in the Colorado ski town, but he said he wanted to distribute the money the festival raised to small, little-known nonprofit organizations.

Mr. Rosen’s approach is not a rebuke of the splashy grants that technology giants are making today but an exploration of a different way of giving. To him, it also harks back to his early career investing in unknown technology companies.

“It’s a completely different world,” Mr. Rosen said. “But from the recipient viewpoint, the grants are so appreciated and do so much good. We get handwritten letters saying that your several thousand-dollar gift helps them, which is so different from big philanthropy where your million-dollar gifts get you a letter saying, “Could you add an extra zero to that?’”

Lorie Slutsky, the president of the New York Community Trust, which made about 11,000 grants last year ranging from $250 to $15 million, said in the ecosystem of giving, small grants can help an organization grow or simply keep it doing the work it needs to do.

“You have to meet the organization where it is in its development,” she said. “You don’t hit every nail with the same size hammer.”

On the face of it, the KentPresents model of philanthropy is not the most efficient. Mr. Rosen said producing the festival costs between $400,000 and $500,000, which comes from renting the school and audiovisual equipment and paying transportation costs for speakers, who waive their fees.

The first two years the festival ran at a loss, but the Rosens added money so KentPresents could make $100,000 in grants. Last year, the organization gave $125,000 to local charities. Julia Benedict, the executive director, said she expected to give the same amount or a little more this year.

Beyond the grants, Mrs. Rosen said she hoped the festival raised awareness that behind the pastoral beauty of Kent and neighboring towns was a need for social service support.

“We have a lot of local people who attend, and now they’re aware of charities they didn’t know existed,” she said. “They are now aware of charitable giving that they can get involved in.”

To make the grants, the Rosens set up a separate committee, called KentProvides, and say they have no role in the decision making. Kenneth F. Cooper, a part-time Kent resident and former chief financial officer of Republic National Bank, is the chairman of the committee, which is made up of local representatives from different towns.

“We wanted to try to reach out to the organizations that were financially precarious,” Mr. Cooper said. And this meant weeding out some of the slickest proposals, which generally came from the best-funded organizations.

“If you have an organization doing incredible work and providing an incredible service, my opinion is, the most valuable thing we can give them is money for general operations,” he said.

The biggest gifts — about $10,000 — are too small for many big foundations to consider, but the money has helped the smaller groups around Litchfield County.

“The size of the grants would not look like much to big organizations, but these are all small organizations to whom a couple of thousand dollars is a good deal of money,” said the Rev. Jack Gilpin, the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Milford, Conn., and a grant committee member. “These grants are not just to support supply and need but to show people they are worth something for who they are.”

Small organizations could handle big gifts if they had the right guidance, said Beth Gazley, a professor who studies philanthropy at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

“Any organization with the right culture and commitment to planning and relationship to donors can handle a big gift,” she said. “Big gifts definitely put pressure on organizations. But those things can be managed with good planning.”

In Litchfield County, some of the challenges require just a little bit more of the same, said Leah Pullaro, the director of social services for the Town of Kent and a grant committee member.

“The issues in the small towns are no different than the issues in the urban areas, but there’s just less volume,” she said.


Note: If you think this story need more information or correction, feel free to comment below your opinion and reaction.

Business,796,Career,18,Investing,36,Markets,33,News,653,Personal Finance,18,Real Estate,20,Small Business,36,
Business News: When a $1,000 Gift Is Better Than $1 Million
When a $1,000 Gift Is Better Than $1 Million
With KentPresents, Benjamin Rosen, the former chairman of Compaq, is following a trend in philanthropy that focuses on the benefits of smaller gifts.
Business News
Loaded All Posts Not found any posts VIEW ALL Read More Reply Cancel reply Delete By Home PAGES POSTS View All RECOMMENDED FOR YOU LABEL ARCHIVE SEARCH ALL POSTS Not found any post match with your request Back Home Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat January February March April May June July August September October November December Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec just now 1 minute ago $$1$$ minutes ago 1 hour ago $$1$$ hours ago Yesterday $$1$$ days ago $$1$$ weeks ago more than 5 weeks ago Followers Follow THIS PREMIUM CONTENT IS LOCKED STEP 1: Share. STEP 2: Click the link you shared to unlock Copy All Code Select All Code All codes were copied to your clipboard Can not copy the codes / texts, please press [CTRL]+[C] (or CMD+C with Mac) to copy