The Art of Giving

On the ‘Difficulty of Giving’

Lurdes de Sousa*

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, when asked if he was committed to giving away most of his wealth in his lifetime, which represented a pledge worth $122 billion, simply and casually declared that he was. Further elaborating on his philanthropic ideals, he added in a CNN interview about the challenges he faced as a donor: “The hard part is figuring out how to do it in a levered way (…) It’s not easy. Building Amazon was not easy. It took a lot of hard work and a bunch of brilliant teammates, and I’m finding that philanthropy is very similar. It’s not easy. It’s really hard.”

Bezos, like other engaged mega-donors, is very eager to publicly make sure everyone knows how hard it is to give.

The “difficulty of giving,” a concept that can be traced back to over a century of leading philanthropists’ declarations, can represent the best (reflecting a donor’s dedication to a vocation approached with deliberateness and care) and the worst (spotlighting big donor’s removed from the problems they seek to address) of philanthropy.

Why is it so difficult to give? Some argue that it is because giving is paired with responsibility (and a massive exposure to public criticism…).

As part of LVMH’s broad philanthropic longstanding support for the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage, the French luxury group recently funded (with a €43m bid) the acquisition of an Impressionist masterpiece by the French painter Gustave Caillebotte entitled ‘Partie de Bateau’, to be donated to the Musée d’Orsay Impressionist collection.

In early 2020, the painting was classified as a national treasure, which comes with a temporary export license ban. With a timeframe of 30 months and an annual acquisitions budget of just €3 million, the likelihood that the state-owned Musée d’Orsay would come up with the necessary funds to buy the work and keep it in the country was deemed to be low.

The donation immediately sparked avid criticism in the French press, amid the controversial law on corporate sponsorship, with some tweeting: “It’s not a ‘€43m donation from LVMH’ since the operation allows the conglomerate a 90% tax cut on the 43m: in fact, it’s [actually] only the French taxpayers who pay for it.”

So Yes, But.

So, yes. LVMH is entitled to a massive tax break, which could be as much as 90 percent of the purchase price under the law of patronage.

But the Boating Party is one of the last Impressionist masterpieces, rarely seen in person because it was in private hands, able to be viewed by only the lucky few. Belonging to Musée d’Orsay represents a national cultural enrichment and a gift to the people, as the painting will next year tour France as part of the festivities marking the 150th anniversary of Impressionism, enabling a broad public to enjoy the masterpiece.

Ultimately, giving is always about free choice, whether corporate or individual. It’s a freedom of choice that comes with responsibility. That’s, perhaps, where most of the explanation for the “difficulty of giving” is located, which recalls the lessons of the great female American historian and educator, Edith Hamilton (1867-1963), concluding in her seminal essay on Classic Greek Athenian:

“When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to the State but for the State to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.”

*President, Associação Internacional de Filantropia (Macau)

國際꺽愛協會 (걜門)

Macau Daily Times is the official media partner of the Associação Internacional de Filantropia (Macau).

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