Peter Lynch, who successfully ran Fidelity’s Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990, gives the New York Times a peek into his philanthropic philosophy. The foundation, which he and his wife set up decades ago, is valued at $125 million and has given $80 million away already.
In some ways, the Lynch way of giving seems unexciting. Peter Lynch even acknowledges that he rarely gives to a cause others are not already giving to. This is certainly one of the dangers of living in a world where philanthropists all go to conferences together in Aspen and Davos. But then there is also a great advantage to living in a world where news of success travels fast and not every philanthropist needs to reinvent the wheel.
The Lynches have narrowed down their philanthropic interests mostly to the area of education. They give money to Teach for America, the Posse Foundation (which offers support to disadvantaged kids at elite universities), and the Achievement Network (which offers frequent assessments of students during the school year).
But Lynch has been a philanthropic leader in other ways. It is not just that he jumps on board once others have decided to give to a cause. He gives and asks others to give too. While he is not some celebrity spokesman, the Times reports that every year inside of a 60-day period, he calls between 150 and 175 donors to the Inner City Scholarship Fund (which funds scholarships to Catholic schools in Boston) and asks them to continue their support and up their donations.
Talk about being willing to put your mouth where your money is. If there is one thing most people don’t like, it’s asking other people for money, even for a good cause. I spent years working at a college “phonathon.” And even if you really do think it’s a good use of people’s money, the idea of interrupting their busy day and asking them to write a check can be so deflating. And when you get to the point in life where you have your own family foundation, most people would probably rather write a check than ask other people to.
Still, programs like the Inner City Scholarship Fund don’t just need one big donor. They need broad-based support in a community. So kudos to Peter Lynch for doing his part.