First Steps Toward a Life of Giving Back

December 13, 2018 Updated: December 13, 2018

NEW YORK—Here is some good news to hold onto this holiday season: Americans are giving more than ever.

Last year, Americans gave a total of $410 billion to worthy causes, according to Giving USA, surpassing $400 billion for the first time ever. And this year’s Giving Tuesday, a charity promotion on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, is seeing pledges already totaling more than $380 million on just that one day, up 27 percent from the year before, according to a survey of major giving portals like Facebook, PayPal, and Blackbaud.

Who is helping steer the nation’s charitable dollars, and how did they get there? For the latest in Reuters’ First Jobs series, we talked to a couple of titans of philanthropy about their first steps towards a life of giving back.

Rajiv Shah
President, The Rockefeller Foundation
First job: caddie

I grew up in suburban Detroit, and my first job was as a caddie at the Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. I think I was 15, because I remember I couldn’t drive there on my own yet.

We got paid per bag, per round, plus a tip. My biggest payday was for doing two rounds in a day, both of which involved two bags, so I made $120. I was so excited that when I got home I showed my mom the burn marks on my shoulders, and slapped the cash down on the kitchen counter. I thought I was on top of the world.

My most memorable round was with a local doctor. I had been born with a birth defect of two fingers being stuck together. By chance, I caddied for the doctor who had done the separation procedure, and he recognized his own work when he saw my hand. He made me feel very special.

From that job, I learned that when you do something, give it absolutely everything you’ve got. Show up early, work twice as hard, stay late. I still remember how excited I was to get there early and be one of the first people on the course. A first job like that can shape your mindset about what success looks like. And as a son of an immigrant growing up in Detroit, it was my first time being exposed to a world like that.

Gerun Riley
President, Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
First job: pizza delivery

Eli Broad and Gerun Riley attend the Getty Medal Dinner 2017
Eli Broad and Gerun Riley attend the Getty Medal Dinner 2017 at The Morgan Library & Museum on Nov. 13, 2017 in New York City. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for J. Paul Getty Trust)

My first unpaid job was actually helping my family build our house in Connecticut. At a very early age, I was working nights and weekends, building an addition for our growing family. In the third grade for show and tell, I told all my classmates about how to hang drywall.

My first paid job, though, was delivering pizza while I went to university at Bowdoin College in Maine. It required someone who was okay with not having a social life on Friday or Saturday nights, so that was me. I got paid $6 an hour, and the expectation was that there would be tips as well—but since I was mostly delivering to other college students, there wasn’t a lot of that.

I remember I had to drive a bronze Toyota van that spun out a lot, and beeped when you backed up. Mostly I delivered to frat houses, so that job forced me to get over my own embarrassment about driving a tacky van and wearing a hokey uniform and doing my job while other people were having fun.

It also taught me to manage my time. I was in neuroscience, and a college athlete, and working 35 hours a week so I could afford clothes and food and books. I had no choice but to be very efficient and thoughtful about how I spent my days.

By Chris Taylor