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Gone Without Trace: Man Bequeaths $2 Million to Uncle Sam

By Viken Mikaelian

I don’t think any of us would be in this business if we didn’t believe that philanthropy, giving, the act of charity – no matter how humble – ennobles everything it touches.

But I don’t know whether to laugh or cry just now, because I learned recently that a man in Florida willed his house to the U.S. government so the sales proceeds could be applied to defray the National Debt.

Details: The donor’s name is James H. Davidson, Jr. NBCMiami reports that he passed to his reward in December 2011 at age 87. His Coral Gables house went on the block last Saturday, and the auctioneer gaveled an end to the bidding at $1.175 million. Mr. Davidson also left another $1 million to the government, so his total gift was $2.175 million.

Of course, donors make the gifts they want to make, and I would never argue with that. But I’m pained that Mr. Davidson’s gift is most assuredly NOT one that will keep on giving.

If I were better with numbers I could supply piquant examples of just how small $2.175 million looks next to a national debt in the trillions. Suffice it to say that Mr. Davidson’s contribution has sunk without trace in our ocean of sovereign debt. (Actually, his money’s probably in China now, which is basically the same thing.)

That fact may or may not be irrelevant to the donor’s intention. But when two million bucks begin to look like one drop in the bucket, maybe it’s time for those of us who cultivate and advise givers like Mr. Davidson to suggest there may be better ways to more effectively address a very real problem like the National Debt with their personal fortunes.

Examples:

  • The James H. Davidson, Jr. Scholarship for Responsible Stewardship
  • The James H. Davidson, Jr. Faculty Chair in Applied Macroeconomics
  • The James H. Davidson, Jr. Lecture Series in 21st Century Federalism

Education has a multiplier effect over time. Any of the above could easily be endowed by a planned gift so that Mr. Davidson’s seed money would continue to strike at the roots of the National Debt problem in perpetuity, rather than just an anecdotal snipping away of a leaf or two.

No doubt Mr. Davidson’s heart was in the right place when he made his gift. But where was his trusted advisor fundraiser when that gift was being contemplated?

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