The Giving Legacy
“We make a living by what we get; We make a life by what we give.”
– Winston Churchill
Giving stories often have powerful beginnings. Whether that’s an event, a set of experiences, or encounters with certain individuals, something usually inspires us to embark on a lifetime of giving. My giving story started with my parents—my late mother, Frances Arrillaga, who dedicated her life to philanthropic and community service, and my father, John Arrillaga, whose daily generosity of heart, mind, and hands-on contributions make him one of the most extraordinary philanthropists I know.
Picture an awkward thirteen-year-old in knee socks, two sets of barrettes, a white middy blouse, and a pale blue skirt. The girl stands slouched, looking as if she’d rather be just about anywhere else. Holding her hand is her mother—a silver-haired, smiling woman, radiant in her selflessness and elegant in her grace.
Together they stand in the lobby of the Palo Alto, California-based offices of Family and Children Services, a nonprofit organization that provides counseling and support to families during the most difficult times in their lives. They wait to be greeted by representatives of the organization amidst some of the families it serves.
“But Mom,” whispers the girl to her mother, “I don’t understand why we have to be here now. I need to go home and do my homework.” The angel mother smiles at her daughter with the patience only a parent can give a child. “One day you will understand why I brought you here,” she says calmly. “These people need help. It’s our responsibility to give them that help. One day they will need your help.” It was my first site visit; my first glimpse into the world of social change.
In the fall of 1994, a year before she died, my mother wrote the following:
“The service I have been involved in has expanded my knowledge and added great depth to my life. It has been an incredible source of joy to me.” Since then, I have not only come to understand what she meant, but have also embraced everything she believed in.
My mother taught me that to maximize your philanthropic potential, you need to constantly challenge your capabilities and put yourself in situations that are not always comfortable. Through her example, I discovered that there is no more beautiful way to live a life than to live a life of service. And in following her path, I have made my mother’s work my own.
My father, John Arrillaga, took immense pride in my mother’s work, and he supported her constantly in her career in service. Like my mother, I never would have been able to follow this path without his boundless support–and now the support of my husband, Marc Andreessen. My father taught me, as he puts it, to “give as much as you can to others–for there is nothing more important than giving back.”
Of course, I also learned invaluable lessons from the twelve years I spent running SV2 (the venture philanthropy partnership I founded), from a decade of teaching at Stanford Graduate School of Business and Stanford University, and now from my four years leading Stanford PACS (Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society).
However, there’s a difference between teaching and educating. Teaching is the imparting of practices, concepts and facts to someone else. Educating is a two-way process of both passing on and eliciting ideas and knowledge from those one aspires to educate.
My parents did not teach me about philanthropy–they educated me. They spoke constantly about their ideas, they lived their values every day, and they empowered me to create a life in which I could do the same. They showed me that supporting the individuals and institutions that provide essential community services is a responsibility, an opportunity, and a privilege. Because of them and, now, my husband, I’ve been able to spend my life giving to others – my time, my passion, my knowledge, my networks, and my financial resources.
This is the power of creating a philanthropic legacy. It’s not just about donating funding or leaving an endowment. A philanthropic legacy is also a gift that keeps on giving by empowering the individuals and institutions that serve us all. In effect, we are all a part of an extraordinary circle of giving. Because, ultimately, it’s what we do for others—regardless of the kinds of resources we give or the amounts in which we give them—that will define who we are. That is our true legacy.