Doris Buffett, founder and CEO of the Sunshine Lady Foundation, Inc., has become one of the greatest and most generous philanthropists of our age. She takes a front seat at the Sunshine Lady Foundation (which is funded solely by her own personal finances), being personally involved with every financial decision the organization makes. Ms. Buffett targets individual recipients, as opposed to organizations—something which makes the task of donating money particularly difficult and time-consuming. And the decisions tally up quickly—although awards of up to $500,000 are occasionally made, grants typically run in the range of a few thousand dollars. To add a little perspective, since its inception in 1996, the Sunshine Lady Foundation has awarded in excess of $100 million in grants.
But Ms. Buffett doesn't simply just give away money—she always expects something in return. She terms her generosity "Virtual Capital," implying that what she is doing is indeed making investments. Her philosophy is very similar to the familiar Chinese proverb: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Ms. Buffett will meet people halfway; she will perhaps give money as a bartering tool towards a greater goal; or, as in the case of the Buffett Fellowships where students are working to better the situations of children and families in need, she simply asks that you "pass it on." All she personally asks for in return is a thank-you note.
Ms. Buffett believes inequities arise when choices are limited; her goal is to reduce those disparities and enable people with the power of choice. Thus, instead of constantly purchasing the "bigger and better" commodities for herself, she intends to give away as much of the foundation money as possible before she dies.
Although Ms. Buffett did not always possess the tools to be a professional philanthropist, giving back to people and to the community was no new concept to her. She has been a political activist, a domestic violence advocate, a first-grade schoolteacher, and, perhaps most difficult and demanding of all, a mother. She is truly a remarkable and amazing person!