First steps towards a life of giving back

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah gestures during the announcement of the U.S. Global Development Lab to help end extreme poverty by 2030, in New York April 3, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) – 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 few titans of philanthropy about their first steps towards a life of giving back.

Dr. 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.

Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann

CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

First job: Pharmacy assistant

When I was a kid, our family moved to Reno so my dad and his business partner could open a family-run pharmacy. I grew up about a mile away from Keystone Pharmacy, which my father ran for many years. Everyone in Reno knew Frank.

He put up with me trailing him around the pharmacy for most of my childhood. Eventually, I became a bookkeeper for the business. My brothers, meanwhile, used to drive around little yellow trucks to make deliveries.

A lot of people think Reno is a strange place to live and work, and I’ve heard every Reno joke there is. But it was actually a wonderful place to grow up, right by the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s my happy place.

Gerun Riley

President, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

First job: Pizza delivery

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 & 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.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Bernadette Baum)