Our culture is incredibly fluid. Over the decades, norms change and ideas shift in and out of vogue. Through all of the disruptions and trends in history and culture, you can practically always count on one thing – you can never go wrong by bashing the rich.

Demagogues, pundits, and politicians have all learned firsthand that you can create surefire applause with some populist fury against those at the top of the economic stratum. It’s been true from the early days of our Republic, all the way through the Occupy Wall Street movement.

To be sure, there was well-placed fury against reckless behavior during the 2008 financial crisis. The fact that no executive was ever punished despite their companies admitting to massive fraud is a great place to start. But too often, our rhetoric seems to lump together all high earners into one seamless entity of corruption.

In a way, it’s sad. Instead of opening up a dialogue about the best way to allow more people to attain opportunity and succeed, too often we settle for tearing down the accomplishments and impugning the character of the financially comfortable.

We even see this trend play out when the more fortunate attempt to give back to society. I think most of us do subscribe on some level to the notion that the more fortunate of us have an obligation to give back to society. We may not agree on the optimal way to provide charity – or how much we publicize it – but most wealthy individuals I’ve met spend a lot of time thinking about how to maximize their wealth to do right by their communities and the causes they care about.

The best reason to give back is because you want to and it brings you pleasure to help others. Donating money and expecting to receive a pat on the back is largely a fool’s errand, especially for high net-worth individuals whose civic engagement draws media and public attention. “No good deed goes unpunished” as the saying goes, and you will invariably encounter criticism even when you have the best of intentions.

For example, Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has exhibited an admirable charitable bent, with he and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan pledging to donate the majority of his wealth in his lifetime. While keeping in mind that the Zuckerbergs’ decisions on how to spend their wealth are theirs alone, it is commendable that they have developed these charitable impulses at young ages, compared to the relatively late in life conversion to charitable endeavors that we’ve traditionally seen in most business titans like Bill Gates or Andrew Carnegie.

Nonetheless, critics will always find points of contention. In 2015, Zuckerberg and his wife detailed their philanthropic plans, announcing that they would transfer 99 percent of their Facebook stock – a total of around $45 billion at that time – into a charitable LLC to be called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The program’s goal was nothing less than to “join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation.”

Despite their lofty goals and commitment to spreading their fortune, the couple were slammed in many quarters by critics contending that the plan had more to do with avoiding taxes than charitable giving.

To be clear, Zuckerberg is under no obligation to give a cent to charity. One reason we’ve built incentives for charitable giving into our tax code is to nudge greater giving from high-earners than we might see otherwise. These incentives have contributed untold billions to our country’s foundations, charities, and civic groups.

It would be wonderful if we could focus on the upside of charitable giving, rather than always seeking to soak the rich. I hope you take a cue from Zuckerberg’s example – even without tens of billions to dole out, some careful planning can help you to benefit the causes you care about in a tax-efficient, impactful way.

 

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