Why I’m a Fan of The Chan Zuckerberg Gift and The Spirit Behind It

Mark Zuckerberg Priscilla Chan daughter max

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan with their daughter, Max. (Photo from Facebook)

“Our daughter and everyone in her generation should be able to live much better lives… The only way to reach our full human potential is if we are able to unlock the gifts of every person around the world… We have a basic moral responsibility to tilt our investments somewhat more to make that happen.” Mark Zuckerberg

If you haven’t yet done so, I encourage you to watch this two-minute video of Mark Zuckerberg, 31, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, 30, explaining why they launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (“Initiative”) with 99 percent of their Facebook stock (worth about $45 billion before last week’s market pull-back) in honor of the birth of their daughter, Max. Their goal is to “tilt investments faster” toward strategies that will ensure better education, healthcare and communities for all children in their daughter’s generation.

Big goals. Great goals.

In the video, Zuckerberg and Chan look and sound not like billionaires, but rather like quintessential millennials. They’re given the greatest gift of all—a child. In return, they want her and all other children in her generation to inherit a better world. Therefore, they “gift” 99 percent of their wealth in order to lift up 100 percent of the world.

Unfortunately, Zuckerberg is a target just by being his young, visible, uber-successful self. Of course, the world quickly responded with polarizing positions. The Guardian’s Michele Hanson quipped, “Could they not have given their money away without the sloppy letter to their daughter and the rest of us? Wasn’t that a bit show-offy? Isn’t $45bn rather too much for one family to have in the first place? And wasn’t it a bit measly of Facebook to pay only £4,327 UK corporation tax last year?”

Criticism also flowed off the system that allows vast wealth to vest in entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg, thereby giving them far greater power over philanthropic decisions and policy-making too. As Inside Philanthropy’s David Cameron writes, “While there are plenty of good people emerging at the highest levels of philanthropy like Zuckerberg and Chan, there are also less appealing actors. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine that… it was the Koch brothers who had pledged to use their entire fortune (of $85 billion) to shape the direction of U.S. society. The picture would look a bit different, right?”

I put “gift” in parentheses because what the Chan Zuckerberg’s actually did was place their stock in an LLC, with a pledge to reinvest any profits and an implication that they eventually will gift all of it to charity. According to The New York Times, the couple chose an LLC instead of a nonprofit structure because they want the flexibility to try ideas through for-profit businesses and the freedom to lobby on behalf of the most effective policies, as well as directly fund nonprofit best practices.

Confusingly, Forbes heralded their “gift” as an example of stock ownership transfer through a charitable donation that the rest of us can and should emulate. So, experts are confused about whether this “gift” is or isn’t a charitable donation, just as pundits are divided in their assessments of the wisdom of Chan Zuckerberg’s generosity.

I’m neither a charitable gifts expert, nor a pundit. But, as Founder and Publisher of Make It Better Media, I am a bit of an expert on demographics and the behavior of a well-educated, affluent audience.

As a demographic group, millennials expect mission, meaning and social good to be embedded in their work and everyday lives. They want maximum impact with their time and dollars. The Chan Zuckerbergs are a shining example of this.

But it’s not just millennials who are inclined to do good with their everyday lives. We’ve built a successful media company on proof that most people want to and will support good values if you make it easy for them to do so.

Zuckerberg was smart and lucky enough to launch a transformation in the way our world connects and communicates. I love that he and Chan can apply those insights and their billions to finding and supporting the most effective and efficient ways to educate every child, and provide them with good healthcare and safe, diverse communities. Hopefully, their LLC will allow them to skirt many of the traditional bureaucratic roadblocks to success.

As a society, we shouldn’t be bickering about methodology, rather we should appreciate all authentic efforts to move the needle forward for humanity and facilitate collaboration among all interested parties who bring expertise or resources to the table.

I like that Zuckerberg and Chan give themselves permission to try, fail and learn as they go. “It’s hard to [change complex systems] in the short term,” Zuckerberg states. “Like doing anything well in the world, it takes practice. In the projects that we will do in education, science, health, community building, we will learn lessons over time and hopefully get better and better.” That’s the winning attitude of a successful entrepreneur. And that is the attitude that will transform our world for the better faster, too.

Everyone wants their dollars, time and lives to create impact. The Chan Zuckerberg’s are in an enviable position with respect to impact. But please, let’s not let envy or frustration with current political, social or economic dynamics get in the way of celebrating their decision and its potential impact for all children in the future. Instead, let’s please celebrate the birth of Zuckerberg and Chan’s daughter and Initiative, and rejoice that they embody the millennial spirit.

As Chan says, “We need to ensure that the future is better than today.” This is our basic human yearning. Let’s please hold these idealistic new parents up as examples for all to follow.




Aubrey Sings to Support JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes

Behind every great young person is a fantastic mother.  Aubrey and Jennifer Woolford prove this point.

Aubrey Woolford

Team Aubrey, mother Jennifer is the first one on the left in the front row

Jennifer Woolford is a fantastic mom. When her daughter Aubrey was diagnosed with childhood Type 1 diabetes, she helped Aubrey turn this negative into a powerful positive –becoming a leader in finding a cure. Along the way, Aubrey has inspired many others and made interesting and powerful friends too–like the Jonas Brothers and U.S. Senator Mark Kirk.

Aubrey and Jennifer invite others to join Aubrey’s Wings team in the JDRF Walk along Chicago’s lakefront this Sunday, October 6th, or donate directly to JDRF with the message below written by Jennifer:

It’s a day we have come to celebrate too, all that Aubrey Woolford has become in this fight to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.

Some facts about Aubrey:

· She’s a child that during her first year of diagnosis, at age 10, made a speech at Discover Card’s Headquarters in front of 2000 people determined to put an end to her days of multiple shots and hassles when she should just have been spending her days being a kid.

· She’s a child that continues to speak any chance she is asked by JDRF to groups of Walk Teams out there walking for kids all over Illinois. This year at the close of one of her speeches, Aubrey had a group of 50 year old men rise to their feet clapping, inspired by her strength and commitment. The sentiment was from the heart and made great impact.

· She’s a young woman who went to Washington D.C. as an Illinois Delegate for JDRF’s Children’s Congress to thank the supporters of research funding and ask for even more!

· She’s a born leader who this summer had “the best summer of her life” as a Counselor in Training for Camp Barton, a Type 1 camp in North Oxford, Mass.  According to Aubrey, she was honored to carry a “reaction bag” to treat little ones managing this big disease by helping young campers test sugars and work to keep things in check. A constant issue for these kids…. all in the middle of summer fun and camp experiences. There is just no vacation from this disease.

We could not be more proud of the strength of Aubrey’s commitment to make an impact and forge on. It is so important to so many and she is steadfast in her commitment to keep the fight going strong.

So, please consider walking with us October 6th by joining her team “Aubrey’s Wings”. Its a chance to show your continued support of Aubrey, and a cause important to our entire family.

It isn’t easy managing this awful card, its super disruptive, isolating and scary sometimes, annoying and always, always there. No one should have to think about 3 hours from now.  They should just be able to enjoy now. We may take this for granted–Aubrey cannot.

We are grateful for your consideration as there are so many worthy organizations to support. This year, we hope you will consider any donation to help us make an impact on the daily, hourly, all encompassing challenges of this disease. We so want to nail it!  Click here to help.

Pictured above are:

1) Our Aubreys Wings Team from 2013
2) Aubrey with Senator Mark Kirk when selected a delegate for JDRF’s Childrens Congress in Washington, DC.
3) Aubrey and her brother Cooper and Best Pal when they met The Jonas Brothers. Nick Jonas is also Type 1 and super active.
4) Aubrey singing The National Anthem at a WAlk to Cure Diabetes in 2009

Let me know if you need any further information and thanks for the support! We are walking on the lakefront Sunday, October 6th at 9am!

What We Have Is Priceless

“What we have is priceless–the best children and the best husband I could have asked for,” Tania Alt, mother of 10-year-old Emma, with Muscular Dystrophy, and wife of unemployed Pete, who had to quit his job to care for his family, living in a Wheeling motor home.

The Alt family’s story saddens and inspires me. Their challenges are great – including an upcoming high-risk surgery for Emma at Lurie Children’s Hospital. Their love for each other and appreciation of life is greater.

Thanks to the very talented Sarah Jindra, of INSPIREme Chicago, for bringing this story to our attention. Learn more here.

Lang Lang and Mom

If you read Lang Lang’s autobiography, Journey of A Thousand Miles, My Story, which I highly recommend, you will learn that he spent most of the years of his youth living away from his loving mother, to be with a tyrant father who pushed him relentlessly.

So I love that as a superstar, he now travels with her. She accompanied him to the Music Institute of Chicago’s gala last night where he received the Dushkin Award. And I love that he treated my mom with great kindness there too.

Lang Lang and my mom, Virginia Blankenbaker, at the Music Institute of Chicago gala last night. My CoChair, Katherine Daniels is seated in the foreground in front of them.

Me at the Podium.


Lang Lang, me, Hamilton Chang

Lang Lang, me, Hamilton Chang

Lang Lang electrified the audience with his words. He loves Chicago because he got his first major performance breaks here. He loves educating as many children as possible musically. And he loved the performances by the children of the Music Institute of Chicago for him.

“Musicians and teachers are important. But the donors who support them are just as important too.”

Lang Lang made thousands of lives better last night by agreeing to receive this award– starting with mine, but also including the audience, the Music Institute of Chicago faculty and the over 10,000 students supported by the school’s diverse programs. The gala raised almost $1.3 million for those programs.

Thank you Lang Lang!

Lives Made Better 92,901 and counting

Real Stars Of Anixter Center

Elaine Cottey, Laura Thompson, Lisa Goldman, Tim Donahoe, Rosie Burke

The stars walking the red carpet at the Oscars tonight have nothing on the 5 passionate people above. They are the real stars of Anixter Center, which provides exceptional services for over 10,000 individuals with all types of disabilities and related challenges.

Tim earns my vote for most inspiring. His battle back to health following a stroke, through the center’s New Focus program, was so determined and successful that he now works there.

What a gift Tim gave to his wife and three sons, by pushing himself so hard to recover mental and physical skills.

And what an inspiration Tim must be to new clients!

Keeley & Cruz – Sudden Blindness Can’t Keep Them Down!


Keeley Kossof, Photo courtesy of makeitbetter.net

Keeley Kossof had it all — a thriving career as a hair stylst in her father’s Northbrook salon, happy marriage, new home, and nine month-old son.  And then blindness struck, almost overnight.  Eventually she lost not only her sight and career, but also her husband.  Learn more here.

But you can’t keep a good woman down! She’s developed an innovative hair care product which eliminates bad odors from hair without shampooing — Mane Intentions — which will launch this spring.

Cruz the Sea Lion. Photo courtesy of Shedd Aquarium

Cruz the Sea Lion. Photo courtesy of Shedd Aquarium

Cruz the sea lion pup was shot in the San Francisco Bay area.  The shrapnel destroyed his sight.  But you can’t keep a good pup down either!  The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito rescued him, but couldn’t provide a permanent home for him.  Fortunately though, with its world-class facilities and care, the Shedd Aquarium could.

“Since he arrived at the aquarium, Cruz has been comfortably relying on our animal care team to guide him, demonstrating incredible progress,” says Ken Ramirez, Shedd’s Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Training.  “He has a fearless personality and eagerness to learn — two characteristics that indicated we could provide him with a strong quality of life through training.”

How can you not be inspired by these two local treasures?  As Kossof says, “Even though you can suffer a loss, a tragedy, become handicapped, it doesn’t mean your life is over.  I had this unfortunate event.  It changed my life completely.  And here I am!”

For more information on visual impairment and resources to assist those who are blind, visit The Chicago Lighthouse.