Philanthropy, Top 50

America’s biggest donors gave more than $33.4 billion in 2021.

That’s a BIG number!

Here’s some interesting stats about this list, without comment:

  • 26% of this wealth was generated by the technology sector
  • Higher Education was the “top cause” for 16% of these donors
  • Youngest donor of this list, Austin Russell, 26 years old
  • 6 of the top 50 donors are women
  • 29 of the top 50 donors are couples
  • 4 of the top 50 donors were made as bequests
  • ZERO of the top 50 donors made LITERACY their “top cause”

Ok, ok, just one comment…

It’s my goal to get at least 1 of the top 50 donors in America to make LITERACY their top cause, by 2027.


The gift of an UNASSUMPTION

We all know the saying, “to assume makes an ASS out of U and ME.”

And, unfortunately, we’ve all probably “been there,” right?

A simple question can save you the humility, “what do YOU want?”

As you may know, before making literacy my life’s work, before Bernie’s Book Bank, and before Freadom, and I was a lead instructor for the Golf Digest Schools. I learned a lot during this time but the most valuable lesson I learned was this, “don’t assume people are there for a golf lesson,” what!?

That’s right, though the person signed up for a golf lesson, don’t assume that’s what they want.

When they arrive for their lesson, ask them, “what do you want out of your time with me today?” The most memorable experience during my time as a golf instructor happened during a golf lesson, but it had nothing to do with golf at all.

It was mid-afternoon during a busy stretch of the season at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.

I had already completed 4 lessons on the books earlier in the day when my 4pm lesson arrived. She drove up in a cart as I greeted her outside the golf school building. We exchanged cordial introductions as I politely took her bag and transferred it to my cart. Unfortunately, I don’t remember her name but I’m guessing she was about 80 years old, sweet as could be. She reminded me of my grandmother.

We arrived to the practice tee, I grab her bag, and we walk together towards the place I had picked for our “lesson.” Once settled, I turned to her and asked the question I asked before each lesson began, “what do you want out of your time with me today?”

Now, 99% of the time the answer to that question was golf related, but not this time.

She looked at me, smiled the sweetest smile and said, “I just want you to tee the ball up for me and talk with me for the next hour.”

So that’s what we did. It was the best golf lesson I ever “gave.”

It had nothing to do with ball flight, the grip, the short game, hitting it farther, making better contact, etc. etc.

It was the best golf lesson I ever gave because I was certain I had given my student EXACTLY what she wanted – my company, my presence and my conversation. She was completely satisfied.

This experience has been a gift which continues to give.

In fact, it’s no doubt the genesis of a philosophy we adopted at the book bank early on which I am confident has been a big part of our success, “we want to be your partner, not your charity.” In other words, how can we provide value to you, personally and/or professionally?

For example, we don’t assume folks are there to volunteer because they love children and/or books, we ask, “why are you here today and what do you want out of your volunteer experience?”

You’d be amazed what we hear.

I’d say 50% of the time the answer has nothing to do with children, or books, or reading.

“I just lost my husband and need to be around people.”

“I’m looking to meet good people.”

“I lost my job and I want to stay active while looking for a new one.”

It is by simply asking this question in which we learn how we can be of value to them, not just how they can be of value to us.

And that’s how meaningful relationships begin, and how they’re sustained.

Unassumption makes U and ME better, and never an ASS.



I’ve heard this word a lot throughout my life and I’m assuming you have too.

The past week has been filled with this word.

In my line of work, most weeks are blessed by this word.

It’s not a sophisticated word at all.

In fact, it’s only two letters long.

Starts with a N, ends with an O.


Come on Brian, give us something more exciting, interesting.

Something more “meaty”.

Maybe a word we don’t hear every day, something less common.

I have to agree with you, NO is not exciting or interesting, or sophisticated.

But it’s what we learn from a NO that is exciting, interesting and sophisticated.

In fact, it’s powerful. But you have to let it be powerful.

NO’s teach.

Be teachable.

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