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Malin Burnham’s Top 10 Lessons for Giving

San Diego is a city and county built through the hard work and vision of many notable civic leaders.

Malin Burnham, accomplished businessman and founder of the Center for Civic Engagement, is one of those individuals. For more than 70 years, he has been making waves in the region and giving back to the place he calls home.

His book, Community Before Self, gives us an inside look at his success and struggles, and shares with readers the many lessons Malin learned through business, athletic and philanthropic endeavors.

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Lessons in Philanthropy

Among the many tips Malin shares in his book, some of the most helpful are the lessons he learned while giving back. Here is a sneak peek at the advice Malin gives to current and future philanthropists:

  1. Start early. If you have been in any way successful, consider beginning the process of giving back earlier rather than later.
  2. Don’t start from scratch. Building your own institution can take too long and will start with zero credibility. Instead, bolt your giving to an established organization or program.
  3. Choose deep and wide fields for your charitable commitments. Follow what interests you but not so narrowly that you reduce your options.
  4. You will change. What interests you now may no longer interest you 20 years from now. Be willing to adapt.
  5. Focus on making a difference. Awards and titles are nice, but the older you get, the more you’ll find that what really matters is that you’ve made a difference.
  6. Keep your giving targeted. Try not to give to general funds. Rather, only give to independent institutions for specific uses.
  7. Demand regular audits. As part of your initial commitment, require regular updates on the impact of your giving.
  8. Live long. The flip side of starting early is to live a long time. The first reason is this enables you to develop an expertise in the targets of your giving. The second is it allows you to see the real effect of your efforts. Lastly, the third reason is that you will inevitably run into roadblocks to your philanthropic efforts that will take time.
  9. Think legacy. Nobody lives forever. What happens to your foundation and other family assets after you are gone? Many philanthropists, now dead, would be heartbroken to see where their money is going. Talk to a tax expert now about your legacy.
  10. Stay engaged. Delegate duties when you can, and always measure the success of your philanthropic efforts by how little they need you over time.

San Diego Reading List

Community Before Self uncovers the unique history of San Diego and the individuals who played a pivotal role in its growth and success. No matter if you’re a business leader, aspiring philanthropist or civically-engaged San Diegan, this book needs to be at the top of your reading list.

The book is on sale at select bookstores and online. All royalties from the sales of this book will support the Center for Civic Engagement at The San Diego Foundation.

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