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The Legacy We Leave Is the Life We Live

by Sarah Hopper

Founder & Principal Advisor, Sound Philanthropy, LLC

A child's hands holding a small globe

“The legacy we leave is the life we lead.”

~Peter Karoff, Founder & Chairman, The Philanthropic Institute


Early this year, a dear family friend, Brantley, passed away at the wonderful age of 92. On the way home from the memorial celebration, as we were talking about our friend, my five‐year‐old son exclaimed “You know what I want to say to Brantley? ‘Good life, Brantley. We’ll miss you.’” In the moment, it brought tears to my eyes. As I thought about it over the next week, it got me thinking. 


What do I want a five‐year‐old to say about me when I am gone? What does my “good life” look like? 


As a philanthropic consultant, I understand the importance of a lasting legacy. At Sound Philanthropy, I developed an exercise that I do with clients and advisors that asks the questions “What do you want people to say about you when you’re old?” and “What do you need to do to get there?”


With permission, I’ve included some of my clients’ answers here:


I had an a-ha moment a couple of years ago at a client’s funeral when I learned some amazing things about a man who was now gone. I had two insights from this service: the first is that I need to get to know my clients and friends better in terms of their history and past accomplishments; the second insight was to think about the legacy that I will leave. I wondered who would attend my memorial service? Why? What will people remember me for? What impact will my actions and activities have on my family and my community? Since then, I have endeavored to spend more time with my clients and friends, talking about their pasts, what impact do they want to have? I find that with a deeper understanding of where people have been it helps me to guide them better to where they want to go.” —Jim Carney


Yesterday at a Washington Women’s Foundation meeting, one of the members was commenting on Malcolm Gladwell's new book. Apparently he comments that Steve Jobs will be forgotten and his achievements overshadowed within a generation or two, while Bill Gates’ legacy will endure far into the future due to his philanthropy. We had a great conversation about how the half-life of philanthropy is immeasurably long contrasted with the short duration of industrial and technological advancements. I was thinking about your important work.” —Kate Janeway


The questions you raised are thought-provoking. I’d hope my children would say that I’m a great mother, spending lots of time with them, reading, laughing and playing. Too many hugs and kisses to count. Listening. Supporting.” —Natalie Holm


Thank you to Jim, Kate, Natalie, and so many others, for sharing with me.


Now, what about you? 

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