Determined to Make a Difference Anonymously


Key Points

  • One invaluable supporter is in awe of focused ultrasound’s potential and gives generously upfront, allowing the Foundation to focus on research and development.
  • They are proud to give anonymously.

Holding hands

“On her path to sainthood, Mother Teresa was a nun, a nurse, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner,” wrote the New York Times. Among the countless people who were moved by her message of compassionate care is a remarkable donor to the Foundation – someone who is proud to give anonymously and is not the least bit interested in accolades or fanfare.

The Foundation recently interviewed Anonymous to learn more about their motivation for giving so generously. Their support is notable not only for its impact, but also for the donor’s approach to identifying organizations with strong leadership and proven results.

What first inspired you to become a philanthropist?
I was stunned when I came into money in my forties. Since then, I’ve been intent on giving it away. I still don’t feel comfortable with great wealth; I regard it as a burden. My mantra is, “I’m going to empty the bucket before I kick the bucket.”

My approach to philanthropy has evolved and grown over time. It began modestly. When my kids were little, we’d watch telethons for the children’s hospital. One of them would pipe up and say, “Let’s give!” We’d make the call and pledge $25, watching eagerly as the telethon’s thermometer went up.

Later on, like a lot of people, I became involved with my children’s school. I got to know the head of school, became a confidante of his, joined the board, and made a sizeable gift.

What lessons have you learned through your work?
I’ve traveled extensively in the developing world, and was trained as a doula, which inspired an interest in improving maternal, infant, and child healthcare. I made large gifts to global foundations – like Mercy Corps. Yet, there were also challenges along the way. I discovered that I wasn’t into changing cultures.

Today, I mostly concentrate my giving in my own community, where I can better assess the need and perhaps make a bigger impact. In addition to supporting our community college and the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, I quietly underwrite cultural pillars in the city, including our local independent book shop and the restored performance arts theater.

I do my due diligence. Over the years I have developed a real partnership with the founder of the firm that serves as our family office. We do our best thinking together. He listens closely to my ideas and doesn’t impose his views. Instead, he offers up options for my giving. He also understands my values as it relates to investing. I won’t support investments that are destructive to the environment.

What advice would you give to others seeking to increase their philanthropic impact?
Let’s start with my children, grandchildren, and nieces and nephews. Like many wealthy individuals, I’m focused on the next generation, and I try to lead by example. We’re purposeful in our philanthropic planning. I’m continuously challenging them to think about how to give back to other people. Starting about eight or nine years ago, I’ve given the kids a certain amount each year that they can direct to a cause they care about, and I’ll match whatever they do. I don’t know in advance what they’ll choose to support, and I don’t judge. It’s been really interesting to see their choices. Often they are choosing to give back to organizations that have helped them through life.

I also like to inspire other donors by setting up giving challenges.

Is there a common theme or thread in your giving?
I have long been concerned about income disparity – I wrote a thesis about inequity in college. Giving to education has been a priority for me, as well as increasing access to healthcare. I’m excited now about increasing access to college education among first generation students.

What ignited your interest in focused ultrasound?
My first introduction to the Foundation came six years ago with a 15-minute presentation by Dr. Neal Kassell and John Grisham at the TEDx Charlottesville event. His talk was, and still is, inspiring and so full of possibilities that I was in awe.

What excites you most about focused ultrasound and the Foundation?
For me, it’s all about the potential size and scale of the impact. Focused ultrasound has potential for just about everyone. And Neal is the indispensable person to lead the Foundation — no one speaks more passionately about the technology. My goal is to provide the level of upfront financial support that allows him to focus on the core mission: research and development. I am determined that focused ultrasound will become widely available as a treatment, in the shortest time possible.

I am excited about unlocking the potential for so many people. The microbubble research – to enhance drug delivery, is fascinating, for example.

I see myself as a cheerleader too. I am always eager to let people know that there may be an alternative to traditional surgery or drug treatments. I like to take John Grisham’s book, The Tumor, along with me on my travels so I can hand it out to people I meet.

What impact do you hope to achieve through your philanthropy?
For me, it’s all about staying focused on helping people…one person at a time. Years ago, I attended a prayer breakfast led by Mother Theresa. Her message made a deep impression on me. One of her associates spoke about traveling with her to Calcutta. As they were walking through the streets, they were forced to step around throngs of very poor, suffering people. Her associate asked, “How do you continue to do this, Mother?” She paused and then turned to one bedraggled man on the street. She extended a hand and invited him to come stay at her own home.

“It’s as simple as that,” said Mother Theresa. “One person at a time.”

Why do you give anonymously?
It’s not important for my name to be out there. My family and close friends know what I support, and that’s all that matters. For that same reason, I’m not into giving to bricks and mortar. I don’t need any buildings named for me. It’s fine for others, but I’m proud to be anonymous.

“Anonymous is determined to make the world a better place. Their support starts a chain reaction – good begets good,” said Neal Kassell MD, the founder and chairman of Focused Ultrasound Foundation. “Not only is Anonymous’ transformative giving speeding the widespread adoption of focused ultrasound for countless people, but their passion and energy for educating others is so important to our mission. What’s truly remarkable is that there is absolutely no interest on this donor’s part – in fact, an aversion to – personal recognition.”