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Forbes to Speak on Economy, Giving

November 18, 2010 By:
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Magazine publisher and one-time presidential candidate Steve Forbes is cautiously optimistic about the state of the economy and the future of charitable giving.

"The economy is growing. There is going to be no double-dip recession, but there are very severe obstacles in the face of the economy, which is why it's been a very slow recovery," said Forbes, chairman and chief executive officer of Forbes Media and editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine.

On Dec. 7, the 63-year-old is slated to keynote a gala event to mark the start of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's 2011 annual campaign.

The event will take place at the Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue. Former President Bill Clinton was the featured speaker at last year's event; he gave a wide-ranging talk about global inequities and the interdependence among nations.

In an interview with the Jewish Exponent, Forbes discussed the challenging environment currently faced by nonprofit organizations.

"There is a very tight link between how people are doing and how well philanthropy does," said the New Jersey native. "As soon as we get some of these uncertainties out of the way, which I think we will see happen in the next couple of years, I think we will see very real increases in philanthropic giving."

According to a Bank of America survey released on Nov. 9, the average charitable contributions made by wealthy American households declined by 35 percent from 2009.

In the local Jewish community, it's no secret that organizations have been forced to make tough decisions and cut some longstanding programs in response to decreased giving.

A recent report stated that the country's largest federations saw a 1.7 percent drop in donors between 2000 and 2003, a 3.8 percent drop between 2004 and 2006, and another 3.8 percent decline in the 2006-09 period, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.

Forbes credited Bill Gates' much-publicized call on billionaires to give away half of their wealth -- in their lifetimes or in the disbursement of their estates -- with creating a certain buzz about charitable giving, even among those who don't happen to be billionaires.

The pitch by Gates was essentially a marketing tool for the idea of philanthropy, said Forbes.

'Lessons We Can Learn'

Forbes' net worth is reportedly an estimated $430 million, a sum too small to land him on his eponymous magazine's list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. According to news reports, he spent roughly $70 million to run for president in 1996 and 2000, and has long argued for the elimination of limits on federal campaign contributions.

The author of "Power Ambition Glory: The Stunning Parallells Between Great Leaders of the Ancient World and Today ... and the Lessons We All Can Learn," which will be distributed to major donors at the Dec. 7 event, described the rebuilding of the economy with a metaphor usually reserved for the legislative process -- namely, sausage-making.

"It's not always an edifying sight, but the product gets made, and we're going to have a lot of turbulence, but I think good is going to come from it."  

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