The need for more philanthropy and the importance of volunteering was front and centre of a panel presented by Penta and United Way Worldwide at the Midnight Theatre in Manhattan on Thursday.
Half of working New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet, according to a report released in April this year.
“The way we tackle that is through bringing partners together, from the corporate side, non-profits, and policy makers, to make sure that we are attacking the root causes,” said Grace C. Bonilla, CEO and president of United Way New York City.
Yet, philanthropy has been “decreasing” according to Angela F. Williams, CEO and president of United Way Worldwide (UWW), the 135-year-old non-profit which connects partners, donors, and volunteers in 1,100 communities across 37 countries.
Williams attributed the decline to several factors.
First, donations via once robust community institutions such as the church and popular charity schemes such as the United Way payroll deduction—formerly a staple in corporate culture—are not “as strong as [they] used to be.”
Second, young people want to see “immediate impact” when they donate a dollar and nonprofits are under increasing scrutiny over spending.’
“There is this missing understanding that some problems, some issues, whether it’s solving poverty, whether it’s graduation rates, whether it’s low-income housing, all of those things take time and have to be intentional,” said Williams in a discussion with Raymond J. McGuire, the president of financial advisory and asset management firm Lazard and 2021 candidate for New York City mayor.
Non-profit, she added, “doesn’t mean no profit, no margin. We have to operate; we have administrative costs.”
Williams said that there needs to be more emphasis on public-private partnership.
“We know that government can’t do it all, government can’t solve all the problems that are going on in communities and we also know that companies have employees in communities, and they draw their employees from those communities,” Williams said. “What company wants to operate in a community that is unhealthy, uneducated?”
“I think we need to do better,” McGuire agreed. “The challenges that we are now facing are as formidable if not more formidable than the challenges we have ever faced in their country…So we need to step up, we need to be more engaged.”
Last year, US$499 billion was raised in the U.S., according to Giving USA. US$319 billion came from individuals, US$105 billion from foundations, and US$45 billion from gifts in a will or trust. In comparison, just US$21 billion was from corporations.
“I can’t say it’s a responsibility, it’s an opportunity,” McGuire said. “My observations will be that the private sector will be even more involved and more engaged, because they recognise that there’s more at risk.”
For Ohio-native McGuire, whose mother was a social worker and whose grandfather only had a third-grade education and taught himself to read by perusing the Bible, the need to fight for a more equal society is personal. In 1979 he graduated from Harvard before becoming one of Wall Street’s longest-serving and most-successful Black executives.
“I had to make it in a world that was completely foreign for me and for people who look like me,” McGuire said. “The fundamental premise of that which we are attempting to attain is prosperity for all, at least the ability to participate. If there’s an opportunity for us to make a difference… then by definition the foundation of that which we stand for [has] got to be education.”
The Nation’s Report Card showed across the board declines in math and reading ability in 2022, declines that have particularly hit kids of colour, according to McGuire. “Before Covid, we weren’t making progress and now after Covid, post Covid we’ve retreated,” he said.
For Williams, who is the first Black woman to lead UWW, a salient solution is to create “a new table” of opportunity.
“I want a table that is inclusive, I want a table that brings in the voices of those who we are trying to solve for,” she said. “I want to have a table that says I’m not your saviour but I’m your partner, so come in and let’s talk… and co create.”
Williams used the example of United Way’s work in Maui, Hawaii, following the devastating summer wildfires.
“How do we make sure that the natives… can sit in the room and along with the state and federal government and county and city as well to say: How do we not lose our ancestral heritage?” she said. “How do we create a new thing and a new way of living and surviving and thriving that is equitable?”
Priorities for 2024 touched on in the panel included the climate, AI, energy transition, America’s ageing population, and cyber security.
The panel ended on a note of hope. Former NFL player Carl Nassib, who launched the app Rayze last year to connect people to non-profits, pointed out from his seat in the audience that roughly a quarter of Americans volunteer but 75% of those who do volunteer end up donating.
“Have you thought about the positive mental health benefits of volunteering and what they can do for young philanthropists?” he asked, suggesting that the recent mental health youth crisis is linked in part to a reduction in volunteering.
Volunteerism is “one of the ways that allow people to really become proximate to their community and to the issues they care about,” Williams pointed out earlier in the evening.
“And I think once you’re proximate and you get to walk alongside someone and you can see how you can relate and help them, that really makes the difference. And that it makes for a civil society, it makes for a civil human being.”
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’
Couples find that lab-grown diamonds make it cheaper to get engaged or upgrade to a bigger ring. But there are rocky moments.
Wedding planner Sterling Boulet has some advice for brides-to-be regarding lab-grown diamonds, which cost a fraction of the natural ones.
“If you’re trying to get your man to propose, they’ll propose faster if you offer this as an option,” says Boulet, of Raleigh, N.C. Recently, she adds, a friend’s fiancé “thanked me the next three times I saw him” for telling him about the cheaper lab-made option.
Man-made diamonds are catching on, despite some lingering stigma. This year was the first time that sales of lab-made and natural mined loose diamonds, primarily used as center stones in engagement rings, were split evenly, according to data from Tenoris, a jewellery and diamond trend-analytics company.
The rise of lab-made stones, however, is bringing up quirks alongside the perks. Now that blingier engagement rings—above two or three carats—are more affordable, more people are dealing with the peculiarities of wearing rather large rocks.
Esther Hare, a 5-foot-11-inch former triathlete, sought out a 4.5-carat lab-made oval-shaped diamond to fit her larger hands as a part of her vow renewal in Hawaii last year. It was a far cry from the half-carat ring her husband proposed with more than 25 years ago and the 1.5-carat upgrade they purchased 10 years ago. Hare, 50, who lives in San Jose, Calif., and works in high tech, chose a $40,000 lab-made diamond because “it’s nuts” to have to spend $100,000 on a natural stone. “It had to be big—that was my vision,” she says.
But the size of the ring has made it less practical at times. She doesn’t wear it for athletic training and swaps in her wedding band instead. And she is careful to leave it at home when traveling. “A lot of times I won’t take it on vacation because it’s just a monster,” she says.
The average retail price for a one-carat lab-made loose diamond decreased to $1,426 this year from $3,039 in 2020, according to the Tenoris data. Similar-sized loose natural diamonds cost $5,426 this year, compared with $4,943 in 2020.
Lab-made diamonds have essentially the same chemical makeup as natural ones, and look the same, unless viewed through sophisticated equipment that gauges the characteristics of emitted light.
At Ritani, an online jewellery retailer, lab-made diamond sales make up about 70% of the diamonds sold, up from roughly 30% two years ago, says Juliet Gomes, head of customer service at the company, based in White Plains, N.Y.
Ritani sometimes records videos of the lab-diamonds pinging when exposed to a “diamond tester,” a tool that judges authenticity, to show customers that the man-made rocks behave the same as natural ones. “We definitely have some deep conversations with them,” Gomes says.
Not all gem dealers are rolling with these stones.
Philadelphia jeweller Steven Singer only stocks the natural stuff in his store and is planning a February campaign to give about 1,000 one-carat lab-made diamonds away free to prove they are “worthless.” Anyone can sign up online and get one in the mail; even shipping is free. “I’m not selling Frankensteins that were built in a lab,” Singer says.
Some brides are turned off by the larger bling now allowed by the lower prices.When her now-husband proposed with a two-carat lab-grown engagement ring, Tiffany Buchert, 40, was excited about the prospect of marriage—but not about the size of the diamond, which she says struck her as “costume jewellery-ish.”
“I said yes in the moment, of course, I didn’t want it to be weird,” says the physician assistant from West Chester, Pa.
But within weeks, she says, she fessed up, telling her fiancé: “I think I hate this ring.”
The couple returned it and then bought a one-carat natural diamond for more than double the price.
When Boulet, the wedding planner in Raleigh, got engaged herself, she was over the moon when her fiancé proposed with a 2.3 carat lab-made diamond ring. “It’s very shiny, we were almost worried it was too shiny and was going to look fake,” she says.
It doesn’t, which presents another issue—looking like someone who really shelled out for jewellery. Boulet will occasionally volunteer that her diamond ring came from a lab.
“I don’t want people to think I’m putting on airs, or trying to be flashier than I am,” she says.
For Daniel Teoh, a 36-year-old software engineer outside of Detroit, buying a cheaper lab-made diamond for his fiancée meant extra room in his $30,000 ring budget.
Instead of a bigger ring, he got her something they could both enjoy. During a walk while on an annual ski trip to South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Teoh popped the question and handed his now-wife a handmade wooden box that included a 2.5-carat lab-made diamond ring—and a car key.
She put on the ring, celebrated with both of their sisters and a friend, who was the unofficial photographer of the happy event, and then they drove back to the house. There, she saw a 1965 Mustang GT coupe in Wimbledon white with red stripes and a bow on top.
Looking back, Teoh says, it was still the diamond that made the big first impression.
“It wasn’t until like 15 minutes later she was like ‘so, what’s with this key?’” he adds.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’