Giving Is A Piece Of Cake

This article, which was written by Marlene Piturro, originally appeared on in 2000.

To celebrate turning 60, Foster Friess asked his friends to recommend their favorite charities that would get birthday gifts from him. Several weeks before his sixtieth birthday, Foster Friess, chairman of Jackson, Wyoming-based Friess Associates, which manages over $8 billion, including the Brandywine Funds, sent out party invitations that contained unusual instructions.

The invitees were told Friess would only accept one of three gifts for his birthday: a 25,000-acre cattle ranch, a $10 million Citation jet, or recommendations for a charitable donation to their favorite organization, provided it fulfilled the spirit of Galatians 6:2 —"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." The letter also asked guests to write something about their charities. At the party, Friess would select the most worthy organization for a $60,000 gift — $1000 for each year of his life. "I thought it would be fun to find out what my friends were doing and to help grassroots charities," he recalls.

Midway through dinner, Friess told three of the 200 guests they were finalists for the $60,000 gift and invited them to the dais to describe their work with their designated charities. One finalist, Patty Perkins Andringa of The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington's Cal Andringa Educational Assistance Fund says she didn't worry about winning. The fund helps inner-city youth with everything from buying them shoes to giving out scholarships. Andringa was confident that Friess would give each of the finalists something for their charities, perhaps some consolation prize.

Friess was so impressed with the finalists that rather than hand out a single first-place prize, he gave each of the three finalists $60,000 for their charities. He then asked the remaining guests who had submitted entries to open envelopes that were distributed to them. Berte Hirschfield, a Jackson Hole friend and a finalist for the Wind River Health Promotion Program, says, "As people opened their envelopes there were shocked gasps." Friess had given each of them a $25,000 check, bringing his total charitable gift that night to more than $2 million.

Mark Shaw, whose $25,000 went to the Evangelistic Association of Russia, an Atlanta-based arts educational group that works with Russian orphanages, and whose budget is only $50,00 says: "This is a miracle, manna from heaven." He adds, "In '99 we reached 60,000 kids. With this gift, we can help 200,000, many of whom are at risk for alcoholism, drug addiction, and even suicide."

The surprises didn't stop there. Before the evening was over, Andringa received an additional $25,000 to give to The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. "He gave millions away that night not in his name, but in his friends' names. He touched peoples' lives all over the world without asking anything for himself," she says.
Several months later, Friess was at it again. When his wife Lynn turned 60 in September, he gave her a motorcycle and — with no advance notice — all the 296 guests at her party received $10,000 checks for charities of their choice. Additionally, as a thank-you to the members of the wait staff for their service, he gave each of them $1000 to donate to favorite charities.

Of his generosity, Friess says, "I want to love the unlovely, to do something without any expectation of return."

He wasn't born into wealth. Growing up poor in northern Wisconsin, things like food and medical care were scarce.

Friess struggled as a financial advisor until the day he went on a business lunch twenty-two years ago with a prospective client with a $3 million portfolio. "This guy was upbeat and happy. I was depressed," he recalls. "He told me that he had invited Christ to be the CEO of his life and gave me religious tracts." Out of courtesy to his client, Friess read the literature. While he described himself as unreligious before that time, this event proved to be a transforming moment; he embraced Christianity.

As the Brandywine Funds has grown over the years — most recently posting gains of 50.4 percent for the twelve months ending in June 2000 — so has Friess' largesse. One program Friess started in 1992, "He Is Pleased," helps the homeless in Wilmington, Delaware, move from the streets to full-time employment through job training and social support. Friess also works with the Renewal Alliance, a group of senators and congressional representatives, to promote social justice through charity, family, church, small business, and community activism.

If you like the idea of planning a party with a charitable component, you can implement Friess' idea on a modest scale:

• Choose an event. It could be a birthday, anniversary, graduation, a business happening, or other holiday.

• Decide the total amount you want to give and if you expect the guests to make a donation. Plan your guest list accordingly.

• Set a giving parameter or theme, such as helping children or the homeless, environment, education, arts, or global charities to guide guests on their choice of recipient.

• In your party invitation, explain your intent and what, if anything, you expect from guests.

• Announce the details of your charitable gift midway through the party to facilitate discussion of how the gift will help the charities.

This article, which was written by Marlene Piturro, originally appeared on in 2000.

Caroline Heine

Posted at 1:00 AM, Nov 21, 2008 in Economic Development | High Net Worth Donors | Intergenerational | Nonprofit Management | Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comment