Why don't millionaires help poor people

Wealthy people in Germany : Why the rich do good - and keep silent

Sometimes the money is a burden for her. Especially when people only see their billions, not themselves. In one of her few interviews, Susanne Klatten once said: “Money doesn't evaluate what or who I am. It draws a curtain in front of me. But I want to be seen as a person. ”And as a person she wants to get involved, give something back to society.

Susanne Klatten founds a new initiative

That is why Susanne Klatten, the BMW heiress and richest woman in Germany, has now announced a new initiative. She called it “scale”, the first two letters stand for her abbreviation. Klatten wants to donate 100 million euros over the next five years through the Skala initiative and thus promote “civic engagement”. She wants to present the first concrete projects in April. For her it is “a matter of the heart” to “promote committed people and give them recognition”, she is quoted on the homepage of her initiative.

Klatten, whose fortune is estimated at over 15 billion euros, has been involved in the past and donated to a good cause. But she has never expressed it so openly. With her initiative, however, she is now consciously going on the offensive, and her name stands for the funded projects. As if she wanted to show: Look here, I do good with my money, imitate me. That is new. And rather unusual for the rich in Germany.

Germans don't talk about their commitment

Because unlike in the USA, the wealthy are secretive in this country. They don't talk about their money or whether or how they are going to spend it on a good cause. “That is typically German,” says Robert Heiduck from Weberbank, which mainly looks after wealthy customers. "People talk more about diseases than about money."

One would think that if someone does something good for society with his wealth, he can let the world know. Like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who publicly announced after the birth of his daughter that he wanted to donate 99 percent of his wealth. Or like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who also wants to spend a large part of his fortune for good causes up to his death. Together with investor Warren Buffett, he started the initiative “The Giving Pledge” six years ago in the USA in order to encourage others to donate parts of their wealth. Over 100 billionaires have already joined them.

And yet there is just one German name on their list: Hasso Plattner. And it shouldn't even have ended up voluntarily - although it does donate large sums of money. Susanne Klatten is also said to have repeatedly rejected Gates and Buffett despite her commitment.

In the United States, it is good form to talk about donations

This shows how differently Germans and Americans deal with donations. "In the USA it is good form to talk about it," says Michael Alberg-Seberich, who advises entrepreneurs who want to make or donate. "The Germans are just very reserved in this regard."

Much of this is historically based. In the USA, there has always been the dream of becoming a rags-to-riches millionaire - those who actually succeed in advancement want to give something back to the less fortunate. Andrew Carnegie, a son of immigrants who built a steel empire, was the forerunner of this movement. In 1901 he sold his company to J. P. Morgan - and became a benefactor. “Those who die rich, die in shame”: This is the phrase that he is quoted with in the USA to this day. Carnegie used his millions, for example, to build over 2,500 libraries across the country. This made him a role model for many others after him.

But while donations replace a lack of government investments in the USA, a strong social system emerged early on in Germany. Because of the redistribution through taxes, it was not expected that the rich would give back part of their wealth to society for a long time.

German empires are criticized for

Nevertheless, there have always been wealthy people here who donate a lot. But they prefer to do it in secret - also out of fear of criticism. Because here it doesn't always go down well when the rich turn their charity outwards. This is what happened to Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher when he donated 7.5 million euros to the victims in 2004 after the tsunami disaster. Franz Müntefering, then chairman of the SPD, was bothered by the "way" in which Schumacher appeared. Instead of clandestinely donating, he announced his contribution during the TV donation gala on ZDF. He doesn't like such vanities, said Müntefering. He prefers the people “who obviously have little” and still donate “50 cents or two euros”.

Because of reactions like this, there are probably few rich Germans who make their commitment public on their own initiative. An exception is, for example, the entrepreneur Michael Otto, who is behind the Otto mail order business. Most recently, he transferred a large part of his assets and shares to a foundation. In bad times, the money should be able to finance the restructuring of the Otto Group. In good times, the dividends are intended to support charitable projects.

"I am firmly convinced that each of us should make a contribution to society within the scope of our possibilities," says Otto. “Ownership is particularly obligatory.” He has committed himself to protecting the environment and has set up his own foundation for this purpose. "Just donating generously is simply not enough if you want to change things for the better over the long term," he says. He wants to "get something rolling", to infect people with his commitment.

Often there is a personal preference behind the commitment

As with Otto, it is mostly personal experiences or preferences that are behind the commitment of the rich. This can also be seen in what the SAP founders give money for, for example. While Hasso Plattner feels committed to science and has founded an institute for software systems technology at the University of Potsdam, Dietmar Hopp primarily supports sports projects.

Despite this commitment, the donation opportunities in Germany are far from being exhausted, says Andreas Schiemenz, who advises founders and donors for HSH Nordbank. The current donation volume of around nine billion euros per year could be doubled to 18 billion euros if the donation offer and willingness to donate were better reconciled. In his opinion, there is one main reason why this does not happen: fundraisers and the rich do not meet at eye level. "It is more difficult to get 10,000 euros as a donation from a billionaire than ten million," says Schiemenz. But many fundraisers lack the understanding for this.

That is why the rich usually go a different way: They set up their own foundation or initiative to distribute the money. And they hire a consulting company to help them find projects that are worth funding. Just like Susanne Klatten is doing now. For them, wealth means responsibility. "If you have funds in this amount, you have to take care of them", she can be quoted in the book "The Quants". "That's not something you can spend."

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