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IF you have been to New York City, you may have visited Carnegie Hall. It is the world famous concert venue in Midtown Manhattan, built by Andrew Carnegie.

Carnegie was the Scottish-born 19th century United States steel king who, when he retired at the age of 66 in 1901, sold his sprawling steel concerns for US$300 million, which made him the richest man in the world at the time.

But Carnegie’s life was unique not because he bootstrapped himself from extreme poverty to immense wealth, but also because he was the world’s first tycoon to lay a sound intellectual foundation for structured charitable giving.

His thoughts on this vital aspect of life are found in an essay he wrote in 1889 for the North American Review, titled “The Best Fields for Philanthropy”.

The essay was renamed “The Gospel of Wealth” when it was republished in Britain. Carnegie so loved the new title that he used it in the second part of his essay, published later in 1889, and again in the literary magazine, North American Review (you may study both parts and his other writings at /CarnegieGoW).

According to biographer Peter Krass’ book, Carnegie, in 1887, the industrial philanthropist told British statesman William Gladstone that he believed it was “disgraceful to die rich”. Nonetheless, Carnegie was not an unblemished do-gooder.

In the preface of Carnegie, Krass describes his subject’s chequered legacy:

“Like many men working in the hellish Carnegie mills, my great-grandfather William Danziger imbibed quantities of beer and liquor to soothe his pains and to make him feel alive again. He didn’t reach sixty years of age, while Carnegie lived to the ripe age of eighty-four…

“… Not until I travelled to Scotland and watched my children play in Carnegie-funded parks and travelled to Pittsburgh and watched my children soak in the displays of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History did I begin to
fully appreciate what Carnegie achieved. Both purposefully and unwittingly he planted seeds for civilisation. While trampling asunder thousands of workmen, he ultimately uplifted millions of people in the future.”

B.C. Forbes, founder of Forbes magazine, once observed of Carnegie: “He has been invested with all the virtues of a saint — and condemned as a bloodstained tyrant and slave-driver.”

Blood-soaked or not, today, the name “Andrew Carnegie” is associated with generous, contemplative giving that yields great good. Here are four portions from Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” that you may use as guides for your own philanthropic plans:

GREAT sums bequeathed often work more for the injury than for the good of the recipients.

IT requires the exercise of not less ability than that which acquires it, to use wealth so as to be really beneficial to the community.

THE best means of benefiting the community is to place within its reach the ladders upon which the aspiring can rise — free libraries, parks, and means of recreation, by which men are helped in body and mind; works of art, certain to give pleasure and improve the public taste; and public institutions of various kinds, which will improve the general condition of the people; in this manner returning their surplus wealth to the mass of their fellows in the forms best calculated to do them lasting good.

THE individual administrator of surplus wealth has as his charge the industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others…

A key dimension of financial planning is wealth distribution, the other two being wealth protection and wealth accumulation. So with regard to distribution, ask yourself...

DO you plan to use your money to buy some fashion of earthly “ immortality” through charitable giving?

DO you crave to have people remember how you helped others?

OR are you content to live for the here and now without aiming to leave the Earth a better place?

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The writer is a Securities Commission-licensed financial planner, professional speaker and author. Read his free articles at and connect via LinkedIn at

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