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The Power of Not Yet: What Marshmallows Teach Us about Making Our Mark

In 1972, Stanford psychologist, Walter Mischel, conducted a now famous experiment called the “marshmallow test.” In this experiment, children were given the choice of one immediate reward – a marshmallow – or two rewards – two marshmallows – if they would be willing to wait.  The researchers then followed the children for several years.  They discovered that those who delayed their gratification with the marshmallows also benefited from delayed gratification later in life when the stakes were higher.  It seems that a child who was willing to exercise self-discipline with marshmallows was also willing to exercise self-discipline with other things like studying for tests instead of hanging out with friends or saving up to buy that new car instead of going into debt.

So, you may be asking, what do marshmallows have to do with generosity?  Turns out, more than you might think. 

In some ways, generosity can be a little like the marshmallow test.  There is a strong pull to invest all available dollars to solve today’s problems today.  However, when we live only for the moment, we may be sacrificing an even bigger reward or bigger impact later.  So, how do we infuse our generosity decisions with a little self-discipline. 

At the Community Foundation, we believe in the power of generosity to change individuals, change communities, and even change the future.  Donors who take a disciplined approach with their generosity are often served better in the long run.  That’s why we believe that strategic generosity involves both a now and a later component.  By exercising discipline to set aside charitable dollars to solve problems that may not yet be seen or felt, donors can strategically invest in our community’s future.

Some may ask, why create an endowment when there are so many needs now? Why not spend all available resources as they come in rather than set some aside for a future time?

At the Community Foundation, we believe in the power of endowment. Like those children in the marshmallow experiment, our donors are often presented with the option of spending all of their charitable dollars now and seeing the immediate impact of their generosity or setting aside some of those dollars to reap benefits for our community long after they are gone.  Supporting our community today while strengthening our community forever . . . that’s what strategic generosity looks like.

That’s why we have created a series of funds, which we affectionately call our Now and Later Funds that both support current-year grantmaking while also funding an endowment that will continue this work forever.  The Community Foundation has four Now and Later Funds – Compass Society, give256, Racial Equity Fund, and the Women’s Philanthropy Society. For each of these funds, a portion of all donations is spent on current-year grantmaking, and a portion is set aside in the endowment to create an engine that will fuel this work forever.

Muck like the results of the marshmallow test, delayed gratification in generosity means amplified success.  Now and Later Funds are exclusive to our donors, and they simplify strategic generosity for a powerful impact in our community both now and for future generations.