Marian Moore and Lorene Arey Play BIG
May 31 2016
Fresh off the heels of 2016’s Play BIG, co-founder Marian Moore and attendee Lorene Arey talk takeaways from the four-day event. At Play BIG, participants—all with significant discretionary wealth—are challenged to reimagine their money in the context of the broader vision and mission of their work and their lives. In this Clients in Conversation, Deb Nelson, RSF Vice President of Client and Community Engagement, asks these two leaders in social finance about their life’s journey to the gathering, and what insights they gained from it.
Deb: For our first question, I want to take you both back to your childhoods. What were you taught about the role of money in the world? And what did you absorb?
Lorene: My mom was Mexican and my dad was American. I grew up in Mexico for the first five years of my life until we moved to California. The transition gave me an interesting perspective about money because in Mexico I saw poverty—real poverty.
When I was little, I remember going back to Mexico during the summertime to stay at my aunt’s house. She had a beautiful home. But down the road, there were people who lived in tiny adobe houses and were quite poor. I remember going out in the evenings, when the summer sun was starting to set, to play with the kids on the block. Even as an eight-year-old, I noticed the grave inequality.
I don‘t know that anybody explicitly told me anything about money. But my understanding was that if you have money, you have power and advantages that people without money will never have.
Deb: What about you, Marian?
Marian: I had a sort of schizophrenic life with money. Both of my parents were inheritors from very wealthy families. We would go to visit the fancy grandmother mansion in New Jersey that was almost Downton Abbey level to my eyes.
But our daily life was very different. Our family ethos was to support social and racial justice. My dad was an Episcopal priest, and we lived in the parish house, which we didn’t own. There was an emphasis on that so that we could hide our wealth. My dad thought that business was bad because he didn’t like the values of his father and grandfather, who were so focused on the accumulation of wealth.
The other thing I discovered—later in life and after a close personal examination—was that I was trained that money magically appears. Obviously, all this money wasn’t coming from my dad being a priest.
Lorene: You know, that’s such an interesting contrast. I didn’t grow up with money. And I’m tickled by this notion of money magically appearing. Growing up, my sense about money was almost the complete opposite. Money came through incredibly hard work.
Deb: Was there a turning point in your lives that changed your understanding or awareness around money?
Marian: I had this inherited money starting when I was 21. And I hid it from my community of friends who were mostly artists and musicians. Then, in my early 30s, I was introduced to the Threshold Foundation. The revelation occurred when I joined in community with other people who shared my values and had this peculiar experience of money (that is, inheriting it). All of a sudden, things just changed.
I was on the board of an organization called Concerts for the Environment at the time, and we were about to put on a big Earth Day concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion in 1990. We needed $75,000 to book the theater, and two other board members had already committed $25,000 each. I came home from my first Threshold meeting and thought, “Oh, I can do that, too.” The loan was repaid a few months later, but that was still a big moment for me; you could call it my first mission-related investment!
Lorene: My relationship with money changed about the time I was 40, when I retired from the corporate world. I had been working at Cisco and decided to leave in 2000, just before the big bubble burst. My leaving triggered a major stock liquidation event. Suddenly, I went from working really hard to earn money to being in a place to actually do the opposite—give it away. I was also able to take a step back and look at money as a vehicle that you can align with your values. That felt incredibly liberating.
Deb: Can you tell us more about Play BIG, and how it came to be?
Marian: When I was at Threshold, I met a lot of extraordinary people; one of whom was Carol Newell, who was a pioneer in what she eventually came to call “whole portfolio activation to mission.” At the time, she had spent ten years putting her inherited fortune to work in support of a sustainable economy in British Columbia. But she did this anonymously, and felt that her next piece of work was to come out of anonymity to encourage other people to make bold, strategic and generous decisions with money.
She invited me to partner with her to create what became Play BIG. At first, it was kind of a vehicle for Carol’s story to get out there. Over the years, it has evolved to include many stories.
Starting six years ago, RSF Social Finance partnered with us to host 15 to 20 people who, like Lorene, have significant discretionary wealth. At Play BIG, we provide an environment for attendees to reimagine their relationship and actions with money. And I don’t mean just philanthropically, but also in terms of how they might shift investments to maximize good and minimize harm.
I’ve observed over the years that people of this level of wealth only talk about their money with either their family or their wealth advisor. And normally, the wealth advisor is pretty stuck on a particular business model or paradigm. So we create a space where people can think and their peers can educate them through personal stories.
Deb: Lorene, how did you first hear about Play BIG?
Lorene: I heard about Play BIG from the wonderful Don Shaffer—we sit on a board together—and it seemed like a really interesting conference.
Marian, I adore you. And I have to tell you that the conversation you and I had on the phone was ultimately the reason I said, “I’m going to come to this.” There was something very genuine about the environment you were working to create.
Deb: Were there any aha moments or surprises for you?
Lorene: I’ve been doing impact investing for the past ten years, maybe a little bit more. But because it’s such a nascent field, I didn’t know how well I was doing in terms of investing in areas that aligned with my values. What could I be doing differently? I asked myself. How could I be doing more?
That’s what became my big aha moment: finding a place where I had peers who could give me a sense of the landscape and say, “You’re doing really well in these areas; here are some other areas where you can continue to push forward.”
Another insight that was remarkable for me was how different my sense of money and wealth was from those who had inherited it. I left Play BIG with a real sense of compassion and understanding for the burden that comes with inherited wealth.
Marian: It’s interesting, Lorene, to hear you share that gained understanding regarding an inheritor’s life because you’re not the first entrepreneur who has said that. A couple of entrepreneurs who’ve attended Play BIG have left thinking, “Oh my god, I’ve got to get home and change how I’m dealing with my kids’ inheritance.” They were just clueless because they hadn’t grown up with wealth.
Lorene: Right. And if you don’t grow up with wealth, you can’t imagine the burden. But it truly is. Hearing the stories in that room, you got the sense of it.
I’ve got three kids. Early on, I made a determination that they weren’t going to inherit a ton of money. At Play BIG, there was a pretty robust conversation about whether to give or not to give a huge amount of wealth to children.
Marian: One of my experiences as an inheritor is that I discounted my successes. For instance, I was a television producer in my 20s, but minimized my accomplishments. Looking back, I now see how extraordinary that work was.
Lorene: For many people, the notion of success is money. My son, who will soon be 18, said to me last year, “Mom, it’s really hard for me to be your son and Dad’s son because I will never be as successful as the two of you.” And I said to him, “How do you define success?”
If you define success by monetary means, then perhaps you won’t be as successful. But if you define success as understanding who you are, and finding personal happiness and joy in your life, then you’re already ahead of most people.
Marian: I have this interesting situation that’s sort of the flip side of yours, Lorene. I’m raising kids, now in their 20s, who are not inheriting money. I was concerned at first whether I would even know how to raise them with the ability to earn a living because I didn’t have to at that age.
But looking at them now, I see encouraging signs. My oldest son, for instance, is a musician, and he’s figuring out how to earn on the side to support his music. It’s beautiful to see him be so resourceful.
To add, Lorene, to what you were saying about empathy and compassion at Play BIG, one universal thing that wealthy people who have any sensitivity understand, and have heard many times, are people telling them, “Cry me a river.” So where do you go with some of those challenges?
Deb: These are such powerful stories. What advice do you have for people who are starting their journey to better understand money and meaning?
Lorene: What I learned very early on when I started to think about aligning my wealth with my values is that I had to create my own business model around my money. My wealth advisor is very traditional. And the first time I brought him an impact investment, maybe ten or twelve years ago, I asked him to vet it for me. He took a look at it and said, “Nope! Way too high risk.” But I felt strongly about it, so I did it anyway.
If you have a traditional wealth advisor, and most of us do, impact investing doesn’t fit into the old business model. So you have to have the courage and confidence to create your own business model. Trust yourself—you’re doing the right thing. And if your wealth adviser tells you no, you can veto that.
Deb: Right on!
Marian: Your comment reminded me of something. I work with a lot of women, and sometimes my role as a leadership coach is simply to affirm their sense of what they want to do. You, Lorene, have a business background and have confidence in that way. But if you‘re a 35- or 40-year-old inheritor whom the trustees have always patted on the head, where are you going to get that sense of confidence? Women, and more broadly inheritors, are too often patronized about their ability to really understand.
Lorene: I see a lot of women lacking confidence around money, and that’s a really important thing if you’re going to start dipping your toe into a pond that is an untraditional. It takes confidence, but it also takes a little bit of handholding. People are going to tell you no, but it’s okay.
Lorene Arey is founder of the Clara Fund, a family foundation focused on supporting economic opportunities for women as well as sustainable markets globally.
Marian Moore is co-founder of Play BIG, and a senior advisor for RSF Social Finance. She also designs and facilitates a new initiative called Lead with Land.
Article was originally published in the RSF Spring Quarterly.