Build Your Own Giving Bridge

by | Oct 2, 2014

I know my childhood memory of the Big Eddy Bridge, now under Lake Palestine, is not quite accurate. But the memory is real. Every chance we got my brother and I would convince my dad to drive over the very old and very rickety bridge.  It seemed like every board in that old wooden bridge slapped the tires as my dad slowly made his way across. Sometimes he would stop right in the middle and debate whether to continue going across or back up to safety.

I’m not sure how he felt about the drive across. Was he really taking a chance or was he confident the bridge would hold on this trip as it had for many years before as cars and trucks of all kinds made their way across it? Of course I now realize he would never have crossed the bridge if he hadn’t been sure we would get to the other side, but I wasn’t sure and would hold my breath in expectation of something.

I didn’t know what the something should or could be. But I knew there was something.

Our lives are full or bridges, both manmade and symbolic. The places we cannot go or things we could not learn without bridges are endless. Bridges span obstacles. They come in every size from the short Big Eddy Bridge of my childhood memories to very long bridges.

I went looking for a list of the longest bridges and discovered all kinds: the longest suspension bridge (6,532 ft. in Kobe Japan), the longest continuous bridge over water (23.87 miles in Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana), the longest ice bridge (68 miles in Beaufort Sea Road, Alaska),and the longest natural bridge span (400 ft. Fairy Bridge in Guangxi, China).

Every one of these bridges is different in how it is designed and built or naturally formed, yet each one accomplishes the same thing – a way over obstacles.

Bridges abound in the world of philanthropy. Some are symbolic; some are tools. Tool bridges range from simple and easy to highly technical.  They include year-end check writing and monthly automated giving plans, donor advised funds, family foundations and complex estate planning.  In each case the tools provide a bridge for the donor to accomplish goals.

In the case of tool bridges help is sometimes needed to make it strong, to last many generations. Advisors of all types with varied expertise exist to help you build these bridges. Accountants, investment and financial advisors, estate attorneys and philanthropy consultants all have different roles to play in the building of great giving bridges.

Symbolic bridges are of a different kind. They’re more like the natural span Fairy Bridge in China, formed from limestone over many thousands of years.  In philanthropy these bridges are made from the work of learning to give intentionally, with expected impact or outcomes. These are the bridges that are made from giving decisions year after year, learning what worked, experiencing mistakes and disappointments, then giving again – but doing it a different way.

I especially like the natural giving bridges because each one represents the one person who formed it. Short or long the learning process is personal. It’s like a trip across the Big Eddy Bridge, sometimes you stop in the middle to figure out whether you know enough to keep going or perhaps you need to back-up and reassess. You need to ask questions before the gift is made. You need to clarify with the organization your expectations as a donor. The list of possibilities is really quite long.

Like water and wind that slowly form natural bridges, giving decisions form our personal giving bridges. We make our way over obstacles and eventually we get from here to there.

Judy Dench, one of my favorite actresses said “It is not good to cross the bridge before you get to it.” I say build the bridge so you can safely cross it when you get to it.

What does your giving bridge look like? Who helped you build it?


  1. Bill Morris

    I agree with Judy Dench however may I suggest, as you did, consider building the bridge before you need it? BIll

  2. Joyce Crawford

    Thought provoking subject about bridges in our lives, this read was a great start to my day. Thanks for taking the time to post it, your work is necessary and greatly appreciated!


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