Lily Kanter, 35, is the sort of "ordinary" multimillionaire that Microsoft has churned out by the thousands. She has worked five years for the company, most recently as business manager of its San Francisco retail outlet, as her stock doubled and redoubled. Yet she lives an ordinary life in most ways, ferrying her three dogs around in a seven-year-old Ford Explorer that she calls the Stinkmobile. "How many cars can you drive at one time?" she asks. "How big a house do you need?"
Kanter says she gets her real kicks these days mostly from the Sarosi-Kanter Charitable Foundation that she and her husband Marc started with $2 million. And she knows half a dozen other current and former Microsofties who have started foundations. "The status symbol of the '80s was a BMW. The status symbol of this decade is having your own foundation named after you," says a Microsoft retiree, who naturally has her own. The move certainly makes financial sense for folks like Kanter. After typical start-up costs of about $20,000, assets of more than $300,000 can be parked so that the donor gets tax benefits as well as the satisfaction of controlling her charitable giving.
In the past, wealthy benefactors usually waited until their twilight years to ladle out their fortunes, and only after building mansions for themselves and setting aside a sizable chunk for their heirs. Then it was monument-building time, with wings of hospitals, symphony halls, operas, libraries, zoos and other civic institutions being the major beneficiaries. Many of today's wealthy are different. "I'm not just into writing checks," says Kanter, echoing many of her peers. "I want to see and feel the results."
Those results include Paulo Liwanag, 20, for whom Kanter's foundation paid $3,500 in tuition for a technology course that qualified him as a Microsoft Certified Professional, a valuable accreditation in his field. Liwanag, whom Kanter met while working at Microsoft, could not have afforded the tuition on his own. It prepared him for a more promising career--and a $45,000 salary. "This will really help," he says. "I see myself working for a really big company in the computer field." Kanter, who has paid tuition for 14 other young people, says, "This is the most fulfilling thing I've ever done."
--K.T.G. Reported by David S. Jackson/Palo Alto