Multi-Millionaire Karl Rabeder Gives Away Every Last Penny to Charity

by Craig Perrine

Karl Rabeder, Multi-millionaire turned 100% Philanthropist Poor Guy

Karl Rabeder, multi-millionaire turned 100% philanthropist

According to a story I saw linked on Yahoo News, a man who grew up poor and amassed a fortune of 3 million British Pounds (that’s $4,685,157 USD) just gave every last penny to charity. 

Reportedly, money has not made him happy as he expected, and he’s going to live a simple life in a hut far away from society’s quest for commercialism and consumerism.  Reaction posted ranged from ‘that guy is a saint’ to ‘what an idiot’ on the man’s unusual gift, reportedly to charities.

So what is your first reaction?

Imagine if you were this guy. Would you give away your money?  What thoughts or feelings come up when you really imagine giving away every last penny if YOU had millions?  Do you admire him?  Does it bother you in any way?  Before you read on, write down your top three thoughts or feelings right off the bat… don’t over think it, there won’t be a test :)

The way I see it, what he did is his business, but the reaction WE have to the story is a mirror to help see our money beliefs.

My reaction had a few layers…

First, I appreciated the bold gesture, the fact that he was so committed to something that he’d literally do the unthinkable for most people and give away his fortune that he made himself.  Gotta appreciate the courage.

See, I haven’t experienced extreme poverty and I’ve not become a billionaires (yet), but I’ve gotten to see a pretty big range.

When I was a kid, and several times as an entrepreneur, I’ve known what it’s like to be flat broke and rack up debt.  My first car cost $500 and I had to tie the the driver side door shut with a shoe string.  Then again, in my early twenties I bought a Porsche 911 and have had many toys like motorcycles and an RV, too. 

Almost ten years ago now, I remember having to scrounge for change in the cup holder of the car to buy McDonald’s drive thru for the family when my only client’s check bounced and overdrew my account massively.  It feels pretty lame when you opt for ‘no cheese’ on that burger because the extra money would put you over what ya got in your hand full of change, know what I mean?

Intellectually, I get that money doesn’t actually buy happiness, but the idea of being broke still wipes the smile off my face and stresses me out.  As a father, that kind of ‘broke’ just is unacceptable now and I don’t recommend it to anyone.  Realizing I feel that ‘fear’ of lack of money is an example of the mirror I talked about and it’s a belief that doesn’t serve me because it implies that resources are scarce.  I know fear can be a powerful motivator and many successful people I know say that ‘never wanting to be poor again’ drove them to their achievements.  That’s a big enough subject for a whole other post… but let’s just say for now it’s better to clear scarcity beliefs out.  We tend to get what we focus on, right?  So focusing on fear of being poor is a ‘poor’ strategy.

These are tough times for many, so my next reaction to this guy giving away all his money was, ‘I hope he doesn’t regret that – perhaps he forgot what it was like to be poor.’

Then, I thought – ‘hey, this is a world full of opportunity and this guy could easily create new wealth again if he chose to.’  This isn’t the movies and the credits don’t roll at the end of the story with the guy walking off into the sunset with just the clothes on his back and a smile on his face.  He’ll have many choices to make and his future is unwritten (not to mention the fact he may get a great deal of publicity for his story).

Which made me wonder, ‘why was he so unhappy with his fortune that he felt the best solution was to give it away entirely?’ 

I’ve traveled around the world, had fine wine, seen unforgettable sights, met incredible people, none of which I experienced when I was broke.  Becoming successful, meeting successful entreprenuers, riding in a Rolls Royce, living in a big house and having nice toys doesn’t suck.  A few years back, I took my family on a RV trip across the country that I never could have afforded earlier in my career… and that life experience was priceless, but quite frankly, quite pricey, too.  It’s just a fact that greater wealth and money paved the way for me to have those experiences, and I cherish them.

My dream is not to become super rich and go retire on the beach

I don’t relate to the idea of success as a ‘destination’.  I see life as a journey of one level to the next, ever moving forward.  No matter what one achieves, it is the doing of it, not the achieving that makes the experience worthwhile.  Having spent a few years in corporate America, I can relate, though, to the idea of getting out of a high paid rat race no matter what the cost because it was sucking the life out of me.  But it wasn’t the ‘money’ that was the problem. And I guess that is where my reaction settles in with this guy’s story. 

For me, the lesson is that we give too much meaning and power to our feelings about wealth and money.  Like I blogged about a few posts ago, the idea that we’ll be ‘happy’ when we become ‘rich’ is a myth and this guy rose from poverty and found that out.

Now, in my opinion, he’s about to experience the other side of that myth – that it is noble and virtuous to be poor, that money is the root of why he wasn’t happy. 

It was his ‘expectation’ that was the problem.  When he was poor, he ‘expected’ he’d be happy with more money.  When he got it, he was disappointed.  And now, he ‘expects’ to be happier without the money.  Is he gonna be right this time?

For me, it is the people in my life and the relationships and the memories together that give life meaning.  Sure, big business paydays are exciting – but my dearest memories all center around family and friends.  And those memories range from all kinds of different life experiences, with and without money.  My life didn’t really change when I got my first Porsche or my first brand new motorcycle – in fact, I relate to this guy’s disenchantment with ‘things’ because it was a surprise to me that those things didn’t have more of a lasting meaning.  But the birth of our sons, raising the boys, memories with my father traveling around the world, growing up with my mother in Vermont, and my sister having her daughter, my friendships (old and new), all jump out at me right now as defining experiences I’ll never forget.

So here’s what I would say to Karl Rabeder if he asked me about giving away his fortune…

‘You’ve been Punk’d, Karl!’

And so are we if we don’t take a look at our own money beliefs.

Regardless of his grand gesture, Karl’s life appears to be a roller coaster in progress with highs and lows caused by buying into society’s myths about money and happiness.

Sure, his gift will likely do a lot of good…

But, I think he would have created more good had he used his talents to create more wealth, give more in the future to charity, help invest in micro lending, venture capital to help OTHERS become more successful so that THEY can give more, too.

Why just give away millions in one shot? 

Over the rest of his lifetime, he could give away many, many millions if he used his gift to create more wealth.  Instead, in one dramatic gesture, he gave it all to charity in ONE gift.

While that’s good, and there is certainly nothing ‘wrong’ with doing so, but the fact is charities exist to give away money, they don’t generally create it.  So logically, mathematically, in his hands, he’d have created a bigger value for the world had he kept a more active role in the creating and giving process. 

His true gift, his ‘golden goose’, is his ability to create wealth and generate ‘golden eggs’.  Would it make sense to ‘keep the goose’ and give away more and more ‘golden eggs’ over time?  Imagine the jobs he could have created and the positive example he’d set for the community… had he not just given away all the ‘eggs’ and killed the ‘goose’ by shutting the doors of his business.  From that perspective, his giving away every penny wasn’t the best way to create the maximum ‘good’.

The way I see it, now that he is penniless he’ll find that his grand gesture will at some point fade away into his past and in the years that come, he’ll have to find new ways to derive meaning and a sense of value for himself.  Just as living in a mansion ‘got old’ for him, living in a ‘hut’ will, too – and perhaps a great deal sooner than he expects.  I don’t think life is about one big moment.  It’s about every moment, the perpetual ‘present’ we live in.  And when he discovers that being poor is not the key to happiness, I wonder how ‘happy’ he’ll be. 

I’m not worried about him, though, because I also know that if he gets sick of living in a hut, he’ll no doubt create more wealth.   Who knows what he’ll be inspired to do next. 

My point here is that growing up poor didn’t make him happy, getting money didn’t make him ‘happy’, and getting rid of the money won’t either, because money is just a means of exchange.  

Having been broke and also successful, I can say having more choices is what money brings - all that really matters is that you make choices that are in line with who you are, what you value, and that is the path where happiness is found.

Helping people certainly feels good – and it’s true you can help people without money, it seems irrefutable that you can help MORE people if you have more resources.

There is such a bias in our culture that ‘rich people are bad’, ‘money is evil’, and it’s ‘noble to be poor’ –  and these beliefs literally rob people of making choices that could make their lives and the world so much better.

If we blindly hold Karl Rabeder up as a hero for giving away everything, or if we condemn him as a fool, either way I think we risk buying into cultural myths that are the true ‘root of all evil.’

How we react to his decision, though, has given me a wonderful opportunity to look at my beliefs and hopefully, help you do the same.  Maybe that is Karl Rabeder’s greater gift for us today.

What do you think?


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexandra February 13, 2010 at 3:19 am

Sometimes (a lot) my clients give too much power to money. They think money is the Holy Grial hidden in somewhere distant, the great treasure. But when they raise their goal of money, afer the exitmen, they back to the way they used to be. So, money helps, we need it. But it is not the destination.

Maybe the vehicle, but not the destination.
Alexandra Navarro

Michael February 14, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Hi, Craig -

I think you make a very good point about money just being a means of exchange. The real thing is choices we make regardless of our moneyed wealth. Karl seems to have been making choices based on his belief he was now wealthy and so should live that way. Actually he could live in a hut WITH his millions and, as you say, simultaneously create more jobs for folks. It was his (I think) scewed choice to live rich that done him in.

I do disagree with one thing you said – “it seems irrefutable that you can help MORE people if you have more resources.” If you mean by “resources,” money, then no. You have kind of fallen into your own trap where, as you say, you “give too much meaning and power to (y)our feelings about wealth and money.” Consider Mother Theresa, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Jesus, Mohammed, etc. These were not moneyed people. In fact they were generally downright poor. And I would venture to say that they helped MORE people than anyone ever has with a million bucks.

- Michael

Adrienne Kleinschmidt February 14, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Having been one of the very popular group of poor people in this country.. I can honestly say……
Why go all the way there? Just help everyone from every part of the world..

How about… a contest? Raffle your house Karl.. but do something for everyone..
A little piece.. for the most needy.. Like.. those losing their houses.. RIGHT NOW… Like.. me.. : )

Only 5,000 .. brings me back .. otherwise.. Now.. if you could donate five thousand to all of those
in need.. this very second.. without a hope of getting it otherwise.. that.. would save MANY families. Not just one part of the world. Like Haiti.. God help them all!. Believe me… I have followed the story.. and cry when I see the develpments.. I have gone without food electricity.. money.. shelter myself. I KNOW.. how hideous the depravation is. Hard to come back. I have.. several times.. Getting too old for this. : ) But I am there again. God has always provided. And I haven’t the slightest thought he won’t this time as well. But I know too.. If ya never buy a ticket. you ship isn’t coming in..
that way.. So… I am buying all the tickets I can.. so to speak.. and .. asking for help..

Way not? Karl old boy here.. wants to rid himself of the evils of money..
.. and I would like to help him .. : )

And I know too.. I would not want that much money… because it is quite the hardship deciding what to do with it. and who to help.. I can only imagine.. and would not want that karmic responsibility either. So many in need. so little time.. and money.. No thanks. But staying alive is nice.. Feeding one’s family.. and providing shelter with a modicum of security.. would be nice. I have never had it. For twenty years in this house.. every day I have felt they would take it from me. And miracles.. and hard hard work has kept us here. I am one year shy of sixty. …with no hope of a future. Handicapped.. and down on my luck.. but still.. I know this..
God keeps His Promises..
And somehow.. He will now as well.
God Bless Us All..
Adrienne : )

denny hagel February 28, 2010 at 5:30 am

Well thought out insights brilliantly expressed, although for me the real “gold” (no pun intended) was at the very end when you acknowledged the possibility of a higher purpose for Mr Rabeder’s act…I am a firm believer that nothing happens by accident. I am sure his decision caused many people to examine their feelings toward money and its meaning in their lives…and this is sorely needed in our world.
Thanks for sharing
denny hagel

mary March 12, 2010 at 1:36 am

I would like to have the opportunity to say that money makes me miserable. Karl, my husband and I have been together 15 years. He is a bk amputee who was abandoned by his wife while the surgery was happening and had two of 3 kids in diapers and his only support was his mother who was diagnosed with rheumatoid (sp) arthritis in her 20s. she helped with the kids and he rehabbed and got work after two years of surgeries trying to save the leg. he lived in a two bedroom condo with his mom and three kids for years before we got together and she practically raised them from birth to 12 and then i walked in. Dummy with 3 kids of her own close to the same age. we got married, house burned down a year later, 6 months living in a hotel, raising the kids, then losing the house and now living in a rental. he now doesnt have a job and hasnt gotten disability. 5 of the 6 kids are out on their own. 2 serving our country – navy and army, one serving our up-and-coming generation,one raising our up-and-coming generation and one becoming our up-and-comng generation. We have had two vacations together in the 15 years. One LasVegas trip before we were married and one trip to Florida when we got married. I would like to see what I can do for my kids and for myself with a little extra money. Karl READ THIS – there is so much more to this struggle than I can write.

mike naylor March 17, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I wish someone would give me a little money. lost my job and no unemployment, going to loose my apartment soon it hurts and is scary to think about. im 47 years old and think mabie i should go back to school

Ian Myers March 18, 2010 at 1:28 pm

I don’t think there is any need to give it ALL away but fair play to him. What i have a gripe with is all the MULTI milionaires who keep making money and keeping it. Once you have a couple of houses, home, holiday etc and a few cars, maybe a million in investments and a million in the bank cash. Is there any need for MORE? Why don’t they just give say 75% of any money made after amassing that away to charity. We could have a website that showed all the people who did that and another for all thoes who didn’t? Maybe it could put it all in perspective for them AND us? But like you said they worked for it and it’s their money, but i for one couldn’t live with myself knowing that there are people starving and without homes and ill because they can’t afford the cure etc if i had more than that? BUT, thats just MY oppinion and everyone is entitled to theirs.

wishful March 21, 2010 at 4:48 am

I just wish he would have given my some money I could have been his charity case for God knows that I could have used some of that monay we all could one day maybe he would bless me with some money

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