SEATTLE — J.K. Rowling made headlines in 2012, though it wasn’t for one of her books. Forbes reported that J.K. Rowling is no longer a billionaire due to her charitable giving. In tandem with paying high British taxes, the author gave the U.S. equivalent of $160 million to charity in 2011 alone.
Such high donations can be common among the rich, but remain uncommon among artists. Rowling herself is the first billionaire female novelist — did she only begin donating when she had wealth to spare, or did she help save the world even before she found worldwide success?
Before establishing her own charity (Lumos) and visiting the poor in Eastern Europe, Rowling spent her 20s working for Christian Aid and Amnesty International. At a 2008 commencement address for Harvard University, J.K. Rowling discussed how her job at Amnesty International inspired her later fiction successes. Rowling took on the work to pay rent, but the political prisoners and refugees from totalitarian regimes she met changed her life forever.
“Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government…” said Rowling in the Harvard address.
Rowling was inspired to help kids worldwide from her own experience teaching special-needs children. Lumos — her organization designed to rescue orphans from unsafe living conditions — cut the number of Moldavian children living in institutions by 63 percent by 2013.
The author’s charity work, even when she was a single mother on welfare, drew from her own sense of empathy.
“I remember 20 years ago not eating so my daughter would eat. I remember nights when there was literally no money. I would have done anything to work and I took as much work as I could,” said Rowling in 2013. “I am now able to give.”
But one doesn’t need to be a billionaire, or even a millionaire, to give. As Rowling once said in an interview, “You have a moral responsibility when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently.” In short, the reason why J.K. Rowling is no longer a billionaire comes from her innate sense of empathy, and her knowledge of what one truly needs to live a fulfilling life.
– Nick Edinger