How you use your money will be how you’re remembered. For some, the amount of money or wealth they accumulate is the score by which their success is measured. More wealth equals more success. Yet shrouds don’t have pockets, and dead is dead. In order to make your money count, it has to be used, not hoarded. Others use their wealth to purchase a more comfortable ride through life. That’s certainly possible, yet materialism is like fame: addictive and at the same time self-deprecating; there will always someone else who is richer than you and has more toys than you. The quest for more is insatiable. Instead of being defined by the wealth you’ve accumulated and have stored, why not be defined by the wealth you’ve accumulated and have deployed?

The 3C’s of Significance

The secret to making your money count is a process I call ‘the three Cs of significance’: care, cause and context. Identifying a care and resourcing a cause that supports it will add a context to your money that transcends dollars and cents. The 3C’s are a way of adding significance to your wealth and giving meaning to your life.

Let’s look at each of the 3Cs.


Everyone has at least one care etched on their hearts at birth or engraved on their hearts from life experience. If you were to shut out the ‘busy-ness’ of life and listen to the quiet voice of your soul or engage your self-awareness by looking for issues that trigger an above-average or disproportionate emotional response, you’ll likely identify what you care most about. Possibilities include social justice issues, animal welfare, the environment, politics, gender and social equality, faith, health, nutrition, sport … the list is just about endless.

Furthermore, there are niches within niches. For instance, animal welfare might be your thing, and within that, you might be particularly concerned with the wellbeing of koalas, and more specifically, orphaned koalas in south-east Queensland. The ‘thing’ you care about may be a burning passion or just a glowing ember. It may also change over time. For the moment, all that’s important is that you identify something you care about. Does something come to mind?

If it helps as an illustration, cancer became an unexpected care that was recently etched on my heart. Prior to being diagnosed with skin cancer, I was aware but not particularly concerned about cancer, but that all changed when a spot on my face turned sinister. Now I had something to care about!


Once you have a care in mind, the next step is to find a cause – a person, program, charity or organisation that is doing work that relates to the matter(s) you care about, and offer to become a partner in, or sponsor of, that work by making a financial contribution.

The secret to knowing the cause is to stop thinking ‘me’ and start thinking ‘we’. Sometimes the things we care about seem too big, complex or challenging to do anything meaningful about. Or we assume our resources are insignificant compared to the scale of the problem. When we are overwhelmed, the temptation is to feel defeated, to conclude ‘why bother’, and use our time and energy to solve survival problems closer to home. Don’t be put off by what you can’t do—be empowered by what you can. It’s very unlikely you’ll be the only person in the world who cares about the issue on your heart, and you may find an already established ‘cause’ you could partner with to be the change you hope to see.

If you’re interested, the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre was a ‘cause’ I found that related to my ‘care’.


The cares you advance based on the causes you support will provide a context for your money that transcends dollars and cents. Your wealth gains meaning based on the means it provides for the causes you care about. Your life will count because your money counts, and the significance you generate will make you feel more significant. But how will you create the context for your dollars? Will you give time or money or both? And how frequently will you give?

Time or money?

Many people giving small amounts is just as effective as a few people giving large amounts. You can only give from what you have. If you have money, give money. If you have time (including expertise), give time. If you have both, give both. There’s usually a lack of ‘resource-ers’ over ‘resources’; that is, a shortage of people who can pay for the labour and materials needed to resource the care.

Frequent or infrequent giving?

Experience has taught me that it is better to give less, more often, than more, less often. Most charitable organisations would rather have guaranteed financial supply over several years, than unreliable and infrequent one-off donations. Why? Because with guaranteed funding they can create, administer and execute programs they know they’ll be able to resource and fund through to completion.

Here’s a final suggestion: rather than giving from capital, give repeatedly from the recurrent income your invested capital generates. Giving capital is something you do once. Investing the capital and giving the income is something you can do forever.

For example, say you had $50000 to donate. One option would be to donate it in one lump sum. Another option is to invest it and donate the annual income.  Assuming you achieved an after-tax return of 8 per cent per annum, then after 12.5 years of giving you will have given the same amount (i.e. $50,000), except the second option would allow you to keep giving and supporting causes you care about for years and years to come—a magic pudding that gives and gives and never runs out!

Some people like to count their money. Others like to make their money count. How will you be remembered – for the way you counted your money, or the way you made your money count? If you don’t like the answer, be sure to do something about it while you still can.  The secret to making your money count is to put it to use by supporting causes that do good work in fields you care about.

Edited extract from Steve McKnight’s Money Magnet: How to Attract and Keep a Fortune that Counts (Wiley $32.95), now available at all leading retailers or online at

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