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A lifetime of giving: Matel Dawson Jr. saved so that others could benefit. (Black Wealth Initiative).

MATEL (MAT) DAWSON JR. HAS LEFT A WONDERFUL legacy. The retired forklift operator, who worked at the Ford Motor Company's Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan, for more than 60 years, donated more than $1 million to educational institutions and charities before he died last November 2 at age 81. He is survived by his daughter, JoAnn Agee, a grandson, and a scholarship fund that is keeping his legacy of giving alive.

Saving more than $1 million is quite a commendable feat when you consider that Dawson was a laborer who had an eighth-grade education. He moved from Shreveport, Louisiana, to Detroit, Michigan, in 1939 to join his uncles at Ford. Starting as a press operator making $1.25 an hour, hard work and good job performance earned him salary increases over the years. By the time he retired in 2001, he was making $25.30 an hour plus overtime. Since he worked 12-hour days, he earned approximately $100,000 a year. But he always saved a portion of it--starting with $25 a week from his early paychecks to more than 75% just before retirement.

Dawson credited his mother for instilling in him the importance of saving. "I saved something out of every paycheck I got, no matter how small it was," said Dawson in an interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE in March 2000 (see, "Saving Your Way to Wealth," March 2000). "No matter how much you make or how little you make, you've got to save a percentage."

His commitment to saving emphasizes that, with the proper discipline, anyone can save a significant sum of money for retirement or philanthropy. It has been reported that Dawson donated $632,000 to Wayne State University, $300,000 to Louisiana State University, $240,000 to the United Negro College Fund, and $150,000 to the NAACP. To honor him, Wayne State established an endowed scholarship in his name that provides full four-year tuition to deserving students of any race, gender, or religion.

Dawson's commitment to saving is right in line with DOFE principle No. 1: to save and invest 10% to 15% of my after-tax income. And his dedication to giving to educational organizations and charities exemplifies the virtues of DOFE principle No. 10: to ensure that my wealth is passed on to future generations.

Philanthropic giving is an important part of building wealth in your community. The kind of giving Dawson engaged in requires a special kind of commitment. Those who want to follow in his footsteps can take these tips, courtesy of the Council on Foundations (


Just as you have to plan to save, you must also plan to give. Designate a specific amount of money that you plan to give to charities and stay within that amount. You may receive several requests from charities during the year, especially during the holiday season, so it's important to keep track of how much you're giving and to whom you're giving it.


Find out all you can about a charity before you give. You need to determine if the organization requesting money is the best facilitator of the cause you want to support. To find out how they've used donations in the past, cheek their Website and request their most recent financial statement. If you don't know which organizations support the causes you're interested in, check the National Data-base of Nonprofit Organizations at for more information.


You may find that different methods of giving work better under certain circumstances. You don't always have to give cash; you can also give stock or other assets. In order to make a decision, you'll need to factor in your current financial status, your long-term commitment to giving, and your desire to support certain organizations. Creating a private foundation may also help you pass on wealth to future generations. But unless you plan to start one with several millions of dollars, you won't get the maximum benefit and you will be responsible for a substantial amount of administrative work and expense.


Since most charitable gifts are tax deductible, you are eligible for an immediate tax deduction. Tax laws change every year, so make sure you know all the rules. For guidance on what is deductible and what isn't, start with IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions (you can download it at

Be sure to consider donating appreciated assets, such as stock and real estate, for tax savings. This allows you to receive the full market value of the asset as a tax deduction, avoid capital gains taxes, and remove highly valuable assets from your taxable estate.

It's amazing what a little saving can do.

Declaration Of Financial Empowerment

From this day forward, I declare my vigilant and lifelong commitment to financial empowerment. I pledge the following:

1 To save and invest 10% to 15% of my after-tax income

2 To be a proactive and informed investor

3 To be a disciplined and knowledgeable consumer

4 To measure my personal wealth by net worth, not income

5 To engage in sound budget, credit and tax management practices

6 To teach business and financial principles to my children

7 To use a portion of my personal wealth to strengthen my community

8 To support the creation and growth of profitable, competitive black-owned enterprises

9 To maximize my earning power through a commitment to career development, technological literacy and professional excellence

10 To ensure that my wealth is passed on to future generations.
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Article Details
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Author:Brown, Carolyn M.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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