While helping a relief organization bring food and medical supplies to a Vietnamese village in 2000, retired construction magnate Kenneth Behring (below) delivered a wheelchair to a 6-year-old polio victim. The girl's reaction changed his life. "She got a big smile on her face. She couldn't believe it," says Behring. "It's a sensation I've never experienced with anything else." Inspired, Behring, who used to donate time and money to other charities, created the Wheelchair Foundation, which today delivers 10,000 wheelchairs a month worldwide. "I can actually lift a person into the wheelchair," he says.
Behring is part of a new wave of "engaged philanthropists" who choose hands-on involvement over writing checks. Roxanne Quimby, cofounder of Burt's Bees personal-care products, last year endowed a new foundation to purchase and conserve Maine wilderness (40,000 acres so far), a move she made after money she gave to a charity sat unused for two years. "It was way too bureaucratic, so I made up my mind to do it myself," says Quimby.
While some experts say charitable dollars are better spent through established organizations, others believe that donors who see the impact of their money ultimately give more. For benefactors like Behring and Quimby, the personal touch makes all the difference.