Cynda Collins Arsenault, Arsenault Family Foundation

Feb 14, 2023
1 year ago
Cynda Collins Arsenault
Cynda Collins Arsenault

Colorado-based Cynda Collins Arsenault is one of hundreds who have called for higher taxes on the wealthy through the group Patriotic Millionaires. She and her husband, Marcel Arsenault, are signatories of The Giving Pledge who’ve announced they’ll be giving away 98% of their wealth, reportedly about $1.5 billion. They generated their fortune in several companies launched and run by Marcel — most significantly with Real Capital Solutions, a real estate financing firm founded in 1984. The couple have co-founded and lead two operating foundations, the Secure World Foundation and One Earth Future, and have a grant-making family foundation as well. The Arsenaults have a family office with one employee. 

When you set out to do philanthropy, how did you identify your priorities? 

Both my husband and I come out of the ’60s and the anti-war movement — the destruction of war, the senselessness of it, and how the budgets that go into it could be used for something else. So that has been our set of values for many years. As he made his money, eventually it was like, “OK, now we have enough to really do something.” And we started our foundations. Arsenault_mug

I spent a couple of years trying to understand philanthropy and how you can have an impact. Where are those points that you can make a change in the broader picture, and how do we get to a world beyond war? 

The issue of outer space — what’s needed in order to have a beneficial and productive system for governance, for a resolution of problems in space — became our primary focus. 

The secondary focus was an understanding that we live in what has been a primarily male-created world. We need to bring forward more feminine traits: the concepts of communication, diplomacy, cooperation, collaboration.  

When it came to the Giving Pledge, how did you decide that you’ll give away exactly 98% of your money? 

Our personal values are not to spend money but to live simply. I grew up an Air Force brat, and my husband comes from Canadian miners, a much poorer family. We have one house, which is fine, and we have two cars — they’re both electric, plug-in. We want to have as small a footprint as possible in this world. Since my husband’s been very successful in business, our thinking is more about what we can do with it to have a positive impact, rather than personal use. We don’t have those needs. 

Where do you get that philosophy from? 

My parents were raised in the Depression, so they were very frugal. We were raised to have a lifestyle of simplicity and saving money, not wasting money. And then, of course, the ’60s, the whole hippie movement — I was definitely a part of that and still am, hoping to have a simpler lifestyle. 

As you now spend time with wealthy people, do you find that they agree or disagree with your approach? 

It varies. Being a member of The Giving Pledge, there is a common goal that brings everyone together, this commitment to give away. I am a member of Women Moving Millions, who have more of that value of using their money for women and girls. Also the Women’s Donor Network is a network of progressive women philanthropists who have shared values and want to see a more equal and just world. 

I just recently came back from a retreat with 12 women from Women Moving Millions, and it was a wonderful networking connection of the heart — sharing our stories and being there for each other. It’s wonderful to be able to find your people, who share values and can talk about what we’re each doing — what works and what doesn’t — and learn from each other. 

How did you end up advocating for more taxes on the wealthy? 

As my husband says, making the first million dollars was really hard. The millions after that became easier and easier, because people who have money have access and advantages. Bankers come to him, and they want to loan him money, whereas someone who’s struggling and needs a loan has a very difficult time getting it. The system is set up in such a way that those who have money have an easier time making more money, and that’s increasing our divide. So we’re looking at what things can we put in place, such as a wealth tax, that help even that out a little bit. 

We need to invest in our future — the future of our country, the future of our world. That’s the role of government — in education, in our infrastructure, our health care system. All of that needs money, and the people who have more money benefit from all those systems — the transportation system, the education system for our employees and for our children. If we’re looking to the future, how we invest in that is going to benefit everybody, and we need tax dollars to do that. 

In giving away so much of your money, how much do you decide to leave to your children? 

We do not intend to pass money on to our son, which is a sore subject. But that’s our belief — that he can make his own way. We have a trust for him that provides medical payments, so as he needs medical care, he’s covered. But it’s limited to that. We want him to earn his own way to be able to have his own sense of achievement. 

We had a daughter who had cerebral palsy and multiple disabilities, and she died 12 years ago. We put money into a trust for her care — she required 24-hour care. Now that’s been passed on through a donation. 

All of our money goes to our foundations and some other donations upon our death. 

You didn’t help your son out with a down payment for a home? 

He’s renting. We do some things like, if it’s tight, to help out on groceries. And we will be generous in some ways, but he’s not in the will to inherit. 

I know many people do not feel that way. And just before we had kids, we both knew people who were second, third, and fourth generations of wealth. And they were for the most part not very happy. The money had a negative place in their lives as they developed. We didn’t want to burden our kids with that. 

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many well-adjusted, wonderful second-, third-, fourth-generation people of wealth. So I’m not saying that it’s for everyone. But it was based on earlier experiences where we formed our opinion about not wanting to create that kind of dynasty of wealth. 

Interview conducted by Steven I. Weiss