One-point-six billion dollars. I can hardly imagine such a huge number. How many zeros are involved? I think in numerals it must be written as $1,600,000,000. Eight zeros after the one-point-six. That was the jackpot in the October U.S. mega-lottery last week.

I’ve heard that the odds of winning are something like 132 million to one. Some commentators have said the odds are greater that you’d be struck by lightning on the way to buy a lottery ticket than to actually win the lottery.

Many countries around the world use the lottery to raise funding for civil systems, such as education programs and state governments. The psychology is both simple and compelling: Anyone who buys a ticket has an equal chance of winning. That possibility encourages people to spend as little as $2.00 on a chance – just $2.00 — on the possibility of winning a fortune.

To engage briefly in the fantasy of winning, if I were to win the lottery, my first financial responsibility would be to pay the taxes I’d owe on the winnings. I’ve heard say the remaining funds on $1.6 billion would amount to about $950 million after taxes. What would I do with that amount of money?

First, I’d donate $500 million to TIRF. I know, that’s a crazy sum, but let me return to why below. Second, I’d give $100 million for scholarships in the program in which I teach. That would leave me $350 million to play with. Do I need a yacht? A villa in Tuscany? A Ferrari? No. I’d repair my backyard fence, which is falling down, and I’d pay to have the fifty-year-old drainage pipes fixed at my house. I’d pay off some debts for my family. I’d give a nice sum of money to the Audubon Society and other organizations I support.

What would TIRF be able to do with $500 million? The answer to that question would depend largely on how the members of the Board of Trustees respond to emerging needs and research developments in English language education. But if I were to engage in a bit of financial fantasy, I’d suggest the following important uses for this imaginary money:

  1. TIRF would use a large portion of that money to establish an endowment. In that kind of financial arrangement, the principle remains untouched and the interest is used for both programmatic and operational expenses. Doing so would secure the Foundation’s financial future.
  2. We would expand our efforts to influence policy makers with research findings. This kind of initiative could involve targeted publications, face-to-face interviews with legislators, participating in high-level conferences, and meeting with targeted officials.
  3. We could establish online research mentoring programs to help young researchers and novice research supervisors.
  4. We could pay the travel expenses of our Trustees to attend our Board meetings. Our present financial position necessitates that the Trustees pay for their own airfare, lodging, ground transportation, and meals to attend our meetings. I am very grateful for those individuals whose organizations support their work, but even more grateful to those Trustees who pay for their own involvement with TIRF. The benefit of this arrangement is that we can apply the majority of TIRF’s resources to programmatic actions. The downside is that it prohibits some people who would be excellent Trustees from even considering taking on this role.
  5. We would be able to fund more research in our Doctoral Dissertation Program. In recent years, we have had some terrific proposals that we just could not afford to support, so it would be very rewarding to be able to give grants to more young scholars around the world.
  6. Given that TIRF’s programmatic endeavors would be expanding, we would seek to hire more staff members, and one of the first interviews would certainly be given to TIRF’s wonderful ex-intern, Wyatt Boykin.
  7. Finally, the Trustees would certainly vote to give Ryan Damerow, our wonderful Chief Operating Officer a raise. Not a big raise, Ryan—don’t be thinking in terms of lots of zeros, please.

But all these ideas are pure fantasy, for two reasons: first, it has been announced that someone from South Carolina had the winning ticket, and second, because I’ve never bought a lottery ticket in my entire life.

The old adage goes “you can’t win if you don’t play,” but the truth is that with my luck I’m more likely to beat the (unlucky) odds and get struck by lightning than I am to be on the receiving end of a winning lottery ticket. Thus, I’ll keep my two dollars and do what I know will help TIRF– lead the Foundation with diligence in hopes that our supporters’ contributions will one day enable TIRF to realize at least some of the items on my wish list.

Best wishes,