• February 1, 2015

Wealthy Americans Urged to Give Billions to Charitable Causes

Gates and Buffett

Courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Diane Bondareff

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Courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Diane Bondareff

America’s richest people should commit at least 50 percent of their net worth to charity, three of the nation’s wealthiest citizens said today.

Warren Buffett, who has committed 99 percent of his fortune to charity, along with Bill and Melinda Gates, who have given more than $28-billion to their foundation and say they plan to give a significant portion of their remaining wealth to good causes, issued the pledge.

It follows meetings they have been holding across the country to gather donors and encourage them not only to give that much but also to announce their giving plans publicly as way of inspiring other wealthy people to give substantial sums.

In announcing his reasons for giving away most of his wealth, Mr. Buffett acknowledged that for him giving so much away still leaves him far better off than most Americans.

“Millions of people who regularly contribute to churches, schools, and other organizations thereby relinquish the use of funds that would otherwise benefit their own families,” he said. “The dollars the people drop into a collection plate or give to United Way mean forgone movies, dinners out, or other personal pleasures. In contrast, my family and I will give up nothing we need or want by fulfilling this 99 percent pledge.”

Patty Stonesifer, who stepped down two years ago as president of the Gates fund and now is an adviser who encourages greater giving, said the Gateses and Mr. Buffett believe that wealthy people need a standard to strive toward and that a 50-percent minimum seems reasonable for people with a high net worth.

She said the philanthropists would gather in the fall to discuss their commitments and exchange ideas about how to make their giving more effective. Such meetings would probably be held at least once a year, she added.

A Public Commitment

The move grew out of the first such meeting a year ago, when Mr. Buffett and the Gateses asked David Rockefeller Sr. to host a gathering of some of the country’s wealthiest and most prominent philanthropists. A spokesman for Mr. Rockefeller confirmed today that he recently spoke with Mr. Buffett, agreeing to sign the pledge.

News about the pledge effort was first released by Fortune magazine, which estimated that some $600-billion would flow to charity if the 400 people on the Forbes list of wealthy Americans all committed that amount. That is more than twice as much as individuals now give to nonprofit causes in a year, according to Giving USA, the annual tally of donations.

A Web site, http://www.givingpledge.org, has been set up to provide more information about the effort to encourage greater giving.

As part of the announcement today, Ms. Stonesifer said that four families had come forward to pledge at least 50 percent of their wealth to charity. Eli and Edythe Broad, the Los Angeles philanthropists whose wealth comes from the home-building and insurance industries, said they would give 75 percent of their wealthy away.

Others who have committed to the 50-percent pledge are L. John Doerr, a Silicon Valley philanthropist, and his wife, Ann; the media entrepreneur H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest and his wife, Marguerite; and John Morgridge, former chairman of Cisco, and his wife, Tashia.

Mr. Buffett and the Gateses are now reaching out to other wealthy people to persuade them to talk publicly about their giving and make the 50-percent pledge, she said.

Ms. Stonesifer said she was encouraged that getting more people to commit at least 50 percent of their wealth was achievable based on responses to efforts by Bolder Giving, an organization of affluent people who have made such commitments, and to the book The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, by Peter Singer.

‘Wise Caution’

In conversations with philanthropists, she acknowledged there was some “wise caution” about whether nonprofit groups are in a position to absorb the billions of dollars that would soon flow their way if the effort to encourage greater giving was successful. She said that in the annual gatherings, philanthropists would talk about the best ideas for aiding nonprofit groups as they seek to achieve stronger results.

She also said that while the philanthropists behind the 50-percent effort were concentrating on encouraging wealthy people to focus on philanthropy, they hoped that their example would inspire every family to think about what they can give—time, money, services, or other things.

The effort is now focused on Americans, but Bill and Melinda Gates have also spoken to wealthy people in China, England, and India about ways to encourage greater giving, said Ms. Stonesifer.

Lure of the Forbes 400

Today’s announcement of a major push to inspire greater giving—and to do so by encouraging wealthy people to commit publicly to large sums—is reminiscent of the effort Ted Turner kicked off in 1997, when he announced that he was pledging $1-billion to programs run by the United Nations.

At that time, he said he hoped the equivalent of a Forbes 400 list to showcase giving by the wealthiest Americans would help inspire people to give, because they would be honored not for accumulating wealth but for donating it.

That suggestion led to rankings like the Philanthropy 50, The Chronicle’s annual list of the donors who give the most, and The Chronicle’s compilation for Slate magazine of the Slate 60.

“I wanted to have a shot at being the richest man in the world, and I knew when I gave that money away I was taking myself out of the running to be the richest. I knew that Forbes 400 list made me think twice about giving that money away,” said Mr. Turner at a gathering of wealthy donors at Bill Clinton’s presidential library, held on the 10th anniversary of the Slate 60.

If the Chronicle’s list is any indication, some donors are willing to announce big commitments publicly, but only a handful actually do. For example, last year, only 17 of the people on the Forbes 400 gave enough to be included on this list, although it is likely some others gave large amounts anonymously.

Philanthropy experts, meanwhile, say Mr. and Ms. Gates and Mr. Buffett stand a better chance at persuading others to give than those who have gone before them.

“Warren Buffett is one of the most admired investors ever, and Mr. Gates is one of the most admired entrepreneurs ever,” said Ellen Remmer, president of the Philanthropic Initiative, a group that advises wealthy donors. “People will want to be in the same room as them.”

Another reason the effort may succeed: The Gateses and Mr. Buffett have been very careful to avoid even a hint that anybody is being pressured or goaded into giving, says Melissa Berman, president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, who has served as a consultant to what the trio of philanthropists call the "giving pledge." 

In fact, she says, "this initiative is really more about sharing stories than about telling people what to do." She added: “I hope it’s not perceived as pressure."

Leaders of charities that rely on the largess of people like the Gateses called the effort refreshing and said they hoped it made a difference.

Peter Hero, vice president for development and alumni relations at California Institute of Technology, which receives grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said his second reaction to the announcement was simply: “That’s great, good for them and good for Warren Buffett.”

His first reaction? “Why only half?” he quipped.


1. bill__huddleston - June 16, 2010 at 07:14 pm

The attitude of the Gates and Warren Buffet stand in stark contrast to some other wealthy individuals, this post is from mediamatters.org:

Limbaugh attacks school lunches, suggests hungry children should "dumpster dive"

From the June 16 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

Embed this video:
LIMBAUGH: Then, a companion story from AOL News: "Record Number of US Kids Facing Summer of Hunger." "With the sc-rewl year ending in communities across America, more than 16 million children face a summer of hunger." Now, Michelle Obama told us they're all so fat and out of shape and overweight that a summer off from government eating might be just the ticket.

Could it be possible -- "while classes were in session, they relied on free or discount"--

This, of course, takes into no account that the parents, I guess, just can sit around and let their kids starve. Why if the kids don't do it, they're gonna starve -- if the schools don't do it, the kids are going to starve.

"The children caught in the gap will likely spend the next few months cadging leftovers from their neighbors, chowing down on cheap junk, lining up with their families at food banks that are already overmatched or simply learning to live with a constant headache, growling stomach and chronic fatigue. When school rolls around again in the fall, they will be less healthy and less ready to learn than their peers."

God, this is just -- we can't escape these people. We just can't escape them. They live in the utter deniability of basic human nature. They actually have it in their heads somehow that parents are so rotten that they will let their kids go hungry and starve, unless the schools take care of it


You know, one of the benefits of school being out, in addition to your kids losing weight because they're starving to death out there because there's no school meal being provided, one of the benefits of school being out, college campi being vacant this time of year, is that our audience levels go up. I think, you know what we're going to do here, we're going to start a feature on this program: "Where to find food." For young demographics, where to find food. Now that school is out, where to find food. We can have a daily feature on this. And this will take us all the way through the summer. Where to find food. And, of course, the first will be: "Try your house." It's a thing called the refrigerator. You probably already know about it. Try looking there. There are also things in what's called the kitchen of your house called cupboards. And in those cupboards, most likely you're going to find Ding-Dongs, Twinkies, Lays ridgy potato chips, all kinds of dips and maybe a can of corn that you don't want, but it will be there. If that doesn't work, try a Happy Meal at McDonald's. You know where McDonald's is. There's the Dollar Menu at McDonald's and if they don't have Chicken McNuggets, dial 911 and ask for Obama.

There's another place if none of these options work to find food; there's always the neighborhood dumpster. Now, you might find competition with homeless people there, but there are videos that have been produced to show you how to healthfully dine and how to dumpster dive and survive until school kicks back up in August. Can you imagine the benefit we would provide people?

2. ppcllc - June 16, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Mr. Huddleston,

Those who dislike Rush Limbaugh's politics are prone to misunderstand his unconventional brand of humorous commentary, and wrongly attribute mean-spiritedness to him, when he is, in fact, an unusually generous, kind and principled individual.

I say this from personal experience as former Development V.P. with a leading national charity, for whom Limbaugh regularly raised/raises huge sums from others, and to which he personally makes six and seven-figure gifts, with no publicity at all.

His outspokenness on matters of personal responsibility and wrongheaded, inefficient, paternalistic government programs invariably alienate those who don't share his views, and who swallow liberal and "progressive" talking points along with their Kool-Aid.

3. touchingsoulsintl - July 03, 2010 at 11:33 am

Warren Buffet along with Bill and Melinda Gates are the greatest inspiration for all for their charitable contribution, nationally and globally. The meetings they have been holding across the country to gather donors and encourage them not only to give that much but also to announce their giving plans publicly as way of inspiring other wealthy people to give substantial sums is an awesome idea. Hope many of us could think the way Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates thinking. In fact how much we need for ourself? And think about it with all the wealths on hand if I die today, what's the future of that wealth if it was not useful for any good causes.

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