Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, two of the richest men in the world, teamed in 2010 to create an initiative called the Giving Pledge. According to their Web site (givingpledge.org), their mission is “to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.” Signing the pledge carries a nonbinding promise to give away at least half of one’s fortune while alive, or in a will. It doesn’t impose any contractual requirements on how the money is distributed, or any penalties for failing to give it away.
In the two years since it was launched, the pledge has recruited 92 billionaires, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, business magnate Ronald O. Perelman, and filmmaker George Lucas.
Last week, Buffet got 11 more billionaires to agree to give away half their wealth to charitable causes, including several Jewish philanthropists: businessman Charles Bronfman, former co-chairman of the Seagram Company Ltd.; Dan Gilbert, chairman and founder of Quicken Loans Inc. and his wife Jennifer; and Peter Lewis, the Cleveland, Ohio-area based chairman of Progressive Insurance Companies. “Philanthropy is in the DNA of my family,” Bronfman, who chairs the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and co-chairs Birthright Israel, said in a statement to the press. “Doing what we can to repair the world was instilled in me from an early age. I will never forget my siblings and me knitting squares for blankets to be sent to the troops during World War II. This was an inspiration from my mother. It’s no surprise, then, that each of us has tried to contribute to society in our own way.”
Other new recruits include Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quillin, along with Intel Chairman Emeritus Gordon Moore and his wife Betty, according to MarketWatch reports.
“The goal is to raise the visibility of philanthropy and the great things it can do,” Gates said. The pledge is causing billionaires to start giving while younger and in a smarter way, he said, through private gatherings where members swap experiences and frustrations, and debate strategies for how to give it away. “I know that people are collaborating together quite a bit more than they would have otherwise,” said Gates.
The Giving Pledge’s Web site lists all participating donors and has a letter from each of them explaining either what they want to do with their money or their thoughts on philanthropy. Bloomberg, for instance, is using his foundation to find ways to prevent early deaths caused by tobacco use and traffic accidents. Financier T. Boone Pickens states, “I enjoy making money, and I enjoy giving it away. I like making money more, but giving it away is a close second. To date, I’ve given away nearly $800 million to a wide-range of charitable organizations, and I look forward to the day I hit the $1 billion mark. I’m not a big fan of inherited wealth. It generally does more harm than good.”
Before establishing the Giving Pledge, Buffett had donated much of his wealth to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He partnered with Gates to host a series of private dinners for some of the world’s richest people. In June 2010 the campaign for the Giving Pledge was formally announced, and Gates and Buffett gave notice that eligible pledgees were being contacted to join.
Buffett said that he would meet wealthy individuals in India and China to talk about philanthropy in the hope that the idea of generosity will spread. He stated, “We’re hoping that America, which is the most generous society on Earth, becomes even more generous over time.”
In 2011, total estimated charitable giving in the U.S. increased 4% over 2010 to $298 billion, according to the Giving USA Foundation. Giving by foundations increased 1.8%.