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'Time to give it up,' Buffett and Gates tell the super-rich

June 16, 2010 |  8:53 pm

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates want the richest Americans to promise to give most of it away.

In a campaign launched on Wednesday, the two billionaires are calling on the nation’s wealthiest people to formally pledge at least 50% of their money to philanthropic causes and charity during their lifetimes or at their death.

From the campaign’s website, givingpledge.org:

Each person who chooses to pledge will make this statement publicly, along with a letter explaining their decision to pledge. At an annual event, those who take the pledge will come together to share ideas and learn from each other.

The pledge is a moral commitment to give, not a legal contract.

While the Giving Pledge is specifically focused on billionaires, the idea takes its inspiration from efforts in the past and at present that encourage and recognize givers of all financial means and backgrounds.

Fortune magazine writer Carol Loomis, a long-time friend of Buffett’s, details the genesis of the campaign in a piece published on the magazine’s website Wednesday. The plan took root after a May 2009 meeting Buffett and Gates set up for a small group of the super-rich, including Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, George Soros and L.A. philanthropist Eli Broad.

On Wednesday, Broad and his wife, Edythe, were among the first to publicly accept the Giving Pledge challenge.

What might the campaign mean for charities, many of which have been hard-hit by a decline in giving since the onset of the financial crisis and recession?

Loomis writes:

The question of what philanthropy might gain from the Gates/Buffett drive rests, at its outset, on a mystery: what the wealthiest Americans are giving now. Most of them aren't telling, and outsiders can't pierce the veil.

Bill Gates regards the 50% as a "low bar" encouraging high participation. People, he thinks, may be drawn in by that proportion and then surprise themselves and find they are giving at higher levels. "This is about moving to a different realm," he thinks, and it will take time for everything to sort out.

-- Tom Petruno

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