#4: The Billionaires Who Pledged Their Fortunes
“They say nonprofits are wasteful. But the for-profit world is a mess.”—Bill Gates
In 2009, über-billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates hosted a series of lavish dinners attended by some of the world’s wealthiest individuals. The mood was far from celebratory. There was serious business to discuss. Buffett and Gates had an idea, and they had decided to call on their peers for support—and a lifetime commitment.
No, this wasn’t a meeting of industrial giants mapping out their plan for a New World Order. This was the Giving Pledge, a commitment to generosity. Each person in the room was asked to donate at least 50 percent of their wealth to philanthropic causes.
Living in a country that prides itself on equal opportunity, Buffett found the widening gap between the rich and the poor deeply troubling, and he was eager to develop a plan to combat it.
While Buffett had already pledged to donate 99 percent of his own wealth, he knew he would need to involve other powerful people to have a significant impact.
It wasn’t his goal merely to give—he intended to change the way people perceive and utilize wealth. At the dinners, he appealed to his peers’ belief in the American Dream, explaining that old money, the “lucky sperm club,” is the enemy of meritocracy. He hoped the words of John F. Kennedy—“of those to whom much is given, much is required”—would evolve from rhetoric into common practice.
Over the past year, Buffett and Gates campaigned heavily to promote the Giving Pledge, and their efforts have paid off. To date, 58 billionaires have signed on, bringing the total projected donations to $126 billion. Pledges have come from high-profile celebrities—Ted Turner, George Lucas, Mark Zuckerberg—as well as lesser-known billionaires such as Patrick Soon-Shiong, the founder and CEO of Abraxis BioScience, and John Morgridge, the chairman of the board at Cisco.
The Giving Pledge is being honored not just for the money raised, but for its potential to breathe new life into the world of philanthropy. Like the domino effect, the actions of a few high-profile celebrities can influence many. Or, in the words of Huffington Post’s Trevor Neilson, “Peer pressure matters. High-net-worth individuals care what their friends think, and emulate their friends.”
As billionaires go public with their generosity, “more people will want to get involved. People buy art because it is cool. We can do the same thing for philanthropy.”
With a goal of $600 billion pledged—the not unattainable figure would be the largest philanthropic effort in history—the hope is that this is just the start. As more and more sign onto the Giving Pledge, this level of generosity could simply be expected of those blessed with good fortune.
We’ll honor the first 58 for blazing the trail.
The Top 10 Good Men of 2010
10) Josh Hamilton
7) Mick Foley
5) Barack Obama
3) Dan Savage