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The Foundation of Giving: New Movements by the Wealthy to Give Back

Front of the Gates Foundation building
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Giving Pledge is one way billionaires are giving back.
Image: lembi /

Whether it’s inherent in the structure of a business or a personal choice made by the wealthy individual, more and more billionaires are choosing to give away massive portions of their wealth to charity. Sometimes the donations happen during the person’s lifetime; other times it’s a promise through a program like the Giving Pledge to donate a significant percentage of their money to charity upon their death.

On the business side, groups like global financial powerhouse General Atlantic are often founded on the idea of giving back to the community. Established in 1980, General Atlantic has more than 100 investments around the world. But it’s not just about the money—the company founder, Chuck Feeney, was determined to make philanthropy a vital part of the business.

According to Bill Ford, General Atlantic Chief Executive Officer, Feeny “was one of the early proponents of ‘giving while living’ and aimed to give his entire fortune away during his lifetime to support a number of philanthropic causes he was passionate about. In order to grow his capital available for giving, he partnered with us to invest in other promising entrepreneurs. So General Atlantic’s heritage has always been about backing entrepreneurs and innovators who are trying to build new businesses and who often pioneer new industries.”

In more modern times, many billionaires are not only integrating philanthropy into their businesses, but also turning to Bill Gates’s and Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge. The pledge is not a legally binding commitment, but rather, a promise by the world’s wealthy to donate more than half of their fortunes to charitable causes either during or after their lifetime. The Giving Pledge is meant to help the wealthy inspire others by providing well-known examples of people who have gone above and beyond to give back to their communities.

Each Pledge member publicly announces his or her intent to give, as well as creating an official statement about their philanthropic plans. In addition, they gather throughout the year—and at one big annual event—to discuss issues of philanthropy.

As of 2015, this group included 193 individuals from around the world, with more constantly joining

“It’s really thinking about how iconic figures providing inspiration and support can inspire and serve as a model for society,” said Robert Rosen, Giving Pledge coordinator and Director of Philanthropic Partnerships for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “We aren’t looking to add any additional complexity.”

Will these billionaires actually give the amounts they’ve promised? So far, many have. And hopefully they will inspire an entirely new generation of philanthropic do-gooders to do great things for their communities.



Philanthropic People: Warren Buffett

Warren BuffettWarren Buffett is undeniably one of the most generous, most widely known philanthropists in the world. From processing each and every written donation request the old fashioned way, to inspiring other billionaires to give the majority of their wealth to charity, Buffett has worked hard throughout his lifetime to help shape the world for the better. We have written about his philanthropic endeavors many times on Philanthropic People, but perhaps the reason we have never explicitly shared his philanthropic influences is because they are admittedly difficult to fit in one profile. Instead of detailing each way he has proven himself to be a leader of philanthropy, we’ve chosen three of his most impressive contributions:

The Giving Pledge. In 2009, Warren Buffett partnered with Bill and Melinda Gates to create The Giving Pledge, a campaign to encourage the world’s wealthiest people to give most of their wealth to philanthropic causes. “The Giving Pledge is a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy,” the campaign explains. There are already nearly 130 signatories since the campaign’s foundation, which equates to billions and billions of dollars that will go towards philanthropic initiatives for generations to come.

Buffett’s History-Making Donation. In June of 2006, Buffett made history when he publicly pledged that the majority of his fortune would be donated to charity, rather than his family. With a promised 83% of his multi-billion dollar fortune going to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Buffett’s $30.7 billion gift became the largest charitable foundation in history. His significant charitable donations have helped to advance everything from the arts, to medicine, education, and humanitarian initiatives.

Leading by Example. “I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but no so much that they would feel like doing nothing,” Buffett has said. The renowned philanthropist is known for his devotion to good causes, his detachment from material possessions, and his promise to donate most of his fortune to charity. Rather than fund a lavish lifestyle for his family, he understands his immense social privilege and wants them to want for nothing, but to also be humble, philanthropic members of society. His collaboration with other philanthropists has yielded tremendously influential results, and his legacy of generosity will undoubtedly live on for many, many years to come.

Profiles Resources

Sara Blakely Takes the Giving Pledge

sarah Blakely
IMG: David Shankbone via Flickr

Founder of Spanx and self-made billionaire Sara Blakely officially joined the ranks of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and her mentor Richard Branson earlier this month when she signed the Giving Pledge.  The pledge is a call to action from Gates and Buffet to encourage billionaires to give at least half their wealth to charity. Bill Gates has personally agreed to coach her through her philanthropic efforts. Blakely still considers herself in early stages of her business, maintaining sole ownership with many of her wealth assets not yet monetizes.

While the announcement came in early May this year, Sara Blakely has always had her sights set on empowering women and giving to charity. Spanx has set aside profits every year specifically for philanthropy.  The company has a program called Leg-Up, which features products made by female entrepreneurs at no cost to them and has donated $1 million to Oprah Winfrey’s school for girls in South Africa.

Blakely’s letter on The Giving Pledge website says that she is looking forward to learning and collaboration opportunities from the other billionaires who have taken the pledge and have a longer history of giving. She is looking forward to the world’s great untapped resource: women.  She says she recognizes the immense privilege she has being born in the United States, and wants to help the millions of women who are not able to have the opportunities that she has.

Read Sara Blakely’s entire profile here.


Prominent People in Philanthropy: Bill Gates

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard University and went on to found one of the world’s largest computer software companies, Microsoft. Since then, he has donated billions to charity, ranking number one on the Forbes Top 400 List for philanthropists in 2012. Most recently, Gates, along with his friend Warren Buffet, formed The Giving Pledge, which encourages the very wealthy to promise to give away at least half their wealth either during life or after death. Bill Gates is one of the most philanthropic and interesting entrepreneurs of all time.

To read more about Bill Gates, click here!