Bill and Melinda Gates created the “Gates Foundation” in 1994, and with Warren Buffett “The Giving Pledge” in 2010, both with the express purpose of distributing a sizeable percentage of their net worth philanthropically. Since 2010, around 200 potential benefactors have signed-up to “The Giving Pledge”, but to what exactly? Firstly there is no legal requirement to actually contribute anything, and so secondly, there is no compulsion regarding amounts or percentages of wealth – the arrangement is entirely voluntary.
“The Giving Pledge” is an idea of very rich philanthropists to, in theory, do something positive with their spare cash – well, none of them will go broke as a result of their donations, however generous. To the average person, $1 billion will always be out of reach, but most of those signing “The Pledge” are multi-billionaires, so even donating 99% of their wealth should still leave them comfortable financially, enjoying life in the manner to which they have become accustomed, but necessarily allowing them to continue their good works.
Taking one of the youngest but richest billionaires to sign-up as an example, Mark and Priscilla Zuckerberg(Chan) indicate that they will eventually contribute 99% of their wealth, but since currently this consists of around $47 billion, the vast majority in Facebook shares, this will be difficult unless the shares are cashed-in, not necessarily a good idea. The same applies to other prospective contributors; the words ‘eventually contribute’ obviously become important. The Gates‘ Foundation has current assets of around $45 billion, invested to produce maximum dividends which are then distributed to charitable causes. “The Giving Pledge” likely operates in a similar manner.
Regardless, these promises are obviously well-intentioned, and rarely for personal aggrandisement, even if the commitment still leaves the contributor well-off by any standard. So who are these people? Following is a list of the more well-known celebrities in no particular order, who have promised to commit various amounts or percentages from their wealth through various channels, but at least half of their net worth over time.
Mark and Priscilla Zuckerberg – the founder and Facebook has set-up his/their own foundation, with a promise to contribute 99% of his current $47 billion net worth over time. They joined “The Pledge” in 2015.
Richard Branson – best known as being the creator of various businesses under the Virgin brand, initially created Virgin Unite in 2004 with wife Joan, to encourage entrepreneurial endeavours particularly in poorer countries, and tackle environmental issues. He also signed “The Pledge” in 2013. Current net worth is estimated at $5 billion.
George Soros – the world-respected investor and hedge fund manager, founded in 1979 and is still the chairman of Open Society, providing scholarships to South Africans when still struggling under apartheid. He is known to have given over $11 billion to charitable causes already, and has a current net worth estimated at $25 billion.
Sara Blakely – the founder of lingerie company Spanx, has her own foundation committed to assisting female education and entrepreneurship, as well as contributing to other causes. She signed to “The Pledge” in 2013, and has a current net worth estimated at $1.2 billion.
John Arnold – with wife Laura, he created the Arnold Foundation in 2011, focusing on education, public accountability and criminal justice. He is a former hedge fund manager concentrating on oil and gas, and has a current net worth estimated at $2.6 billion.
Larry Ellison – the creator of Oracle, he has donated millions already to education and medical research. He signed to “The Pledge” in 2010, and has vowed to donate 95% of his estimated wealth of $50 billion to charitable causes.
Oprah Winfrey – the media mogul and highly respected talk show host consistently donates many millions to humanitarian causes, partly through her Foundation, and particularly for the betterment of black people, including in South Africa. Her current net worth is estimated at over $3 billion, but such is her generosity that that could change significantly.
Bill & Melinda Gates – the Microsoft founder and his wife are probably the most generous benefactors. It’s unclear whether the $45 billion assets of their Foundation are included in their estimated net worths of $79 and $70 billion respectively, but there is no doubting their intent to distribute the vast majority of their wealth among needy causes and some individuals.
Bernard Marcus – founder of the US DIY store chain Home Depot, he and wife Billi are determined that their offspring will understand what work means, and so created The Marcus Institute to distribute their wealth, currently $4 billion, to more needy causes. They also signed to “The Pledge” in 2010.
Warren Buffett – the “Oracle of Omaha’ and owner/manager of Berkshire Hathaway needs little introduction. With an estimated current net worth of $73 billion, he is one of the three richest persons in the world, regardless that he has contributed huge sums to charities, including $30 million to the Gates’ Foundation in 2006, and is one of the founder members of “The Pledge”, determined to divest himself of 99% of his wealth..
Chuck Feeney – the co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers Group (DFS), Chuck is another determined to ‘bring his kids up right’, and transferred most of his wealth to his Atlantic Philanthropies as long ago as the 1980s. He joined “The Pledge” in 2011, despite having committed most assets to his Foundation. His current personal net worth is estimated at $2 million.
George Lucas – the highly successful and popular film director/producer joined “The Pledge” in 2010, despite already having created his own Educational Foundation in 1991, particularly promoting the idea of free wireless broadband educational network in more recent years. His current net worth is estimated at $5 billion.
Michael Bloomberg – financial data and media mogul, as well as serving three terms as Mayor of New York, Bloomberg took “The Pledge” in 2010, despite having formed Bloomberg Philanthropies years earlier, and given away large chunks of his personal wealth. He is particularly interested in environmental issues such as climate change, but also public health and education overall. His current net worth is still estimated at $38 billion, the majority of which he has vowed to donate to charitable causes through the two mentioned Foundations.
Pierre Omidyar – this Iranian-born Frenchman became a billionaire at 31, from the success of the auction web site eBay. However, within six years he had established the Omidyar Foundation, in 2004, a philanthropic organisation assisting innovation particularly in developing countries. He joined “The Pledge” in 2010, and is another not to waste his wealth by dying wealthy! His current net worth is estimated at close to $9 billion.
Ted Turner – the developer of CNN, the media mogul is another to set-up his own foundation, in 1990, determined to give away his wealth to worthwhile causes. He also signed to “The Pledge’ in 2010, and his current net worth of around $2.5 billion has diminished considerably as a consequence of his on-going philanthropic generosity.