America’s ultra-rich are queuing to join in a grand gesture of generosity. Forty US billionaires have signed up to pledge at least half of their fortunes to charity under a philanthropic campaign kicked off by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. The two estimate that their efforts could generate $600 billion in charitable giving.
In an unprecedented mass commitment, top figures including New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg, the hotel heir Barron Hilton, CNN media mogul Ted Turner, and the Star Wars director George Lucas have lent their names to the “giving pledge”, an initiative founded six weeks ago to encourage the US’s richest families to commit money to society’s most pressing problems.
The pledge is not a legally binding contract but is described as a moral commitment. Inspired by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which pumps billions into fighting disease in developing countries, it does not prescribe any particular charitable causes but is a statement of principle.
Buffett, the 79-year-old Nebraska stockpicker nicknamed the Sage of Omaha, who has a $47 billion fortune, said the aim was to generate peer pressure encouraging billionaires to take an aggressive approach to philanthropy. “We’re hoping America, which is already the most generous society on earth, becomes more generous over time,” he said.
To imbue team spirit, Buffett plans regular get-togethers for his fellow billionaires, kicking off with a series of dinners for 15 to 20 people at locations around the US this autumn.
Experts were asking how much being pledged was new money, as opposed to wealth already committed to charitable foundations. “I think it’s remarkable that so many people have agreed to go public with their commitments,” said Stacy Palmer, the editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. “But I’ll be more convinced that this is truly transforming philanthropy when I see names on the list who aren’t the usual suspects.”
Buffett and Gates have been banging the drum for the initiative by contacting billionaires asking them to lend their names.
So far, roughly half of the 70 to 80 individuals approached have agreed to pledge money.