Charity Begins at Billion-Dollar Home

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Classic movies (and Montgomery Burns) have conditioned us to accept the stereotype that rich people are immoral, corrupt and selfish. Now a select group of billionaires is turning that image on its head, pledging at least 50 percent of their net worth to charity.

Giving makes us feel good.

You may have heard about this historical fund-raising drive by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to raise $600 billion. But the truly inspiring part of their plan is they are challenging other members of the super-rich to join them – publicly.

That’s right, a list of those who have taken the Giving Pledge has already been released. It includes Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. All were among a group of people who met secretly in 2009 to discuss the challenge.

Giving makes us feel good, but it also is good for image. Since the Giving Pledge’s recent unveiling, several other families have stepped up to join, including real estate and construction billionaire Eli Broad, venture capitalist John Doerr and former Cisco Systems Chairman John Morgridge.

Their financial vows were announced publicly.

Likewise, it can be expected that those who decline from making this pledge will be called out. According to Fortune magazine, Gates and Buffett are starting with of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans, asking them to pledge at least half of their income to charity either in their lifetime or at their death.

Is it bad PR to not give away half of one’s fortune? In the arena of public perception, that will depend in part on how many of those 400 on the list agree to make the pledge. It also depends on the existing image of the wealthy holdout. But in either case, any members of the well-to-do who decline better have their key messages sharp, consistent and respectful. And that includes you hedge fund managers.

As for Mr. Burns? Well, he may not be on the Forbes 400, but I do hope Buffett and Gates pay him a visit.

Lisa Biank Fasig
Lisa leads the creation of editorials and feature stories for COLLOQUY and oversees the work of contributing editors and writers. With 18 years of reporting experience, most in business and specifically consumer behavior, she is highly skilled at researching data and teasing out the trends. A background in graphic design enables her to see ideas in three dimensions and tell the story visually.

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