Just in time for Christmas, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to give away the majority of his fortune to charity.
“People wait until late in their career to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done?” Mark Zuckerberg, cofounder, CEO and president of Facebook said in a statement. “With a generation of younger folks who have thrived on the success of their companies, there is a big opportunity for many of us to give back earlier in our lifetime and see the impact of our philanthropic efforts.”
It’s the second major gift pledge by Zuckerberg this fall. On Sept. 23 the Facebook founder said he would give $100 million to help support Newark, N.J.’s ailing schools. That gift set a record for youthful philanthropy. Zuckerberg ranked No. 35 on the Forbes 400 list of Richest Americans, with a fortune estimated at $6.9 billion.
Zuckerberg is one of 18 wealthy Americans and their families who have recently taken the Giving Pledge, Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s effort to get America’s wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving the majority of their fortune away. (This past summer 40 people or couples joined the Giving Pledge.) Other notable individuals whose names were released on Wednesday night are billionaires Carl Icahn, Ted Forstmann and Zuckerberg’s former Harvard roommate and Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, the world’s youngest billionaire. Carl Icahn is the wealthiest of the new donors; his $11 billion net worth ranks him 24th on the Forbes 400 Richest Americans list. Of the 18 new donors, 14 are members of the Forbes 400; those 14 have a combined net worth of $38 billion.
To join the effort, wealthy individuals publicly agree to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice, either during their lifetime or after their death. Based on our wealth estimates, these 58 pledges amount to a promise to eventually donate at least $139 billion. They must be willing to make a public statement and send a letter that explains their decision to pledge. So Zuckerberg and Moskovitz, whose fortunes are almost entirely tied up in Facebook, don’t actually have to pony up a dime, at least for now.
In many ways, this feel-good pledge is all about generating positive press for charitable giving, and possibly too, for the world’s wealthiest. Icahn said as much in his pledge letter:
“I made a commitment over 20 years ago that substantially all of my assets would be used to fund a charitable foundation. Until Bill, Melinda and Warren started this project, I never considered going public with my intentions. However, I certainly see the value of a project that encourages wealthy individuals to step forward and commit to use their wealth for the common good. I hope that by adding my voice with those who are supporting this project, we will all encourage others to participate.”
That sentiment was echoed by several others, who said that they’ve been generously giving. Jones Apparel founder Sidney Kimmel, who ranked 365th on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans this year with a fortune of $1.1 billion, explained that he’d already given more than half of his wealth to charitable causes, primarily cancer research.
IMG’s Ted Forstmann also said he’d been doing his own version of “the giving pledge” trying to help disadvantaged children around the world. “I’ve always believed that you don’t really talk about giving; you just do it,” he said, “However, Mayor Bloomberg convinced me that by lending my name to “The Giving Pledge” it would help encourage others to participate and would result in helping many needy causes. Forstmann ranks 252nd on the Forbes 400 with a $1.6 billion fortune.
It is interesting to note that one of the key backers of the giving pledge, Warren Buffett, only came to giving later in life, after encouragement from his good friend Bill Gates. Now he’s pushing others to publicly make a stand as well.
“I’m delighted to welcome these 17 families into the Giving Pledge community,” said Buffett, pledge cofounder and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK – news – people ), in a statement released yesterday. (Since then another billionaire, Jeff Greene, has stepped up.) “In just a few short months we’ve made good progress. The Giving Pledge has re-energized people thinking about philanthropy and doing things in philanthropy, and I look forward to many more conversations with families who are truly fortunate, and whose generosity can and will change lives.” So far 57 people have joined the pledge.
Buffett and Gates are also trying to use their influence around the world. They met with Chinese tycoons this fall, and on Monday Gates is supposedly meeting with Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin, who earlier this year pledged his fortune to charity.
This will not be the last we hear from the Giving Pledge. According to someone with ties to a billionaire who didn’t pledge this time, Gates invited them to a dinner at former Citigroup ( C – news – people ) Chairman Sandy Weill’s Manhattan apartment Monday night. (Weill is among the 40 people or couples who joined the pledge this summer.) When the person declined, Gates apparently said he hoped that person would come to an early May 2011 event that President Obama would also attend. The exact date and location are to be released in January.