Philanthropy Lesson #003: “Take The Lead”

When Bill Gates and Warren Buffett went public with their Giving Pledge a few months ago, they challenged America’s wealthiest people in the plain sight of the world to give away half of their fortunes to good causes.  But that was not all that they did: they also reminded us of the power of inspiration, and of emulation.  Within weeks, dozens of donors had signed up to the Giving Pledge, either establishing or reaffirming their commitment to philanthropy.  Many of them spoke in support of the initiative, and in several cases it was the first time that they had been so open about their giving.

Commentators in the media have questioned why Gates and Buffett made the decision to be so forthright with their plans; some accused them of immodesty, of ostentation.  The two men, accustomed to life in the glare of the media, will have taken that as a necessary part of making a principled stand.  They will also have remained true to a wider and compelling objective: of showing successful executives that they have a crucial role to play in addressing some of the world’s greatest problems. 

Four years ago, Buffett changed the face of large-scale giving overnight, when – then the world’s wealthiest man – he pledged the bulk of his wealth to the foundation of Gates and his wife Melinda.  Now, he and Gates are looking to do so again, with a yet more profound agenda.  They are looking to build a community of givers, a peer group whose members understand and act upon their sense of responsibility to the world around them.

At the Institute, this ethos of network-building is something that we keenly share.  We have found that the donors who give most generously and effectively are those who have a group of people with whom they can regularly meet to share their knowledge and experiences of the field.  Giving can be a daunting process, as donors begin to grapple with social issues of often overwhelming scale; we tip our hats, then to Gates and Buffett for stepping forward as they have, and showing us all that there truly can be strength in numbers.

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