Billionaires are giving it all back. Well, some of them.
Origen: The Anti-Billionaires – BILLIONAIRE Magazine | BLLNR.com
MacKenzie Scott’s 2019 announcement to give away her entire fortune to charitable causes; in the last three years she has donated some US$12 billion. Chuck Feeney, former billionaire co-founder of retail giant Duty Free Shoppers announced in 2020 he had finally given all his money away to charity, achieving his goal of donating US$8 billion of assets in his lifetime.
Bill Gates, the world’s fourth-richest man with assets of US$122 billion, recently reconfirmed his ambition to drop off the list of the world’s wealthiest by giving away all of his money, continuing with a further US$20 billion donation to his foundation.
There are now 234 signatories to the Giving Pledge; the movement sparked by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, a public commitment by each that the majority of their fortunes would go to philanthropy in their lifetimes or upon their death. Prior to this initiative, in the 1990s Ted Turner gave US$1 billion to the United Nations, while George Soros has parted with what represents around 64 percent of his original fortune, having donated more than US$32 billion to the Open Society Foundations, of which US$15 billion has already been distributed.
At the same time, numerous US (and some UK-based) billionaires and millionaires are actively campaigning for higher taxes. This is something that one-time world’s richest man Warren Buffett has been calling for over a decade, alongside Michael Bloomberg, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, Starbucks’ Howard Schultz and others.
A reality check is needed. Pledges get airtime, but action takes time. Counts vary, but the latest estimates point to at least 3,330 billionaires in the world. This large group of super-rich has been growing despite a period of Covid, the cost-of-living crisis and other challenges.
Bill Gates, to use the most high-profile example, committed himself to philanthropy and giving away his wealth in 2010, which stood at US$53 billion. Something he has delivered on since, donating a staggering US$57 billion to his foundation. And, yet, at the same time, his wealth has doubled and, despite his generosity, today his wealth still stands at some US$100 billion.
More recently, during MacKenzie Scott’s donation of US$12 billion in four stages over two years, her wealth driven by Amazon stock increases grew by a third, up to US$43 billion in 2022 from US$36 billion in 2020.
Forbes 400 ranking of the richest US citizens, traditionally seen as the country with the most established market for philanthropy, includes a ranking on their actual giving. Over a third, 36 percent, have given away less than one percent of their wealth. Only nine billionaires, two percent, have given more than 20 percent of their wealth, including Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett and MacKenzie Scott. This reflects a wider public cynicism of big promises, commitments, and unproven noise.
As the new profile of philanthropy has grown and, with it, the high-profile philanthropist, so there are the growing challenges that come from the access of philanthropic dollars.
For those wanting to enter the philanthropic world and put their resources to good, a couple of steps become clear. Be realistic about what you are able to do and within realistic clear timelines. Stop the promising and start the doing; speak about what you have done rather than what you are to do. Be clear about your ambitions and try to be as transparent as possible about both motivations and limitations of your actions. The world desperately needs more philanthropic dollars, but they must be spent wisely.