Billionaire Philanthropy & The Giving Pledge

by Guest Blogger on 2011-07-134

In the past, we published a story on how the rich seem to give less, relative to average income folks. There are also those people who’ve lived fairly modest lives, but were only discovered to be very wealthy, after their death. We only hear later on about how some of these “average people” ended up bequeathing quite a fortune to their personal causes. Today, we’ll take a deeper look at the philanthropic missions of some of the wealthiest among us.


We’ve all heard of Leona Helmsley — the hotelier who left $12 million to her dog, Trouble, but not all billionaires are quite that absurd with their giving. In August 2010, Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates announced that they were leading the charge in philanthropic giving. The three started The Giving Pledge — an effort to get the wealthiest families and individuals in America to commit the majority of their wealth to charitable or philanthropic causes. While nearly seventy billionaires have signed the pledge to date (including The Zuck, Ted Turner and Mayor Bloomberg), their inspiration comes from generations past, some of whom are still around and have signed the pledge.

Here are a few facts about The Giving Pledge, which requests the wealthy to pledge half their net worth to charitable missions and causes: the total number of billionaires in the world is now over 900, with 400 of these people (or 43%) living in the U.S. and the rest (57%) residing in other nations. Their total wealth combined is 1.2 trillion dollars. Currently, almost 70 billionaires have signed on to the Pledge. But if all these billionaires decided to join in this movement, we could expect The Giving Pledge fund to balloon to at least $600 billion. Imagine all of this going to charity — this would literally change the world!

So who are some of the wealthy givers around?

A List of Wealthy Givers

#1 Millard Fuller of Habitat For Humanity

Millard Fuller became a successful businessman before his 30th birthday. It was at this same time that he began to see his life change for the worse. To counteract personal instability, Fuller and his wife, Linda, sold all of their possessions and launched a program to build simple houses in rural neighborhoods where people were generally too poor for conventional home loans. So what happened to their efforts? Well, this little program turned into Habitat for Humanity. By the time the organization turned 25, over half a million people were living in Habitat homes. By the time of Fuller’s death in 2009, Habitat for Humanity had built homes in over 100 countries.

#2 Chuck Feeney of Duty Free Shoppers

Charles “Chuck” Feeney initially expressed hesitation for signing the Giving Pledge as he has “already transferred virtually all of his personal and family assets to The Atlantic Foundation.” Feeney made his fortune as one of the co-founders of the Duty Free Shoppers Group — yes, it was Feeney and his partner that came up with the idea of offering high-end items such as cologne and scarves to travelers without having to pay import taxes. Feeney became a billionaire relatively quickly — one that wouldn’t let money change his lifestyle. In 1982, Feeney founded The Atlantic Philanthropies, which issues grants to health and social projects throughout the world. By the end of last year, they had created grants in excess of $5.4 billion. Feeney’s goal? To give the rest of his money away by 2017.

#3 Lyda Hill (H.L. Hunt)

Lyda Hill is another of the lesser-known folks to have signed the Giving Pledge. Lyda’s grandfather was the oil magnate H.L. Hunt. Between her inheritance and her own investing savvy, Lyda was able to grow her fortune. Later on, she decided to give some of it away. Early in 2011, she committed $20 million to her high school in Dallas, Hockaday. Her donation will be used to develop projects in the science, technology, engineering and math areas. Like Feeney, Hill hopes to donate her fortune within her lifetime.

The Giving Back 30

Not all philanthropists have signed the Giving Pledge. A separate movement, The Giving Back 30, was created to honor charitable celebrities, as well as to increase transparency in giving. So who’s on their list? Oprah Winfrey has given $40 million to her Foundation in Chicago to support education for women and children. Meryl Streep and her husband, Donald Gummer, donated more than $1.8 million to arts, health and educational organizations throughout the US. R & B star Usher gave $1 million to the Clinton Global Initiative, which focuses on youth service.

And while not all of us can build schools or houses, we can take inspiration from those leading the charge, and maybe think about our own giving. We can pledge money towards worthy causes, and we can pledge our time. Without volunteers, many of the organizations supported by the wealthiest philanthropists wouldn’t exist.

This guest post, from the team from Adaptu, is about the charitable projects of the wealthy. But even if you aren’t a billionaire (or even a millionaire), there are ways you can give towards a worthy cause.

Created February 24, 2007. Updated July 13, 2011. Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

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