6 Super-Rich Business Magnates Who Gave It All Away Like Zuckerberg
Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg invented one of the main ways more than one billion people communicate, share pictures and plan events, but he didn’t invent giving all his riches away. He is only the latest in a line of uber-rich Americans to pledge their fortunes to philanthropy.
Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced on Tuesday plans to give away 99% of their Facebook shares, currently valued at about $45 billion, during their lifetimes. The news came by way of a Facebook post and letter addressed to the pair’s new-born daughter, Max.
“We know this is a small contribution compared to all the resources and talents of those already working on these issues,” the couple wrote. “But we want to do what we can, working alongside many others.”
In an SEC filing, Zuckerberg detailed his plans, which include the sale or gift of no more than $1 billion of Facebook stock each year for the next three years. The filing and Facebook post also clarify he intends to retain his majority voting position and remain at the helm of the social network for many years to come.
Maria Di Mento, who follows the nonprofit sector at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, said that announcements like Zuckerberg’s from wealthy individuals has become more of a trend over the past decade.
“Some say they do it because that much wealth can be a burden and it is easier to give to charity…some do it because they don’t want to leave huge sums to their children for fear their offspring will be ruined by so much inherited wealth, some do it simply because they feel they have a duty to give back and that their wealth can do more good if it goes to charity than anywhere else,” she said.
Here are six other super-wealthy people who preceded Zuckerberg in giving nearly all of their money away:
1. Warren Buffet
Zuckerberg made his philanthropic announcement at age 31. Warren Buffett beat him to the punch on announcing plans to give his money away, though he waited until much later in life — 75, to be exact — to make his decision.
In 2006, Buffett said in an interview with Fortune that he would begin giving away 85% of his Berkshire Hathaway stock to five foundations. The bulk was to be destined to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with the rest going to the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation (named for his late wife) and three organizations run by his children — the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Susan A. Buffett Foundation and the NoVo Foundation.
Buffett, America’s second-richest man, has since upped the ante in his giving. He has said he will donate 99% of his wealth and gave away $2.8 billion in 2015 alone.
2. Bill Gates
Microsoft founder Bill Gates joined forces with Buffett in 2010 to put together the Giving Pledge, a campaign to encourage the wealthiest people in the world to commit to give at least 50% of their wealth to philanthropy.
Since then, more than 135 individuals have signed the pledge, including hedge funder Bill Ackman, Oracle founder Larry Ellison and activist investor Carl Icahn. Zuckerberg and Chan signed in November.
In his own pledge letter, co-signed by his wife, Melinda, Gates explains his decision to dedicate the “vast majority” of his assets to his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help stop preventable deaths and “tear down other barriers to health and education that prevent people from making the very most of their lives.”
3. Andrew Carnegie
After building a multi-million-dollar steel company that would be worth billions of dollars today, Andrew Carnegie dedicated the last decades of his life to giving. And during his lifetime, he managed to give over $350 million — an enormous amount of money at the turn of the century that would be worth between $4 billion and $5 billion today (and represented a much larger proportion of wealth in the U.S. then than even the huge sum of $5 billion does today).
Carnegie spent more than $56 million to build upwards of 2,500 libraries in the English-speaking world and funded numerous namesake institutions, such as Carnegie Mellon University and the Carnegie Institute of Washington as well as world-famous New York auditorium Carnegie Hall.
He preceded Buffett and Gates by more than a century in encouraging others to follow his philanthropic lead. In 1889, he wrote The Gospel of Wealth, an article describing the responsibility of philanthropy by the self-made rich.
“The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship,” he wrote.
4. John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller, co-founder of Standard Oil Company, demonstrated philanthropic leanings early in life. A member of the Baptist church, he began tithing soon after he started working. He also often attributed his wealth to God.
According to an article published by The New York Times in 1937, the year he died, he donated more than $500 million during his lifetime.
Most went to four foundations he established to handle his charities: the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial and the General Education Board. He was also a major benefactor of the University of Chicago, which he once called “the best investment I ever made.”
5. George Soros
George Soros has given away what nonprofit news Web site Inside Philanthropy estimates to be $12 billion in his lifetime, and he still has more to give. According to Forbes, the Hungarian-born billionaire investor has a net worth of $23 billion.
Soros established the Open Society Foundations, a network of international grant-making institutions dedicated to supporting “vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens,” in 1979 when he “decided he had enough money.” In 2014, the Open Society Foundations made more than $800 million in total expenditures.
“My success in the financial markets has given me a greater degree of independence than most other people,” Soros once wrote. “This allows me to take a stand on controversial issues: In fact, it obliges me to do so because others cannot.”
6. Peter Peterson
Peter Peterson, co-founder of private equity firm Blackstone Group and former secretary of commerce during the Nixon administration, stepped back from the business spotlight years ago, selling the bulk of his Blackstone shares in 2008. The same year, he established the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, alongside his wife, Joan Cooney, pledging $1 billion to the organization.
At the time, Peterson said the foundation would focus on the problems he perceives America facing in the growth of federal entitlement programs, ballooning health care costs and an increase in budget and trade deficits. On its Web site, the non-partisan foundation lists its mission as “addressing America’s long-term fiscal challenges to ensure a better economic future.”
In 2014, the Peterson Foundation announced an initial commitment of $200 million for the creation of the F, which is dedicated to making higher quality, more affordable health care available in the United States.