The Giving Pledge is the brainchild of billionaire businessmen Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. The two of them have teamed up to ask the world's wealthiest people to donate at least 50% of their fortunes to charities. They believe that the richest people in the world can eradicate many of the world's problems through philanthropy. The pledge is not a binding contract but more of a "moral commitment". Individuals are free to donate money to whatever cause they would like. So, far about 40 billionaires have accepted the giving pledge challenge. That's not a large number when you consider that there are nearly 1,000 billionaires in the world, according to Forbes. So, who hasn't signed up and for what reason? (For related reading, check out The Christmas Saints Of Wall Street.)
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Wall Street tycoon Carl Icahn is noticeably absent from the Giving Pledge website and for good reason. According to Icahn, Buffett and Gates failed to inform the billionaire investor. Icahn is enthusiastic about joining the Giving Pledge and plans on donating a large portion of his estate. Icahn currently has a net worth of $10.5 billion dollars. With a fortune that large, Icahn's phone may be ringing right this minute.
Despite being an active participant in the first meeting, it is unclear whether Soros will join with the other billionaires and donate his sizable fortune. According to Forbes magazine, the self-made billionaire investor has a net worth of $14 billion dollars.
It really doesn't matter if Soros signs the pledge or not given his history of philanthropy. He has funded educational projects, infrastructure projects and humanitarian causes all around the world. Soros has given away $7 billion dollars of his fortune to charitable endeavors already and he plans to donate a large portion of his total wealth anyway. (For more see George Soros: The Philosophy Of An Elite Investor.)
Former eBay CEO and current California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has "no plans to join billionaires pledge" according to the Associated Press. She has not been contacted by Buffett or Gates and would decline if invited. Whitman is using her immense wealth to run for governor and build her charitable foundation. Whitman who has a net worth of $1.4 billion dollars has had to use her own money to run for state office. She has spent nearly $100 million dollars of her own money in seeking the state's top job. Whitman also has plans to donate to environmental and educational causes through her personal foundation.
With a net worth of $2.4 billion dollars, Oprah Winfrey is one of the richest women in the world. She is the highest-grossing star in the world of entertainment. She has been regularly voted as the most philanthropic celebrity in the field of entertainment. Winfrey has been silent on her intentions to join the giving pledge. It may be a possibility considering the star recently shut down her Angel Network charitable organization which has donated more than $80 million dollars to humanitarian causes. Winfrey still has the Oprah Winfrey Foundation which has reportedly given away over $230 million dollars since 1998.
The Walton family has four members on the Forbes list of the wealthiest people in the world. They can all thank Walmart founder Sam Walton for that. (For more, see The 10 Greatest Entrepreneurs.)
Christy Walton is the 12th richest person in the world according to Forbes, with $22.5 billion dollars. She inherited her wealth after the passing of her husband. Jim Walton is the 15th richest person in the world with a net worth of $20.7 billion dollars. Alice Walton comes in right behind Jim with a net worth of $20.6 billion dollars. S. Robson Walton is the 18th wealthiest person with a net worth of $19.8 billion dollars. None of them, however, is on the giving pledge list. The family has not commented as to why they have not signed up.
Many international billionaires and millionaires are not signing up because they see the Giving Pledge as too ostentatious. Some see the promise as a status symbol and a way of bringing more attention to the super rich.
German shipping millionaire Peter Kramer feels that it would better if the billionaires kept their money and let the government collect the revenue via taxes. Kramer believes that the government would use the money more effectively by putting it to work directly in local communities. He thinks that the giving pledge is a way for the ultra rich to avoid taxes and donate to their favorite interests and hobbies. Many of the rich feel that the government and other organizations are the best vehicles for charitable endeavors.
The Bottom Line
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett should be commended for coming up with the giving pledge idea. They have convinced 40 of the world's wealthiest individuals and families to give back to society. If they want to convince the other 900 or so billionaires however, they have a whole lot more schmoozing to do. (To learn, more see Billionaires: Can They Solve The World's Problems?)
Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: Billionaire Pledges and Other Positive Press.