Buffett gives another $1.78bn to charity

It's a sum most of us couldn't begin to imagine, but Warren 'Sage of Omaha' Buffett has taken the next step on his quest to donate 99% of his wealth.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 08 Aug 2011

Further proof, if it were needed, that Warren Buffett is a man of his word: the entrepreneur has donated another $1.78bn (£1.1bn) to charity, after he vowed in 2006 to give away 99% of his wealth. The Sage of Omaha (as he’s known to his friends) apparently donated about 23.31m Class B shares of his company Berkshire Hathaway, the majority of which went to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Which makes us wonder why we can’t do the same thing over here…

At the grand age of 80, the world’s third-richest person (according to Forbes) has now donated more than $11bn of shares in Berkshire Hathaway. But Buffett’s got a way to go yet, considering he’s worth an estimated $50bn; if he carries on at this rate, by our reckoning, he’ll have to live to the age of 108 in order to hit that target of 99% of his wealth. And apparently, his donations are declining by 5% a year.

Buffett may be one of the richest, but he’s by no means the only zillionaire entrepreneur to have pledged a huge chunk of his wealth to charity: last year, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a similar promise, while Microsoft founder Bill Gates, VC John Doerr, media entrepreneur Gerry Lenfest and ex-Cisco Systems chairman John Morgridge have all promised to donate large portions of their wealth to charity.

Philanthropy has a long and well-established history in the US, of course. But - with some notable exceptions - the idea still doesn't seem to be quite as prevalent on this side of the pond. In fact, our biggest charities are finding life tougher than ever: a study this week suggested that donations to charity fell by £70m in the year 2009/10, amid signs that people were starting to cut back on unnecessary spending.

The good news is that corporate giving has by no means ground to a halt; companies are too aware these days of the benefits of strong CSR policies in terms of (for instance) staff engagement. And it may be that individual donors are just less willing to shout about it than they are in the US. Still, we can't help feeling that conspicuous philanthropy like this is a good way to encourage more giving across the board...

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