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The Business of Giving

Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

December 9, 2010 at 9:00 AM

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Billionaire pledge swells with Facebook's Zuckerberg and others

Posted by Kristi Heim

Seventeen more of America's richest people, including Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, have pledged to give the majority of their wealth to charity.

They signed on to the Giving Pledge, the effort led by investor Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to persuade the wealthiest people in the world to donate their fortunes.

Today's news brings the total to 57 families, following the first 40 who announced their intentions to take the Giving Pledge in August. The pledge is not a binding legal contract and doesn't involve pooling money for causes. Most of those signing said they hoped a public declaration would encourage other wealthy to give.

New names signing on include AOL co-founder Steve Case, junk bond pioneer Michael Milken and hedge fund manager Carl Icahn.

Icahn said he never considered making his philanthropic intentions public before, but "I hope that by adding my voice with those who are supporting this project, we will all encourage others to participate."

Previous signers also include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, CNN founder Ted Turner and film director George Lucas.The full list is here.

"In just a few short months we've made good progress," Buffett said in a statement. "The Giving Pledge has re-energized people thinking about philanthropy and doing things in philanthropy and I look forward to many more conversations with families who are truly fortunate, and whose generosity can and will change lives."

"People wait until late in their career to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done?" said Zuckerberg, who is 26. "With a generation of younger folks who have thrived on the success of their companies, there is a big opportunity for many of us to give back earlier in our lifetime and see the impact of our philanthropic efforts."

The billionaires have plenty to spare. As noted in a speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), the top 1 percent of Americans by income earned 23.5 percent of all income in the country in 2007. Thanks to Tom Paulson for video link.

UPDATE: (Dec. 14) President Obama met with Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates today, according to the White House, to discuss the Giving Pledge and other ideas for improving the economy and education. Buffett and Gates, the two wealthiest people in America, were in favor of ending tax cuts for the rich, and Gates supported a measure that would have created a state income tax in Washington.

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