Monday, August 9, 2010

Give It Up!

As everyone by now knows 40 US billionaires have pledged to give away more than half their fortunes to charity, the so called "Giving Pledge." This may be a p.r. stunt or it may be heartfelt philanthropic impulse - and at least among a few, it may be a bit of both. Most of the names on the list are familiar to the trade. There may be a few dark horses.

I am struck by some of the missing names; I can't go further because some of them are among my clients. That aside the first thing that comes to mind is why stop there? Why not encourage everyone who can to do the same? For as long as stats have been kept the total philanthropic handle in the US hovers just above (or in a few years just below) 2% of GDP.

Many of us feel the real challenge to philanthropy is how to move the needle up. Given that in 2009 donations in the US came to some $306 billion a 1% bump would be a major accomplishment: another $3 billion would/could significantly restore much that has been lost the last few years. Of course that wouldn't come in one year but the direction is what counts.

These generous donors aside, the richest people in America, there is a vast middle of near billionaires and "poor" billionaires to say nothing of those struggling with fortunes of $50 million or more. ... I am generally skeptical of pledges of this kind. They are not easily measured. Who is to keep score? Giving USA would pick up some of them. It is also well known that Forbes, the base list for billionaire metrics overstates some and understates others. It is admittedly hard information to acquire as the subjects for the most part are not completely cooperative. Duh.

Well. As I tell my friends I have already given half my net worth away. It's called the recession.