SEATTLE — Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and billionaire investor Warren Buffett are launching a campaign to get other American billionaires to give at least half their wealth to charity.
Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said in a letter introducing the concept that he couldn't be happier with his decision in 2006 to give 99 percent of his roughly $46 billion fortune to charity.
Patty Stonesifer, former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that Gates and Buffett have been campaigning for the past year to get others to donate the bulk of their wealth.
The friends and philanthropic colleagues are asking people to pledge to donate either during their lifetime or at the time of their death. They estimate their efforts could generate $600 billion in charitable giving. In 2009, American philanthropies received a total of about $300 billion in donations, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The handful of billionaires approached so far have embraced the campaign, said Stonesifer, a close friend of Gates who offered to speak about the effort. Four wealthy couples have already announced their pledges, including Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest of Philadelphia, John and Ann Doerr of Menlo Park, Calif., and John and Tasha Mortgridge of San Jose, Calif.
In addition to making a donation commitment, Gates and Buffett are asking billionaires to pledge to give wisely and learn from their peers. They said they were inspired by the philanthropic efforts of not just other billionaires but of the people of all financial means and backgrounds who have given generously to make the world a better place.
Their philosophical forebears are the Carnegie and Rockefeller families, who donated most of their wealth back to improve society and were the grandparents of modern philanthropy, said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
"It's a stretch to see how they're going to get to the $600 billion figure," she said, noting that only 17 people on the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest people in America are also on the Chronicle's list of the most generous American donors.
Many of these people may be giving anonymously or plan to donate when they die, but the bulk of money raised by charities today comes from non-billionaires giving $5, $10 or $50 at a time, Palmer said.