Mark Zuckerberg, who made a splash in September when he pledged $100 million to the Newark public schools, was back in the philanthropic news on Thursday, as he and 16 other American billionaires announced they had gotten on board the Giving Pledge platform headed by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.
Giving Pledge comprises, at latest count, 57 of the wealthiest individuals and families in the U.S., who make a commitment to give away the majority of their wealth to charitable causes during their lifetime and after their death. As more people join, a parlor game of sorts has erupted, with speculation about which ultra wealthy Americans will make a pledge next, according to The New York Times.
But some observers in the philanthropy sector have different questions about Giving Pledge. Suzanne Muchin, the founder, and Rachel Bellow, a partner, of the Chicago-based consulting firm ROI (for Return on Inspiration) Ventures LLC, wonder what the organization’s intention is. “If it’s to influence, then presumably we need to look at the radiating impact, not just the influence on billionaires,” Bellow said in a phone interview with AdvisorOne.
Muchin (left) noted that Giving Pledge changes the direction U.S. philanthropy is taking, which is toward the masses, anything from micro-giving to President Obama’s fundraising strategy—“the consumer feeling empowered that they actually can make a difference through small acts,” she said. “Ironically Giving Pledge is in the face of that, saying the momentum is going to come from a few of us giving a lot. Clearly, it’s a both/and situation; it’s not a competitive strategy of what’s the right philanthropic pivot foot.”
Muchin and Bellow want philanthropy to begin to pull at the real underlying notion of sacrifice and service. “That isn’t just about money, but skin in the game,” Bellow said.
The women said that Giving Pledge’s annual meeting (during which all who take the pledge “will come together to share ideas and learn from each other,” according to the organization’s Web site) has the potential to be a leverage point. “That could be the most important thing Giving Pledge does,” Muchin said.
She envisages an annual meeting in which the overarching theme is knowledge transfer. “What do we know that’s proprietary to us that only we could know individually because we have positioned our lives at the intersection of money and meaning?” She said the billionaires must be able to extract the essence of what they and their foundations have figured out through mistakes and lessons learned. Or what they want to figure out, the problem they are trying to solve.”