Mark Zuckerberg’s donation pledge propels him to elite league

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he will donate most of his fortune—99% of his Facebook shares—to a foundation called Chan Zuckerberg Initiative


Mark Zuckerberg will be among the youngest to commit more than half his fortune to philanthropy. Photo: Reuters
Mark Zuckerberg will be among the youngest to commit more than half his fortune to philanthropy. Photo: Reuters

Facebook chief executive officer (CEO) Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday announced that he will donate most of his fortune—99% of his Facebook shares worth $45 billion today—to a foundation called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The initiative is essentially a philanthropy project focusing on “human potential and equality”. Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced the pledge in a letter to their newborn daughter Maxima.

The plan was posted on Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. In doing so, Zuckerberg follows the footsteps of fellow high-profile billionaires—Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates—who have pledged and set up foundations to dedicate their massive fortunes to philanthropic endeavours.

The latest initiative will not be Zuckerberg’s first act of philanthropy. Aged 26, he signed the Giving Pledge, which invites the wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes over their lifetime or in their will.

Buffet said on Facebook, “Mark and Priscilla are breaking the mould with this breathtaking commitment. A combination of brains, passion and resources on this scale will change the lives of millions. On behalf of future generations, I thank him.”

Zuckerberg, through this plan, will also be among the youngest to commit more than half his fortune to philanthropy. Gates, the then co-founder and CEO of Microsoft, founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. He was aged 45 at the time. When Warren Buffett decided to give away all of his Berkshire Hathway stock to philanthropic organizations in 2006, he was 76. Buffett also gave what was the single largest gift at the time, donating $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of the $43.6 billion he committed at the time.

His act also follows a rich tradition of philanthropy in America over the last century, when the likes of Andrew Carnegie (Carnegie Corporation), the Rockefeller family (Rockefeller Foundation) and Edsel Ford (Ford Foundation) donated most of their fortunes to philanthropic endeavours.

Over the last decade, several individuals have donated at least $1 billion to foundations and other causes. Here’s a list of these individuals, according to independent news organization The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

1. In 2006, Buffett pledged to donate a total of $43.6 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and three other foundations.

2. Helen Walton, the wife of Wal-Mart stores founder Sam Walton, donated her estimated fortune of $16.4 billion to a family foundation after her death in 2007.

3. Leona Helmsley, who made her fortune in hotels and other real estate, donated an estimated $5.2 billion to a charitable trust after her death in 2007.

4. Medical entrepreneur James Sorensen donated an estimated $4.5 billion to a family foundation after his death in 2008.

5. Warren Buffett (again) pledged to donate $3.1 billion to three different foundations in 2012.

6. Zuckerberg donated $1.5 billion to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in 2012 and 2013.

7. Hotelier Barron Hilton pledged to donate $1.2 billion to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in 2007.

8. Former investment banker Peter Peterson donated $1 billion to a foundation bearing his name in 2008.

9. Ralph Wilson Jr., the long-time owner of the National Football League’s (NFL) Buffalo Bills, donated $1 billion to a foundation bearing his name after his death in 2014.

Bloomberg reported that should Zuckerberg decide to gift his fortune all at once, “that would be enough to create the largest US foundation”. Here are the largest US foundations (top 10) and the amount in assets, according to the Foundation Center, an information source about philanthropy.

1)The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ($41.3 billion)

2) Ford Foundation ($12.3 billion)

3) J Paul Getty Trust ($11.1 billion)

4) The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ($10.1 billion)

5) The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation ($9 billion)

6) WK Kellogg Foundation ($8.6 billion)

7) Lilly Endowment Inc. ($7.7 billion)

8) The David and Lucile Packard Foundation ($6.9 billion)

9) Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation ($6.4 billion)

10) The John D and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ($6.3 billion)

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