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Taking Private Philanthropy Public: Eye on the Giving Pledge
August 1, 2012

Word Cloud of recurring themes in Giving Pledge commitment letters

Recurring themes in Giving Pledge commitment letters

 

Explore the Eye on the Giving Pledge»

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the Center's Glasspockets effort.)

Janet Camarena

Two years have passed since Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates launched the effort known as the Giving Pledge to convince the world’s wealthiest people to commit more than half of their assets to philanthropy.  In June 2010 four families had made the commitment, and by August 2010, 36 more had joined them.  Since then, the list has more than doubled, with 81 families now participating. Given the high profile and high-net-worth of those involved, the surrounding coverage was filled with much excitement, promise, and fanfare.  As philanthropy is often considered a private, family affair, one might compare it to taking a private company public, as these private individuals go on record with a very public commitment to making significant charitable contributions during the course of their lifetimes.  Something we might call a Public Philanthropic Offering (PPO) instead of the traditional IPO.   So the bells have been rung, the names have been added to the online Giving Pledge list, what’s next?

Because the Foundation Center’s Glasspockets site focuses on philanthropic transparency, we have launched a new feature, Eye on the Giving Pledge, designed to help track the charitable activities of the Pledgers, as well as to provide a glimpse into their characteristics. Who has signed?  In which industries did they make their fortunes?  Where are they based? What are their philanthropic interests and pet causes? “Eye on the Giving Pledge” provides a way to follow how those who have signed on are, through their foundations and personal giving, fulfilling their pledge.

The Gates’ and Buffett have undertaken a noble goal here to use their influence and considerable network to drive more dollars to philanthropy, and that should be celebrated and praised.  In addition to the leadership they have demonstrated with the Pledge itself, they also provide an excellent model for the participants of the Giving Pledge, in making a foundation the principle vehicle to express their philanthropy.  Through the Gates Foundation, the public can readily access a complete record of giving via the 990-pf, determine whether giving is limited to pre-selected organizations, read press releases detailing information about noteworthy gifts, read Bill Gates’ annual letter reflecting on the successes and sometimes even failures of the foundation’s giving, and most recently, even access a new podcast featuring the staff of the foundation sharing insights about how the foundation is evolving its strategy.

Of course, as private citizens, many Pledgers will pursue other vehicles for giving that do not have the same reporting requirements as foundations, and we have done our best to capture examples of that from public sources of information. Since we expect there will be gaps in our coverage due to the inherent challenges of tracking individual giving, we provide an online form inviting our audience to help us surface additional knowledge.

With a combined net worth of roughly $400 billion, the commitments made by the current 81 participants could bring an estimated $200 billion or more to charity over time, potentially representing a dramatic increase in philanthropic giving.  In addition to those tangible potential benefits, in a world in which lists routinely rank people in terms of accumulated wealth, it has been refreshing to see a movement designed to encourage those who are on such lists to celebrate the next gift—not just the next deal—and to go on record committing to use their private wealth for public good. Or, put another way, encouraged to celebrate their next PPO. Because shouldn’t the giving be as celebrated as the Pledge?

-- Janet Camarena

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Working for an implementing charity in Uganda, I realized that there is need for both government and charities to be accountable to beneficiary communities. I therefore recently developed a concept to promote transparency and accountability practices at a community level that you may want to know about. jamesbish@adrauganda.org

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

    If you are interested in being a
    guest contributor, contact:
    glasspockets@foundationcenter.org

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