Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has joined the ranks of America’s celebrity philanthropists by agreeing to give most of his multi-billion dollar fortune away to charity. According to Forbes, the 26-year-old’s fortune is worth $6.9 billion.
Mr. Zuckerberg, along with junk bond pioneer Michael Milken and AOL co-founder Steve Case, are among 17of the U.S. richest people who have signed the Giving Pledge, a promissory group founded by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates which seeks to get billionaires to publicly pledge large chunks of their fortunes to charity and not their heirs.
Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook and former Harvard roommate of Mr. Zuckerberg’s, has also signed the pledge. According to Forbes, Mr. Moskovitz, who is also 26, has a fortune of about $1.4 billion.
In a release on the Pledge’s website, Zuckerberg explained why, among other things, he pledged $100 million to the Newark, N.J., public school system earlier this year. “People wait until late in their career to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done?” Zuckerberg said.
“With a generation of younger folks who have thrived on the success of their companies, there is a big opportunity for many of us to give back earlier in our lifetime and see the impact of our philanthropic efforts,” he added.
Mr Zuckerberg owns about a quarter of Facebook, which he set up while at Harvard University in 2003. Much of his wealth depends on the endurance of the social networking site’s value.
His decision to sign the pledge comes three months after he announced he would be donating $100 million to the beleaguered public school system in Newark, New Jersey.
AOL co-founder Steve Case and his wife Jean said they signed the pledge because they hoped it would help philanthropists learn from each other. “It is less about what size of a check that you write and more about the outcome,” Mr. Case said.
Ms. Case said Internet entrepreneurs have a unique interest in philanthropy. “The folks that helped bring AOL to life were out to change the world,” she said. “It seems a natural thing that as they look at the role they want to play, they are giving back in big ways.”
The Wall Street Journal reorts that the Giving Pledge comes in part from Buffett’s belief that heirs waste money, an idea he gained from steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie’s book “The Gospel of Wealth.”
Starting last year, Bill Gates with wife Melinda, and Warren Buffett Buffett and other wealthy individuals hosted a series of dinners for billionaires to discuss setting up the pledge, the journal reports. That led to an announcement in June of the pledge and its earliest signers.
Other members of the pledge include Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison, film director George Lucas, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, investor Carl Icahn and former junk-bond king Michael Milken.
The Journal also reports that after the initial Giving Pledge list came out, some critics decried it as a public-relations stunt, or the product of tax-breaks that are hurting the government’s ability to offer critical services,.
However, the group’s real reason for the public pronouncements of the Pledge is the idea that giving is contagious, said Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University, in the press release.
“Research shows that when people know that others are giving, they are themselves more likely to give. So publicly pledging to give will encourage others to give,” Peter Singer said.
He continued: “This holds true for billionaires and for those of us who aren’t anywhere near that level of wealth. We can all make a difference, and play our part in making the world a better place.”
Overall, philanthropic giving has been hit hard by the weak economy. Donations in the U.S. fell 3.6% to $303.75 billion last year, down from $315 billion in 2008, according to Giving USA[Giving Pledge via The Telegraph (UK), CBS News and Wall Street Journal]