Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan break billionaire philanthropy mold

The Zuckerberg-Chan family's pledge to devote the bulk of their fortunes to 'advancing human potential and promoting equality' makes them some of the youngest members of an elite club of billionaire philanthropists.

Mark Zuckerberg/AP
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan Zuckerberg hold their newborn daughter Max Chan Zuckerberg. The Facebook chief executive officer and his wife on Dec. 1 announced the birth of their daughter, Max, as well as plans to donate most of their wealth to a new organization that will tackle a broad range of the world's ills.

Mark Zuckerberg has announced his birthday gift for his newborn daughter: he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, will be putting nearly all of their combined wealth into a new foundation that will invest in "advancing human potential and promoting equality."

The decision places the couple among the elite ranks of America's most generous philanthropists – billionaires who subscribe to a philosophy that excess wealth should be employed to advance the status of the greater community. The move could have even broader effect as an inspiration to others – especially young people – to invest their wealth back into the community, philanthropy experts say.

Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan plan to give away 99 percent of their Facebook stocks, worth $45 billion, over the course of their lifetimes. In the short term, the Facebook founder and chief executive officer has said that he will either sell or give up $1 billion in shares over the next three years, while still retaining a controlling stake in the social-media giant. They have promised to release more specifics about their plans after they return from their maternity and paternity leaves.

The announcement about the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, as it will be called, came from Zuckerberg’s Facebook page, where he posted “A letter to our daughter” describing how much promise he and Chan see for their daughter’s generation and the future.

“Our hopes for your generation focus on two ideas: advancing human potential and promoting equality,” Zuckerberg wrote. “I will continue to serve as Facebook's CEO for many, many years to come, but these issues are too important to wait until you or we are older to begin this work.”

This is not the first philanthropic organization the Zuckerberg-Chan household has created. In 2010, Zuckerberg launched Startup:Education, a grantmaking organization, with a high-profile gift of $100 million over five years for schools in the Newark, N.J., area.

More recently, in November, the couple pledged their commitment to the Giving Pledge, an organization that invites wealthy individuals and families to pledge their wealth to good causes either over a lifetime or as part of a will.

Other philanthropists who have made a gift of more than one billion over the past decade include Warren Buffett, who made a gift of $43.6 billion in 2006 to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and three other foundations, and hotelier Barron Hilton, who pledged a gift of $1.2 billion to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in 2007.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has received positive support from such philanthropists.

On Facebook, Warren Buffett wrote, "Mark and Priscilla are breaking the mold 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 them."

Melinda Gates added, "The first word that comes to mind is: Wow. The example you're setting today is an inspiration to us and the world."

Zuckerberg and Chan are among the youngest philanthropists in the world: Zuckerberg is only 31.

"Our lists of the top donors are usually dominated by people in their 70s or 80s," Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, told Reuters. "This is a message to other young people who are deciding what to do with their great wealth."

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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