Giving Pledge: A big-hearted billionaires club, led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, keeps growing

The Giving Pledge, founded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, has signed up 69 billionaires who promise to give away most of their fortunes to charity.

Mustafa Quraishi/AP/File
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett gestures at a press conference in New Delhi March 24, 2011. His Giving Pledge, founded with Bill and Melinda Gates, has signed up 69 billionaires who promise to give away most of their fortunes to charity.

Make it 69 US billionaires who've pledged to give most of their fortunes away to charity most of personal fortunes.

Late last month 10 more billionaires – or people who would be billionaires if they hadn't already given a good part of their wealth away – made the Giving Pledge.

"The Giving Pledge is an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their lifetime or after their death," explains a note on the website. The pledge is strictly a public statement of intent, not a legal contract. Though the members expect to stay in touch each billionaire works separately on his or her own charitable giving plan.

The group was founded last June by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, the two richest Americans. It is only for billionaires, but the founders hope it will inspire widespread interest in charitable giving in "givers of all financial means and backgrounds," the statement continues. "We are inspired by the example set by millions of Americans who give generously (and often at great personal sacrifice) to make the world a better place."

The news media was not permitted at the first annual meeting of the pledge members last week at the Mirval Resort in Tucson, Ariz., where they shared ideas on how to help save the environment and improve education, among other topics. They also held sessions on how to give more effectively and measure success. But the Associated Press was able to talk with Mr. Buffett and others in attendance.

Chuck Feeney, a New Jersey philanthropist Buffett called the spiritual leader of the group, spoke about his plans to give all his money to charity.

"He wants his last check to bounce," Buffett said.

Other famous Americans who have joined include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, movie mogul George Lucas, financier Carl Icahn, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Cynics have questioned whether the group is generating any real new giving, since many of the current members already had plans to give away their fortunes. But the group's strategy seems to be to create interest in and widespread publicity about the pledge first, then hope to persuade reluctant billionaires to join over time.

Bill and Joyce Cummings of Woburn, Mass., are among the latest billionaires to become members. “They’ve almost behaved as if the money really wasn’t theirs from the very beginning,’’ said Lawrence Bacow, president of Tufts University, whose institution has received generous donations from the couple. The Cummings were profiled in a page one story in the Boston Globe.

Mr. Cummings, who did not inherit his wealth, made a fortune in Boston-area commercial real estate. “There’s a point at which it doesn’t make any difference to earn more money," Cummings says. "We are much more interested in doing things in the community. It’s very satisfying to do good things with what you have.’’

• For stories about other people making a difference in the world, go here.

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